Vancouver House: Give us your take

Post by Mike Klassen in


VanCity bike
A VanCity credit union bike proudly hangs out of reach at Vancouver House

As our readers know from these exciting past few weeks, we've devoted ourselves to the pursuit of promoting fun, low-cost activities here in Vancouver during the 2010 Games. From the one million page views we've had in the past week, we can tell that many are using this resource. It's been exciting for us to produce our pavilion profiles, and get beyond the boasts of cheap beer or plasma TVs at a venue, and understand why have a venue at all. In almost all cases presenters are very generous in trying to describe their pavilions, and all abide my spontaneous request to give me a short elevator pitch on camera. That is, until I arrived at Vancouver House. I'll now describe my somewhat surreal visit there.

My expectations for Vancouver House – the venue meant to represent my city to the tens of thousands visiting the city – were not very high. I knew a little bit about the troubled project beforehand. Vancouver's pavilion was originally intended to be situated in the more central location of Library Square on Robson. Today I walked by that location, with hundreds standing on the plaza, and thousands walking along the street, and wondered if moving Vancouver House to the back corner of LiveCity Yaletown was a mistake.

We've been told that Vancouver House was quickly revamped to accommodate a hastily prepared economic agenda, the so-called "Green Capital" brand. There was some controversy over this corporate identity, which reputedly cost $240,000 to produce a logo and the video you can see today at Vancouver's pavilion.

Those who have visited the site beforehand were not terribly generous – for example, local journalist Frances Bula recently posted this remark on her blog:

...can you tell me why anyone from the general public would want to visit a place that is essentially a very large business brochure explaining how great it would be to invest in this city?

Unswayed, I wanted to visit the place for myself. It was the last of a four venue afternoon for me, and it followed the inspiring West House pavilion, which I will be profiling shortly. Vancouver House greets you with a cleanly designed, in your face Helvetica Gotham font business message. Green means many things, apparently, and it's also the colour of Vancouver's future.

Walls are adorned with buzz phrases like "entrepreneurially corporate" and stats, all in Helvetica Gotham font hues of green, grey and blue. A few notable figures from the planning and sustainability movement are featured in video loops, including the city's former director of planning Larry Beasley. Which begs the obvious question: why feature the former director of planning? The green screen style of the videos is slick, but reminds me of bank commercials Saturday Night Live used to mock in the 90s.

As one walks through the rather stark presentation, you encounter a big wall with a tightly scripted and well-rehearsed Mayor Robertson, mouthing some of the same buzz phrases I describe. The impression it gives is decidedly 1984, with Big Brother reminding you that green is the new black.

For a place that is meant to represent my city in some way, it was surprisingly bereft of anything Vancouver at all. Where are the images of our neighbourhoods? Where are the scenes of Main Street, Chinatown, The Drive, South Hill or Marpole? Where's the message about the immense work done over a generation to make Vancouver one of the world's most livable and sustainable cities? Besides a smattering of Very Important Green People, where the heck are the faces of the city?

I didn't really want to watch the videos cutely labeled "AudaCity," "CapaCity," and "VeloCity" because, frankly, I felt that I was being spun, not informed. I was hoping for a little bling, maybe an interactive screen of some kind. So were these kids and others who saw the video table in the middle of the lounge and realized it wasn't interactive. The couches did serve a purpose, allowing really stoned kids waiting for the Deadmau5 concert a place to nap before the show.

I was there just under 15 minutes and began to head for the door. I didn't see any tours taking place, but since I was there I figured that I should at least get someone to give me the spiel so that I could share it with you. A volunteer host pointed me to someone who could be a spokesperson for the venue. I introduced myself and asked if he might give me the 90-second elevator pitch on Vancouver House so that I could share it with our readers. At that point things got strange.

First, I got the "and you are..?" David Spade treatment. No matter, I just said that we've produced a popular web resource sharing all the pavilions with thousands of readers. The fellow then tells me he better check with his boss in public relations, Carole Appleby. Carol works for Karyo-Edelman, the top PR firm hired to handle all the communications for the LiveCity venues.

Then spokesperson/host guy comes back with a "I'm not authorized to speak with you, can you come back another day?" response. So much for spontaneity, huh? Trust me, there's not enough at Vancouver House that would compel me to come back a second time. If the lack of any line-ups in this hidden corner of David Lam Park are any evidence, not many others are eager to get here. There was a huge queue to get in and look at Panasonic electronics, but no one interested in the Host City's venue.

When describing my experience to a friend this evening, she suggested that I get you, our readers, to give us the Vancouver House elevator pitch. If the City of Vancouver won't make someone available to describe their namesake venue, maybe one of you can do it for them.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, record your own video 60-second elevator pitch on Vancouver House and put the YouTube link in the comments below. I'm sure that our readers are a lot more creative – and spontaneous – than the folks down at LiveCity Yaletown.


Unreal reaction from the PR firm. Sure, new media can be tricky, but figure it out guys!

BTW - it's Gotham, not Helvetica.

Shame on the city and shame on the mayor for this self promotion. I was wondering if you were ever going to write something, or if you were going to be too politically correct. I visited this pavilion with my family and we felt cheated that we walked all that way for nothing. A big waste of time. I live in the Kitsilano neighbourhood and expected the pavilion would help to promote people getting out of the downtown and visiting local shops and businesses. Isn't that economic development? Rather, all we saw was a big video of the mayor talking. I hope this pavilion didn't cost much? I can't believe there was all this controversy over the Canada pavilion which actually has tens of thousands of people visiting it each day. The controversy should be over this pavilion which nobody visits any day and it probably cost just as much! You should investigate how much all this cost

We were planning on visiting this pavilion...that is until we read how you were treated. In fact, we were heading down to yaletown today to visit coca cola, samsung and this venue. No longer. Politics is no place for the Vancouver pavilion. It should be neutral and you should have been treated like you were in all the other pavilions. We love your quick reviews and listening to the organizers explain it on video. Too bad Vancouver wasn't up to the challenge.

