Is Vancouver Unfriendly?

If you wanted to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger on the street, would you know what to say? Would you be comfortable approaching them at all?

If your answer to both those questions is, well, no, you’re far from alone. And if you wish you could have meaningful conversations with people you meet day-to-day, you’re not alone either. Across Canada, 40 per cent of people 15 or older say they feel lonely some or all the time, according to Statistics Canada. Isn’t that a sad irony; so many people feeling lonely together?

Hello Yello is on a mission to end the disconnect, starting in Vancouver. The volunteer-run organization recently won a creative hackathon hosted by Vancouver-based Brands for Better with a very simple concept: a brightly-painted (yellow, of course) park bench where anyone could sit to signal to passersby they were open to a conversation.

In the latest episode of iNVANCiTY, the series where we take you inside Vancouver’s arts and culture scene, we documented Hello Yello’s official launch, post-hackathon.

We were lucky enough to capture the Hello Yello bench in action, when two of the launch event’s attendees, Hannah and Alf, sat down for a vulnerable conversation. “I’ve spent the last three years seeking and searching for connection and trying to formulate what is home,” Hannah says to Alf. Alf responds: “Having a chat with someone you’ve never engaged with, never thought you would engage with, it’s reaffirming. It’s why I get up in the morning.”

Hello Yello’s solution is refreshing in its simplicity. “How might we make Vancouver a friendlier city for people who long for more organic human connections?” the team writes on the Hello Yello website. “How can we encourage people to initiate conversations with people they don’t know? Most solutions are too complicated, hard to scale, or involve more technology or the design of apps — all of which have the potential to create a barrier and keep us alone, staring at our devices.”

In the video, you’ll see curiosity and connection bloom when they’re given literal, physical space to do so. Not another app, but a friendly, yellow park bench.

This kind of simple curiosity about our Vancouver neighbours is what powers iNVANCiTY, too — even though the initial inspiration came from our time travelling halfway across the world in Cambodia.

While there, one day, we saw a person biking with a giant bouquet of French baguettes spilling out from their bike’s basket. We became curious: What’s this person’s story? What’s the story of a French baguette in Cambodia? And of course, the deeper question: How has the legacy of French colonization shaped Cambodian food and culture?

When we returned to Vancouver, we decided we wanted to tell these kinds of stories: snapshots of Vancouver’s artists and cultural creatives that tell a deeper story about who we are and how we connect to one another. From Hello Yello’s heartfelt plea for a friendlier world to Anishinaabe hoop dancer Eli Gosselin-Rattlesnake’s story of how rediscovering his culture saved him, there’s so much opportunity for empathy and connection to discover in our city.

What are you curious about? Is there a story in your community waiting to be told, to connect to your fellow Vancouverites? We’d love to hear about it!

Written By
Inder Nirwan
Co-Owner & Filmmaker