What Happened to Vancouver’s “Four Pillars” Drug Strategy?

I have lived in Gastown, close to the Downtown Eastside (DTES), for fourteen years. During that time I have had no direct involvement in any charities or other efforts to address the issues in the neighbourhood. I continue to read short articles in the media about the troubles, but feel increasingly dissatisfied that there is apparently no bigger-picture, ongoing summary or statistics on what has actually been going on.

A few things happened recently that raised questions for me.

  • I was asked to join a local association of “concerned citizens” and quickly realized that it was essentially a group of NIMBYs who immediately attacked me for daring to suggest that the problems of homelessness, addiction, and crime were beyond the scope of some kind of “clean-up” that the municipal government or local police could perform in short order.
  • Increasing encroachment of the problems into my neighbourhood (I live on Water Street), including CRAB Park.
  • Especially, an inability on my part to discuss to any level of detail, or debate with neighbours, or explain to visitors and friends from outside the downtown core, or outside BC or Canada, what is actually going on here.

I often think about the “four pillars” strategy which was much-discussed during the 2002 municipal election — the film FIX: The Story of an Addicted City was central to that campaign. The city still has a page dedicated to this approach which claims that harm reduction, prevention, treatment, and enforcement has been implemented successfully in cities such as Geneva, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Sydney to reduce street consumption of drugs, overdose deaths, and infection rates for HIV and hepatitis.

I don’t know whether the page has been updated these past 20 years. I am curious to know what the numbers have been on these issues over time. Anecdotally, it seems to me that public drug consumption and overdose deaths have increased significantly, but I can’t easily find any hard statistics on this, or really any discussion of HIV and hepatitis infection rates.

If these numbers have increased, then what has happened in the intervening years? I can think of several possibilities:

  • The Four Pillars approach has not worked;
  • The Four Pillars approach has worked and the situation would be even worse if it had not been implemented (i.e., the opioid crisis was not anticipated);
  • The Four Pillars approach has not been properly or completely implemented.

Other questions come to mind, such as: how many of the troubled DTES residents have addiction issues? How many have mental health issues? How many have both? Is the population increasing? If so, from where, geographically or socially? How much money are we spending on these services, and, more subjectively, is it being spent effectively? Who is “in charge” of all of this? How do the municipal, provincial, and federal governments work together — or not? What housing is available to those at, say, CRAB Park and if any is, why do people not take it — unsafe conditions? I could go on.

I wish there was some sort of online “dashboard” that could be maintained and updated with broader info on progress, statistics, and links to relevant groups and studies — and what people like me could do to really help.

Three Tracks: 2023

These were a few of my favourite tunes.

Indigo De Souza: Younger & Dumber

Once in a while, a track like this comes along that feels devastatingly new and familiar and somehow personal.

“Sometimes, I just don’t wanna be alone / And it’s not ’cause I’m lonely / It’s just ’cause I get so tired of filling / The space all around me”

Apple Music · Spotify

Venjent: R U Gonna Move

Drum and bass revival that really moves — and is just a great tune. It rocks, which is pretty rare these days. And the video is one of the best I’ve ever seen.

“If you say so / It’s irrelevant”

Apple Music · Spotify

Adrienne Lenker: Ruined

Big Thief in Vancouver this year was one of my favourite shows ever. This late-in-the-year release by the lead singer is another bullseye. The piano late in the track is simple and effective in a way that reminded me rhythmically of Radiohead’s “Videotape” and emotionally of the haunting chord at 1:59 of Bruce Springsteen’s “Reason to Believe“. One of the most consistently excellent musicians (both Lenker herself and the full band) of the current era.

Apple Music · Spotify

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022.

Three Albums: 2023

A few of my favourite albums from the year. My listening habits have changed over the years: working at home, focusing more on individual tracks in terms of popular music as Apple Music goes off on infinite play and well, yeah, maybe getting older — all have contributed to my album-oriented choices being more subdued.

Ryuichi Sakamoto: 12

A long-time hero of my girlfriend’s, from Yellow Magic Orchestra to the wondrous Playing the Piano 2022. Sakamoto died in March; this album had already become regular listening for me. I look forward to seeing OPUS, directed by his son.

Apple Music · Spotify

Hania Rani: Ghosts

One of the soundtracks to my year of work, and evening reading.

Apple Music · Spotify

Tim Hecker: No Highs

“Monotony II” is one of the standout tracks from this Canadian artist’s latest.

