Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Another Olympics Update

Running with my buddies Clint and Jamie this unusually brisk winter morning in our Mount Pleasant neighbourhood, we saw city workers moving concrete pylons and erecting barbed-wire perimeter fencing around the Olympic curling venue at Ontario and 33rd. My first thought was incredulity--who'd want to protest curling, except maybe those who didn't consider it a real sport, or its sometimes older and less-than-toned competitors real athletes? This was soon replaced by anger, as a block-and-a-bit later we ran by what remains of the Little Mountain social housing complex, which is being steadily demolished in advance of proposed redevelopment.

The stark juxtaposition of these two images brought to mind the second Pre-Games Results Report released by researchers at UBC last week. Part of a series of four "Olympic Games Impact Studies" mandated by the IOC (two prior to and two following upon the Games), the report concludes that the Olympics have so far had "a very slight positive impact." Mostly this has been felt in the area of athlete preparedness and competitiveness, with the federal government's "Own the Podium" campaign having successfully positioned Canadian 2010 Olympians to excel in their individual events next February. On the subject of homelessness and affordable housing, however, the report is far less laudatory, noting that reliable data suggests that homelessness in the city has more than doubled in advance of the games, that the legacy of 252 social housing units from the Olympic Village is in jeopardy, and that while statistics suggest the number of social-housing units per 1,000 people in Vancouver increased from 35.6 to 39.4 between 2001 and 2006, in Metro Vancouver it decreased from 22.3 to 21.8.

So much for the Inner-City Inclusivity Statement that all three levels of government signed back in 2002 committing them to a net increase in social housing and an elimination of street homelessness as a concrete legacy of the Games. In the following video posted to YouTube by Am Johal and the folks at the Impact on Community Coalition, we are reminded of just how many promises have been broken in advance of the Olympics (kudos to the IOCC gang for getting in some hard-hitting stats at the end of the video on the arts and culture cuts in BC):

Meanwhile, I read in the paper today that VANOC has signed a deal with Concord Pacific allowing it to use the vacant CP-owned lots on North False Creek between GM Place and Science World for official Olympics-related events. This solves an accessibility and security nightmare for VANOC at the 11th hour, brings CP on board as an "official supplier," and of course gives CP a public relations windfall in being able to do some advance marketing on the final piece (quite literally) of their post-Expo 86 redevelopment of the downtown core of Vancouver.

And who says hallmark events like these don't benefit everyone?


1 comment:

Peter Morgan said...

If you actually read the Pre-Games Results Report, as I did for a news feature about it, you quickly realize that (a) the commentary is very heavily qualified with words such as "we believe", "we can't rule out", "arguably, the situation might be", and so on. Well, you can't rule it in then, and arguably, the situation might not be just as equally.

And whenever you see the word "believe" being used by a scientist you know he's got religion about the subject.

Out of 126 indicators the researchers were tracking that were selected to show if the Games were having any impact, the report notes that only a third of them held useful data in the study period, which only took in the first three years of VANOC's existence, and it was still in planning-and-research mode during those years, thus having very little effect outside of its office.

All of us reporters closely questioned Professor Rob VanWynsberghe, the report's author, about the net-housing-for-the-homeless data, and he agreed that because of the way it's collected, nobody, including opponents of the Games, can rely on it for accuracy. And, again the reminder that his study only used data up to, in most cases, 2006, but some into early 2007.

While he talks about the Olympic Village income-tested housing in his report, its financial problems, which were the result of decisions by the City of Vancouver, not VANOC, did not come to light until last spring, which is well outside of his study period, so you have to ask yourself why he commented on it at all.

As for Concord Pacific's sponsorship, don't forget it's paying VANOC to be a sponsor, not the other way around, and the private money (as opposed to public money) it's paying to VANOC, as well as the land it's providing for free as part of the deal, a total value in excess of $3 million, supports the operation of the Games, which in turn is mostly for athletes or Canadian cultural performances.

Doing that deal was simply a logical requirement of VANOC deciding to use the only facility in the Greater Vancouver area big enough to hold an Opening Ceremony. If you choose that facility, and you need a certain amount of staging area, then Concord is the only owner of undeveloped land nearby that's big enough.

It doesn't take a scientist to figure that one out.