Expo 86 or Vancouver 2010: which was better?
It’s hard to believe that eight months have already passed since hundreds of thousands of Vancouverites filled our sun-drenched streets in celebration of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It was a time of hope and optimism about everything Metro Vancouver represented. For 17 days last February, those of us living here felt like we were the centre of the universe and the energy in the city appeared limitless.
As I watch VANOC slowly shut down their operations and remove or alter almost every visible remnant of the Games, I’m left wondering what lasting impact this event had on the region. Did it really change the psyche of Metro Vancouver?
After hosting one of the world's biggest events, there are no headlines regarding what our next major event will be. Notwithstanding some puffed up news releases, no major businesses or corporations have decided to set up shop in downtown Vancouver as a result of the Games. For the most part, only months after Olympic officials packed up their bags, citizens and government officials have gone back to living their pre-Olympic lives as per usual. So was the expense and effort of hosting the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games really worth it? To answer that question, we need to explore Vancouver's other big event, Expo 86.
In my opinion, it’s pretty clear the economic and cultural spin offs of Expo 86 were measurable and visible throughout the city. Expo 86 put Vancouver on the map and helped kickstart a renewal of Vancouver’s downtown by making it a leading destination for some of the world’s most wealthy and powerful immigrants. The environmental cleanup and subsequent development of the North False Creek lands where Expo once stood are the most visible legacy.
The four-month long exposition pulled back the veil of what to that point had been Canada’s best kept secret gem on the West Coast. It also changed the way in which Vancouverites looked at themselves. No longer was this just a little fishing village along English Bay. Expo 86 made Vancouverites think of themselves differently. They were now part of a larger international group of progressive and innovative urban centres. Expo allowed us to believe that we are only limited by our own creativity when we set our their minds to it.
Speaking on a personal note, Expo 86 had a big impact on my own life. I came to Vancouver for the first time ever during the fair and never really looked back. It was this exposure to the city and region which helped me decide that I wanted to spend the rest of my life here. It’s a decision that I can honestly say I've never regretted for a single day.
Compared to Expo, the 2010 Olympic Games definitely attracted a wider viewing audience and created more intensity in the City’s core over a shorter period of time. However, I would argue that unlike Expo 86, they have not proven (at least so far) to be the game changer I had anticipated.
I’m hard pressed to see how the Games are impacting every day thinking, in particular, at Vancouver City Hall. A big part of that may be the fact the current Vision administration never really embraced the Games.
I would argue that more often than not if felt like Vision was simply tolerating the Olympics, rather than trying to capitalize on them. This was probably triggered by the fact a significant base of their hard core supporters were anti-Olympic and wouldn’t support them even if it resulted in a miracle cure. If Vision would have done too much fist pumping for the Games, it may also have caused their COPE coalition partners to kick up a public fuss.
Coming out of the Olympics, Vancouver was blessed to have some amazing new infrastructure it can market to the world. There is the brand new convention centre, a refurbished 54,000 outdoor seat stadium, a new pool and skating/curling facility, and a rapid transit line to the airport to name but a few.
Some of the other softer achievements include the fact we were able to get tens of thousands of people to abandon their cars and jump onto public transit – many for the first time in their lives. Vancouverites also demonstrated that if the opportunity arises, they will step up to the plate and wave the flag to show their collective pride.
So why is it that eight months later I’m left wondering what the real legacy of these Games were? Did we implement a long-term strategy to keep people out of their cars and get them onto public transit? Are we now talking about how the Seattle/Vancouver region could be hosting a future World Cup? How about getting the UN to set up shop in Vancouver and make us the world centre for environmental sustainability? Is Vancouver talking about its tallest tower being filled with green collar jobs, rather than condos? How about something as simple as getting all the Metro Vancouver mayor’s to develop a cohesive and effective regional economic development strategy?
Where are the big and small ideas that should have been flowing out of the Games? Who is leading this discussion at a local and regional level? As far as I can see, they’re nowhere to be found. That’s why it’s so frustrating to watch civic politicians spend an inordinate amount of time debating backyard chickens, vegetable gardens and separated bike lanes, when much bigger opportunities should be put on the table.
Ever since former Vancouver Mayor Gordon Campbell left the Metro Vancouver region well over a decade ago, there has been a real vacuum of leadership. You see this stark reality playing itself out every day when it comes to the mishandling of key issues such as public transportation, suburban sprawl and economic development.
The Games are over and the time is now for someone to step up with some bold, innovative and practical ideas that will help shape the future of our region for decades to come. We don’t need a dreamer, but a politician who values a tax dollar and has the leadership skills and creativity to collectively take us to the next level. Someone who can both inspire and help Metro Vancouver truly own the podium. Sadly, it would appear that leader is nowhere to be found amongst the current crop of civic politicians who increasingly appear out-of-touch with the goals and aspirations of the average resident.
Perhaps it's too early to make the final call on whether Expo 86 or the Olympics will have a bigger long-term impact? But at least in the early days, I'd say Vancouver's Expo appears to have the edge. What do you think? Which event do you think will eventually have a bigger impact on the region? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
- Post by Daniel