Apple Music · Spotify

See also: 2020, 2021, 2022.

I went to Japan.

In May 2023 I spent a couple of weeks in Japan, mostly in and around Kyoto. It had been six years since I had two weeks off.1 I’d never been to a non-Western country, and in many ways didn’t know what to expect; my girlfriend grew up in Kyoto, so I had a guide and translator with me. I had an amazing trip.

I’ve structured this post around themes rather than chronologically, as I like to think about a trip less as a story than a set of samples of different kinds of experiences.


Aside from food, history, and art, there were a few locations and experiences that stood out. Early in the trip, we were cycling around the Joyo area and noticed a number of tea fields shaded by protective netting.

We happened upon one of the workers and she invited us to have a look; the owner kindly let us take a few pictures under the netting.

In the same area, there is a unique “wash-away bridge” (Nagare Bashi) that is built to degrade gracefully when the water level rises, requiring less reconstruction. It’s built in an old style and is apparently used as a set for films and series.

Wash-Away Bridge

It only rained one day during the two weeks we were in Japan, but there was a benefit: the Heian Shrine Gardens in Kyoto were gorgeous and colourful in the rain.

We did a walk up and over Mount Kurama north of the city. This is a beautiful area worth visiting; the hike is not difficult, and there is lots to see: a shrine and a temple; artifacts from various eras; and a beautiful forest. It’s also a nice trip up to the area on the Eizan Line train.

One of the absolute highlights of the trip was a visit to Kinosaki Onsen. 60th birthdays are a big deal in Japan, and though we were there a month before my big milestone, my girlfriend booked us into what must be one of the most beautiful hotels in the world, Nishimuraya Honkan Kinosaki Onsen. Our room was stunning and spacious, with a private outdoor area and bath; the building and grounds were a prime example of Japanese architecture, art, history, and style (my photos don’t do it justice — see their website); and the food was amazing.

Of course, the town is known for its onsen and Nishimuraya Honkan had beautiful facilities in that respect — the day we got there, we happened to be the only people in the men’s and women’s areas.

View from room
Private bath
Hotel garden
Nishimuraya Honkan lobby

We walked around the town, which is lovely. A “ropeway” tram goes to the top of Mount Daishi, where there are nice views out to the Sea of Japan.

View from Mount Daishi

I had lined up a road bike rental for my last day of the trip; I planned to ride from Joyo, where we were staying with my girlfriend’s parents, north to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Unfortunately, the rental fell through at the last minute. I was determined to do a ride in Japan, partly because I wanted to go off exploring by myself. So I borrowed my girlfriend’s aunt’s (single-speed) mamachari. I had forgotten to bring my head unit on the trip, and recorded the ride using Strava on my Apple Watch. Strava shows I rode 65km.

Arashiyama Ride

It was a flat ride, not normally challenging, but going that distance on such a rig was a bit of a slog, particularly as the temperature moved into the high 20s (Celsius, of course) on the way back. I would have TT‘d it back on my racing bike, but this rig maxed out at about 15km/h; my cadence must have averaged about 100. A couple of times on the way home, checking to see whether I’d missed a turn — all the bridges looked pretty similar to me — losing the breeze from the ride seemed instantly to increase the temperature by 10º, and I admit to having become a little frazzled once or twice.

The bamboo grove was one of the most tourist-oriented and -packed places I visited during the trip, but it was a good destination and the grove was quite astonishing.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove.
My ride.


Many or even most of the meals I ate were prepared by Atsuko, my girlfriend’s mother. And they were delicious, varied, and I think a good introduction to Japanese cuisine. Her Okonomiyaki were excellent — and we happened to eat them the same day they were served to the G7 leaders in Tokyo — along with various kinds of amazing fish, vegetables from husband and father Osaji’s garden, and many other dishes. I even got a lesson in making agedashi tofu.

I was treated to some very fine tea on my first morning, by my girlfriend’s uncle.

First breakfast in Japan.

Dining out in Japan is affordable. To a Vancouverite, this can be shocking. My girlfriend and I stopped going to restaurants in 2022, after spending $75 on a just-okay dumpling meal that did not even include non-alcoholic drinks. Even having opted out, it’s not always obvious just how insane it has become to eat out in our city, until you see that it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. (I have no clear idea why Vancouver is so expensive, in this or other senses; it seems to be a topic of endless debate in the city.)


