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British Columbia 20 questions with Vancouver community activist Stephanie Allen

Stephanie Allen, vice-president at Catalyst Community Developments Society, says income inequality is at the root of Vancouver’s housing crisis and growing social fragmentation in the city and across the globe.

photo couretsy Stephanie Allen

For this feature, Globe B.C. borrows from Marcel Proust (and media that have popularized the French author's famous questionnaire) as a way to get to know notable people around the province. Here is Stephanie Allen, a Vancouver housing advocate helping to raise awareness and rebuild a community around Hogan's Alley – a black neighbourhood that was bulldozed in the late 1960s to build a freeway into the downtown peninsula. Ms. Allen, a vice-president at non-profit real estate developer Catalyst Community Developments Society, is pushing the city to incorporate the history of its black citizens into its plans for the massive overhaul of the Northeast False Creek area.

1. If you could live anywhere in British Columbia, where would it be?

A three-bedroom townhouse in Kitsilano with a little yard and room for a garden. Dare to dream, eh?! Or Smithers, the cutest small town in B.C., with the best people.

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2. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

The West Indies. Barbados, Grenada, Trinidad et cetera. … Give me heat, Caribbean food and that beautiful culture.

3. Which talent would you most like to have?

To be able to do complex math equations in my head. The kind with decimals, square roots, exponents.

4. Bike, walk or drive?

Walk. In comfortable shoes (this is key).

5. Dog or cat?

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Both. I genuinely can't live a happy life if I don't have free access to both dogs and cats.

6. An object you still own from your childhood?

A Nelson Mandela T-shirt I bought on Yonge Street in Toronto in June, 1989. He was still in prison and the caption under his photo says "the struggle is my life." I still wear it, holes and all.

7. What is your greatest extravagance?

Fresh-cut flowers.

8. What's your guiltiest pleasure?

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Of course this will be food: fried bakes and salt fish. My mom is from Guyana and it's a dish she made for us growing up. Bakes are round dough balls, like large dumplings, that are pan-fried. The salt fish is stewed with tomatoes, onions, lemon and thyme. I only learned recently that salted codfish was such a staple in West Indian cooking because it was imported from the Maritimes by the former colonizers as an inexpensive food source for enslaved people.

9. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

An old-school family barbecue with all the relatives, from babies to elders. All my favourite Caribbean foods are served, the music is bumping and one of my aunties gets the dance floor going where we dance till the morning. Get yourself an invitation if you can.

10. What is your greatest fear?

Being denied the chance to live up to my full potential.

11. What was your first paying job?

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I worked at an authentic Italian bakery and pizzeria in Hamilton when I was 15, making $3.90 per hour. My job involved taking pizza orders over the phone, serving customers in the bakery (oh, the cannolis!) and piping written messages on birthday and anniversary cakes. I still cringe at how many birthdays I ruined with my sloppy, misshapen cake-writing skills.

12. What is the best present you've ever been given?

Love.

13. Least favourite holiday?

Going to Brussels. The frites were great, but otherwise, nope.

14. What restaurant have you eaten at the most?

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The hot bar at Whole Foods Market.

15. If you could be a fictional character for one day, who would it be?

Bugs Bunny: He outwitted every opponent, travelled the world and always kept a sense of humour under pressure.

16. What is the greatest issue facing Vancouver?

Income inequality. It is at the root of the housing crisis and growing social fragmentation happening in our city and across the globe.

17. What life lesson did you learn last year?

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How liberating it is to let go of what isn't working any more and step into the unknown.

18. When and where were you happiest?

Any time I'm in nature is pure bliss. Fly-fishing in a belly boat, snowshoeing in the mountains, bird-watching in a forest (yes, I'm a bit of a birder) have all been moments of unbounded joy.

19. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Self-doubt.

20. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Bigotry.

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