Mayor Gregor's CBC Fan Zone turns into mayhem on June 15th
Where does “riot control” fit in when you’re budgeting for the arts?
Culture, says Tourism Vancouver, should be the priority for the next decade if Vancouver is to become a truly “world-class” city. Culture is what gives us a global brand that will keep people coming here, and staying around longer, spending more money when they do.
And because a city has to express its character in an entertaining way – since that’s really what culture is about as an economic activity – how much should civic government spend to cultivate a thriving cultural scene?
Civic-owned institutions like the art gallery, check. Grants for the major arts organizations and dozens of small companies, check. Public art, check. Policing and engineering services …um, not really.
For those services, the city bills out on a cost-recovery basis. Even non-profit events like the jazz festival have to cover the costs incurred, from policing to engineering, plus administration.
Yes, they get grants, but they’re still expected to put up a big chunk of change. If they can’t, they may not survive.
So two questions: is sport culture? And should it pay its way?
No doubt sport is a cultural expression – notably when the brand of the winning hockey team is inseparable from the identity of the city for months at a time. “We are all Canucks” is meant to be taken literally.
But should Big Sport pay for the costs incurred by its success? Specifically, are professional sports in the same category as, say, the Pride Parade?
Apparently not. While the Canucks and Lions may be profit-making entities, when it comes to the costs of handling the consequences of their success, Vancouver taxpayers pay.
Yes, the Canucks are billed for street closures around their stadium, but when it comes to closing Georgia Street for live sites and handling the traffic everywhere else in the city, city hall eats it. Hell, the Canucks didn’t expect to pay for the victory parade in the event they won the Stanley Cup.
Though the money spent on jerseys alone was likely greater than the ticket receipts of every arts company in town, the Canucks were not expected to divert a nickel to the city’s coffers. Nor does the city get any sales tax from the economic benefits that shower down on every bar and restaurant and cheerleading media outlet.
Property taxes don’t go up in the event the Stanley Cup comes to town; the team gets the silver and the civic taxpayers get the bill.
No one minded the public expenses, of course – least of all the mayor and councillors of every party, who donned the jerseys and didn’t question the expenditures, except to ask the province to chip in. (Answer: no way.)
When the team is winning and the sports jocks are amplifying the tribal spirit, no one in leadership wants to be called out for reinforcing the image of “No Fun Vancouver” – just possibly the most intimidating meme ever used to suppress common sense.
Who would have dared, in the heat of the playoffs, to have put out a public announcement: Don’t come downtown. No more street parties. Turn off the TV screens.
Until, of course, three hours after Game 7.
So what now for the future management of the playoffs? Will the public shaming by Facebook prevent another e-riot?
Or do we give the police chief a blank cheque, because we can’t afford the risk of burning cars and smashing glass?
Let’s assume Tourism Vancouver is right: culture means world-class status – and accept that sports means culture. Then where should the money come from to foster and promote a world-class cultural scene if Big Sport doesn’t pay, but everyone else does?
Do we divert resources that might go to fund the non-profit arts sector, which pays around minimum wage, to cover the ancillary costs for an organization in which every principal is a millionaire?
Doesn’t seem quite fair, does it?
But the city can’t really send the Canucks a bill for policing off-site events, can’t stop the media cheerleading, couldn’t prevent people from coming downtown to drink and celebrate and won’t likely get anyone else – region or province – to contribute. Nonetheless, the leadership – whoever is in power – would certainly have to pay the political price for another riot.
If Doug Keefe and John Furlong want to be really helpful in their investigation, they will tell us not just who was responsible for the last riot but who should pay to prevent the next one.
- Post by Gordon Price. He is Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. He also writes, teaches and consults on urban development and planning. He served six terms as Councillor for the City of Vancouver, from 1986 to 2002, as well as on the board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro) and TransLink, the regional transportation authority.This column was originally posted on pricetags.com.
Follow us on Twitter @CityCaucus. Follow Gordon on Twitter @pricetags.