One of my favourite food experiences was Teppanyaki Manryu in the Gion district. Having enjoyed the series Midnight Diner, I wanted to find something similar. This was close enough, and it was fun sitting at the bar watching the (excellent) teppanyaki food being prepared right in front of us.

Teppanyaki Manryu, Gion, Kyoto.

The other dinner we had in Gion was at Wasabi, a very fine sushi restaurant with a very lengthy single-piece wood bar — I can’t recall the species of wood. (These restaurants don’t seem to have a web presence, and I am loth to link to the likes of TripAdvisor.)

Wasabi, Gion, Kyoto.

My girlfriend’s parents took us out to Minokichi, which was founded in 1716. I think this was a fabulous meal; there was a fair amount of food unfamiliar to me, including at least one fish with head which somewhat disconcerted this former vegan; and it was delivered in fairly quick succession. The chef made an apparently rare appearance, in honour of his western guest.


After a hike on Mount Kurama (see below), we ate at Hiroya which must have one of the most beautiful settings of any restaurant anywhere, with the tables sitting over a stream: the cool water provides a natural air conditioning and freshness.


And the food was excellent. Here’s the menu:

Hiroya Menu

The meals at Nishimuraya Honkan, mentioned above, were excellent. Dinner was served in our suite, and the rice was cooked right there. The presentation was stunning, and the food exquisite — though I found that Japanese meals often had so many components it was difficult to remember details of each.

Breakfast the next morning was similarly impressive, and we got to finish preparing our miso soup.

We also ate at a couple of restaurants in the Kinosakionsen town; it is in Hyōgo Prefecture, the home of Kobe beef, which is quite incredible. At KYO we even got to prepare our own.

Kobe beef

Nakamura Tokichi is an amazing tea shop and restaurant. We brought back a good supply of tea; and had an excellent lunch. The desserts in particular are insane: probably enough food in one of these to keep you going for a whole day.

Tea noodle lunch at Nakamura Tokichi
The Dessert.
The Dessert — Schematic

The last meal of the trip was a crab dinner at Kani Doraku; my girlfriend takes her family here at the end of each trip. The food was excellent; a standout for me was “crab sake.”

Crab Sake

The Nishiki Market in Kyoto is huge, and inspiring. One of my culinary discoveries here was sansho pepper — what an extraordinary flavour. It was difficult to obtain, though: the shop where I purchased some kept it in the back and customers had to ask for it; it was a bad year for the spice.

NIshiki Market

Finally, a serendipitous discovery, was Mountain Cellar de Chocolat — I happened to look at Apple Maps and noticed it nearby while driving to the Noh mask maker (below).

Goodies from Mountain Cellar de Chocolat

Temples, Shrines, Museums, &c.

As someone from North America, particularly the western portion of the continent, I find it fascinating to visit countries that have a long written history — not to mention a continuous population that has not, at least recently, been invaded and had their land stolen.

We visited a number of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. They blurred together for me a bit, probably because I didn’t do a lot of reading in advance. All were some combination of peaceful, ancient, and inspiring; and featured beautiful architecture and settings.

I already mentioned the Heian Shrine Garden above.

Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine was the first shrine we visited, and features about 10,000 torii with a nice walk up the mountain.

Fushimi Inari-taisha torii

Yasaka Shrine, in the Gion district of Kyoto, was a lovely sight at night.

Yasaka Shrine

We cycled to Iwashimizu Hachimangū and took the cable car up the mountain. Interestingly, there’s a tribute to Thomas Edison — seems he searched the world for a good filament for his light bulbs, and settled on bamboo from Kyoto.

Iwashimizu Hachimangū cable car

Sanjūsangen-dō temple was a highlight, particularly the thousand standing statues of the Senju Kannon: there is a palpable sense of the ancient in that room. Photography is not permitted; here is an image from the temple’s official site:

Kiyomizu-dera temple is one of the more “obvious” places to visit, and this is understandable: the astonishing architecture and views of Kyoto city were worth the cycle up the hill from the Kamo-gawa river. I didn’t get a great shot of it — see the site or do an image search for to see it better.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Byodin temple is another popular destination. I was particularly struck by the underground Hoshokan Museum, which contained among other things some of the 26 original states of the praying Bodhisattva.