Why don't they leave all the pavilions open for the Paralympics games? Let the tourists have them now, and the locals can enjoy them during the Paralympics. So much work went into creating each pavilion, and it takes time to read and watch everything. I am sure the creators of these pavilions worked many long hours. Vancouver is used to their locations, we can drive around them. Keep them up! Or, get people to pay one dollar to see them after the Olympics. You could make lots of money.

P.S. The best server (most polite and handsome) is Sam. He works at Cafe Crepe, downtown on Granville St.

maybe they should have stuck with the Helvetica as it seems this is a Helve waste of time .... leaping lizards Batman .... maybe City graphics group can do some quick neighbourhood montages for second half .......

Did they blow most of the house budget on the green logo ($240,000)?

Hi Mike,

I was interested to read your blog today. I would like to clarify some factual errors in the story, particularly the characterization of me (named personally) and the City as being unresponsive. It’s simply not true. You were given my personal cell phone number by Host City staff so that you could reach me right away, and we immediately spoke by phone. I offered you an interview with Sue Harvey, the Executive Producer of LiveCity Vancouver, who was on site at the time, who would have been happy to meet you at Vancouver House and answer your questions. You declined. In addition, I offered to call the City communications team who could have arranged an interview for you with someone from City Hall and the Mayor's office to provide further context on the City’s Green Capital economic development plan. You declined. Finally, because I was on site, I further offered to come over and speak with you in person. You declined. Instead, you insisted on pursuing an interview with a person who was not in a position to comment on the City’s facility, placing that person in an understandably uncomfortable position.

While I respect your opinion about Vancouver House and the City plans, I believe the opportunities for interviews and comment you were offered would have provided balance to your report, and a greater understanding of the City’s goals and objectives during the Games.

If you would provide the space, the City would love the opportunity to share that perspective with your City Caucus readers.

Carole Appleby
Manager, Client Services
Karyo Edelman

Thank you for the Marpole shout out!

Haven't visited the Vancouver House of yet, but the Mint & the Olympic Medals were really spectacular.

On another note, related to those 'other' Vancouver neighbourhoods, we're happy to report that the City Engineering Dept has reinstated our northbound on-street parking in the Marpole commercial district, a much-appreciated shift from the 24/7 parking restrictions. City Staff have been very helpful and considerate of our neighbourhood's concerns, and have acted swiftly to help us out as circumstances have warranted. A big Thank You to them from the businesses, residents & customers in Marpole.

Very disappointing, as a Vancouverite, I felt I was being subjected to the mayor's agenda instead of what Vancouver is really about. I recommend the BC pavilion, Four Nations house and the Mint to visitors.

I also thought Ms. Appleby's response was a missed opportunity. Instead of rehashing your visit, why didnt she extol the virtues of Vancouver house in that space, that is what a reader like myself would expect.

Dear Carole Appleby:

Return your cheque to City taxpayers.

Shut. Your. Business. Down.

I'm 2,000 miles away and I don't need a PR 101 book to tell me that his point was that no one was available to answer *casual* questions at the booth. He wasn't asking for an interview with City Hall. He wasn't asking for an official spokesperson.

He was asking for some interactive chatter, the way I would had I flown back home to visit your booth as a guest of Vancouver, the sort of chatter any idiot would expect walking into a trade show booth or pavilion anywhere in the world. If there's no message a volunteer or junior staffer can deliver, it could be because there's no message at all.

Which makes it a failed booth.


Vancouver house was terrible.It was like something Tom Green would put together as a joke and record peoples reactions.

Brian you were bang on. These hot shot PR firms who are stuck up on themselves are just too much. All Mike was looking for was a quick 60 second interview. Hard to believe the staff on site can't provide that. They need to pull in the spinmeisters from central command?? Why? This woman from the PR firm needs to chill out and should stop all her lecturing. NOT GOOD. I visited the pavilion and think Vancouver got ripped off!! What a joke.

Hi Carol, thanks for the response. Did I really decline all that much? I don't recall events that way. We did speak by phone, after the host at Vancouver House (the one giving tours of the venue) asked me to wait while he checked with you about speaking to me. After waiting about five minutes watching him pace back and forth, cell phone in hand, I was told by the host (the one giving tours at the venue) that he would not talk to me. I asked him whether he was giving tours to other media, and his response was "I refuse to answer that question."

I've done several impromptu interviews with hosts at the free venues. I never require that anyone speak on camera. I only ask for the sales pitch, which I share unfiltered on each pavilion profile. The same offer existed for Vancouver House.

As for all the opportunities you describe, I'd like to correct a few. City staffer Sue Harvey's name was never mentioned once in our short conversation. I've met Sue and would have considered it worthwhile to speak with her. Secondly, no opportunity to speak with a "city communications representative" from the Mayor's office or otherwise was offered up – you can be sure I would have remembered an offer to speak with Magee or Quinlan. What you did indicate is that you were on-site but not near Vancouver House. I told you that I was at the end of my available time at LiveCity Yaletown, and could not wait for you to arrive. I was told by you that next time I wanted to come to the site that I should contact you beforehand. By the way, I had contacted one of your colleagues earlier in the day, and notified them I would be visiting Vancouver House.

My advice to the organizers of Vancouver House and any other venue, is to make sure that you have people on-site confident enough in what they're selling that they can speak on the record. So far we've been quite successful in hearing from other venues. Vancouver House is an exception to this.

Mike Klassen

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