Tag Archives: Canada Line

21st Century Olympics

Just resting now after a few wild days closing off out the Olympics.

My sense is that, despite the grumblings of the UK press (which has some pretty good reasons to set the bar low), these Olympics will get good marks. Athletes got to venues on time, the infrastructure was able to handle the crowds and people had fun. For Canadians there were the added benefits of owning the podium working and, of course, a gold medal in hockey. Things did go wrong, but they were in largely beyond the control of the organizers (it would be great if we could make it snow or stop an El Nino but happily, we can’t) or – in the case of the Olympic Cauldron – they were dealt with.

I had a number of wonderful experiences. I was able to be at the Canada-Russia game. I met a few athletes, even saw a few medalists – and was (very generously) given 5th row tickets to the men’s hockey bronze medal games by Bryce Davidson. I held an Olympics torch, saw the Stanley Cup and got to see the fireworks display at LiveCity in Yaletown. Moreover, I get to ride the Canada Line – the subway to Richmond and the Airport that was built for the Olympics – almost everyday.

All this to say – I had a great time.

But having witnessed two weeks of Olympics I can help but feel there is an underlying challenge for the Olympics – one that emerges from the security concerns of a post-September 11th world and the Olympic Committees obsession with ensuring that only its sponsors are able to advertise, broadcast or even talk about the Olympics.

As technology improves the capacity of the Olympics to prevent people from broadcasting live from the Olympics is going to become increasingly challenging. The Olympics is maybe one of the best examples of an entire jurisdiction being controled so that – to paraphrase Lawrence Lessig – a legal structure, as opposed to technology, becomes the limit free speech and expression. Increasingly, truly free societies may begin to balk at the restrictions the IOC wishes to place not just on corporations but on citizens who are hosting the games. This is also true of the security required to host theses events. The Winter Olympics are relatively small and – security he was very present but not overwhelming. But only by post-September 11th standards. The fact is that, unlike in Calgary, today the venues are fenced off and secured – leaving the Olympics at times feeling a little more like a G20 event than a celebration. Or perhaps, to be more fair, there are really two Olympics – that going on behind the fence, and the rest taking place in the city.

In short, I begin to wonder how many communities – especially those within liberal democracies where individual rights are well established – are going to want to bid on the Olympics. Perhaps the biggest risk is that the IOC, in a bid to sustain its business model, will find itself increasingly having to partner with cities in countries with perhaps not the strongest human rights or democratic standards precisely because it is only those places that can enforce the rules (both in terms of safety and licensing) that that IOC will demand.

I think Vancouver avoided the security excesses people feared about but it isn’t hard to see – looking at Vancouver – the dangerous direction the Olympics could be headed in. And that would be tragedy. Whatever people may say, the Olympics remain a powerful symbol for peace and global brotherhood. Moreover, if done right they can leave host cities with important legacy infrastructure projects (again – the Canada Line stands out). But if the business model of the Olympics mean that it must lock down the cities that host it the costs may simply become too high for most communities.

My sense is that a re-imagining of the Olympics business model is probably in order – one that will allow it to respond to the realities of a networked 21st century world and that re-balance safety concerns with the need to create an environment that is fun and open. Moreover, such a re-imagining would be a fantastic project – something that might revitalize the Olympics in other powerful ways – making it more open, accessible and inspiring, in short, an Olympics that is relevant and ready for the 21st century.

Why Cambie St. Should have been packed up.

* first up – apologies for no post yesterday. It was a holiday in BC. Sometime later this week I’ll describe in greater detail my ridiculously BC-like day of island hoping, sea kayaking and BBQing. And to complete the leftcoast feel, a Smart Car was involved too.<!–

Second up… The Canada Line, the new subway being constructed between Richmond, the airport and Vancouver. The damage the construction has caused to businesses along the Cambie street corridor has been getting an increasing amount of buzz in the press. The whole situation is a fabulous lesson in urban planning and civic policy-making – one that sadly the press has not articulate.

For those out east who are not familiar with the Canada Line or its construction, it looks something like this:

cambie 2

Photo by Stephen Rees, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Sadly, these photos fail to do the situation justice. To put it bluntly, when there is a two story deep hole outside, traffic is at a stand still, the street is unpassable, and there is the endless sound of construction, people tend to stay away. This, needless to say, has made life difficult for the numerous businesses that populate the Cambie St. corridor.

As one can imagine, several businesses (most notably the restaurant Tomato) have moved, several others are complaining. The local MLA – Gregor Robertson – has even introducing a private member’s bill to provide affected businesses with direct financial support.

But is the construction responsible for the death of the Cambie st. businesses? Perhaps. But it is an inevitable death. And this is why the current public policy has so dramatically failed these businesses.

I’ve noted with interest that while businesses complain loudly about the construction and its impact, it is hard to find landowners who complain. One would think that the loss of tenants – and subsequent rental income – this would have generated a fuss. But it hasn’t.

Why? Because the landlords know that once the line is complete most of the Cambie corridor (currently composed of relatively low density commercial buildings) is going to be completely redeveloped. Higher density commercial and, more importantly, condos, are going to be common place along Cambie. Consequently, there is a good chance that if the construction hadn’t kicked these businesses out, their landlords would have in the ensuing rush to redevelop.

Thus the whole notion that Cambie businesses could be kept open was a mirage – a failure to look at the longer term implications of the Subway. Rather than waste time on a failed “Business is Open along the Canada Line” campaign (This is not a communication problem, advertising is not going to bring people to Cambie, only an end to the construction will) local businesses should have been offered money to move location and cover some of their transition costs. While this would have been painful for everyone involved, it would have been less painful then seeing their business dry up and having to move on their own dime.

I’m in favour of the Canada Line. I think it is great for the city. But that doesn’t mean that the Cambie St. businesses should have been left out to dry. The help they received wasn’t the help they needed. sadly, this is probably because giving them the help they needed wasn’t what they wanted to hear, or what politicians wanted to tell them…

* Aug 8th: The Vancouver Sun published this editorial piece on the same day as this post that provides a parallel but different perspective.