Byodin temple

Fukuchiyama Castle was impressive largely as it is the result of a reconstruction effort by local residents in the 1980s. Being fairly far from Kyoto city, this was interesting as it was less “touristy” — although that also meant that none of the exhibit text was provided in English. The interior is a somewhat dated museum; but the exterior is impressive.

Fukuchiyama castle

I have ordered a book on Japanese history as I want to learn more for my next trip.


The Kyoto National Museum, Kyocera Museum of Art, and MoMAK were all beautiful buildings with fascinating displays. I particularly enjoyed wood works by Nakagawa Shuji at Kyocera.

Nakagawa Shuji wood works


The trip was partly a mission to acquire a knife, a Noh mask, and some Japanese calligraphy.


Coincidentally, a tenth-generation knife maker has a factory very close to my girlfriend’s parents’s home in Joyo. We cycled over to Yoshisada and were able to walk around and see some of the tools and processes.

Yoshisada Knives Factory.
Yoshisada factory workshop.

I looked at several other shops during the trip, but came back to Yoshisada for some knives for myself along with a couple of gifts: I appreciate the quality and design, and I felt a connection having visited the factory.

Nakiri knives from Yoshisada — Daimonji model.

The unfinished knife will be more of a display piece: it is a traditional appearance that does not take as much work to finish, thought I was told at the factory that there is a lot of care applied to getting the carbon-black appearance just right.

Noh Mask

Although I don’t consider myself a collector, I already had a couple of masks on display in my home. Preparing for the trip, I read up a bit on the classical Noh theatre and the masks used in its performances. My girlfriend did some research and found the Inoue Company, one of a very few mask makers in Japan, and coincidentally located in Kyoto Prefecture. Her niece drove us to Kamiaraga, Fukuchiyama, which took a couple of hours from Kyoto. The countryside was beautiful: there are lush forests everywhere with numerous types of trees; we were lucky with weather but this is obviously something of a rainforest climate, similar to home. And of course, there are rice fields everywhere.

The Inoue mask showroom is in an unassuming home — you’d never know it was there. Upstairs in a rebuilt farmhouse, there are hundreds of masks of many different types.

The mask maker

On the drive, I’d been a bit apprehensive: what if I didn’t see a mask I really loved? I glanced quickly at all the masks in the style I was after, and I knew immediately which was mine (it’s third from the left on the middle panel in the photo above). There was something about the mouth in particular that seemed somehow related to that on my Canadian First Nations mask. And I loved how the expression changes when viewed from different angles — a trait of this type of mask.


Finally, I had a more vague notion of wanting a large piece with Japanese calligraphy. I was initially thinking of a horizontal presentation, potentially to fit a particular wall space, but obviously Japanese is written and read vertically, so I had to rethink. Fortunately, a friend of my girlfriend’s mother is a practiced calligrapher and I was given this scroll as a gift!

Another gift looks beautiful framed:

Final Thoughts

What perhaps struck me most about Japan was how there seemed to be a general absence of surface-level individualism. Superficial signifiers of “identity” that we tend to put so much stock in, from clothing and hair styles to tattoos, appear to be largely absent. Having something of a meditation practice, I can’t help but wonder whether this is partly related to the idea — fact — that there is no “self,” a mostly foreign concept in North America. Whether this indicates conformity or permits for a more meaningful individualism, I will have to investigate on my next trip. I’m working through Duolingo, learning Japanese!

At Kinosakionsen


  1. In 2018 the Supreme Court of British Columbia told me that, as a spousal support payor, I am not allowed to spend any discretionary income. I badly needed a break and will just have to argue my case if they try to apply more punitive sanctions to me.

Three Albums: 2022

A few of my favourite albums.

Beth Orton: Weather Alive

Sublime sounds, beautiful tunes, lovely playing — including drummer Tom Skinner of Sons of Kemet and The Smile.

Apple Music · Spotify

Tomberlin: i don’t know who needs to hear this…

An album of consistent pleasures; I found myself coming back to it often. Choice lyric: “You paid for lies to be made truth / Does that fuck with you?” You know who you are.

Apple Music · Spotify

Oren Ambarchi, Johan Berthling, Andreas Werliin: Ghosted


Apple Music · Spotify

See also: 2020, 2021, 2023.

Three Tracks: 2022

These were a few of my favourite tracks.

The Smile: Thin Thing (Live at Montreaux Jazz Festival)

Radiohead is one of my all-time favourite bands, but for some reason The Smile’s A Light for Attracting Attention never quite grabbed me. After I saw them live (Seattle, December), I wondered if a reason might have been that, while Radiohead works (worked?) out songs live, often over the course of many years, A Light was a “pandemic album.” The track “Skrting on the Surface” was a candidate for this list, being perhaps the closest thing to a Radiohead track we’re ever again likely to get; but in performance everything came alive and “Thin Thing” was one of the highlights. The interplay of Yorke’s bass and Greenwood’s guitar at 3:12 is just so great.

“And then, she’ll steal the photos / From your phone.”

Apple Music · Spotify

Beth Orton: Weather Alive

Long ago, I had a copy of Orton’s Trailer Park; but I lost track of her over the years. The Pitchfork review of her new album prompted me to have another listen, and the album one of my favourites of the year; the title track is a standout. She and her band were great live in Vancouver in November.

“Almost makes me wanna cry / The weather’s so beautiful outside.”

Apple Music · Spotify

King Hannah: It’s Me And You, Kid

How many years has it been now that most of the best rock tracks are by women? Well, in this case a female vocalist. Anyway, a simple but grand pleasure.

Apple Music · Spotify

See also 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2023.

BC Hydro: Just Give Me My Fucking Bill, OK?

Every month, I receive an email from BC Hydro. Here it is.

I can:

  • Make a payment (from your bank account by entering transit number, instituion number, and account number — essentially paying by cheque, in 2022 … but, okay)
  • See my payment options (Online banking, direct withdrawal, pre-authorized payments, equal payment plan, credit card, by mail, at a Service BC location (outside the Lower Mainland), Electronic Funds Transfer — fair enough, but I have never used any of these; I just want to see the bill, get the amount, and pay via my bank’s site)
  • View your detailed bill — yes, please! I mean, can’t you just attach it to the email? Thanks.
  • View your electricity use — this would, presumably, be on my bill
  • Join Team Power Smart. Um, what?
  • Set up pre-authorized payments — fair enough
  • Phone scam info. Okay, but you sent me an email
  • Payment options for my bill (again?)
  • Move or cancel account
  • How to read my detailed bill — well, if I had the bill I’d be able to follow along, right?
  • Get help. I feel I need it at this point. But probably not the kind of help they have in mind

I want to view my bill — I don’t care so much how “detailed” it is, and wish they’d just attached it to the email, but I click or tap the button. This is what I see, after signing in:

Keep in mind that I clicked/tapped a button in the email that said “View your detailed bill”. I kind of expect that I might, you know, see my bill. But no. I won’t bother to inventory the absolute mess of information that is irrelevant to my task here. Here is what I have to scan to find, every month:

Question: How is “View my bill” distinct from the original “View your detailed bill”? Where along the way did I lose the detail? What detail? Is it important? Okay, well, I guess I’ll settle for my dumbed-down bill: remember, all I really want is the amount so I can … oh yeah, pay the bill.

So I click/tap the teensy little button that BC Hydro apparently does not want me to see — for reasons I can’t guess. Don’t they want my money? Why is “Starting a Challenge” or “Joining the Team” (is this the Electricity Olympics?), or contests, or consumption — only the last 7 days, mind you; is this a teaser for the “detail” initially mentioned … why are any of these things and more, more important than what I was initially promised? Wait, what was that? Oh yeah, my bill. So, the microscopic button leads here:

This is only the content that fits on my 5K display. But once again, I’ve been sold a false promise: “View my bill” actually should read “Display yet another messy page of crap that really has nothing to do with your bill or anything else you might be interested in” — but maybe that (a) didn’t fit in the button; and (b) would have been too large a target, distracting from the truly important information on the page, like kWh and the projected cost of my next bill.

It seems that a once-a-month task provides just enough time to forget exactly where the thing I was looking might be located on the page (as far as I recall, this mess hasn’t changed in years; the incompetent consultants who put this together may have long-since retired to a tropical isle). But oh yeah, there it is!

Recall: I have been offered:

  1. “View your detailed bill” (email)
  2. “View my bill” (after authentication … also, why has “your” changed to “my”?)
  3. “View PDF bill”

So clicking/tapping the link, will I see my/your detailed/not-detailed/summary bill? It’s a mystery but at last I have reached my destination.

Dear BC Hydro: Just Attach My (Your?) Fucking Bill To The Email, OK?