The Olympics are coming to Vancouver this month and the city watches and waits for the damage that is about to be inflicted upon us.
The road closures began last Friday in preparation for the games, a full two weeks before the games commence February 12. The High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes are now marked with the Olympic symbol and are now “24-hour Olympic lanes” as part of the official Olympic route network. They call this annoyance the “Travel Smart 2010 Challenge”, as though it’s meant to be fun to turn two weeks of chaos into four.
The city is telling its residents (that’s me) to expect rush hour conditions 24 hours a day during the Olympic games. They are encouraging everyone to use our already overwhelmed public transport system to get around our fair city.
But Vancouverites know that the road closures and chaos are the least of this city’s worries. Most residents are concerned about the legacy of the 2010 Olympics. The legacy of Montreal’s 1976 Summer Olympics was that of a financial disaster. It took the city 30 years to pay off the 1.6 billion dollar debt that was incurred from hosting the games.
Vancouver is likely to follow suit with it’s own regrettable socioeconomic legacy. Along with the monumental, runaway construction costs for the Olympic venues, comes the destruction of British Columbia’s natural environments in order to build the Olympic infrastructure. And the bill for Vancouver’s taxpayers is estimated at nearly 600 million dollars, though the actual bill may never be made public.
Vancouver’s staggering homeless population will certainly not benefit from hosting the Olympics, as Vancouver’s initial plan for turning the Athletes Village into sustainable, affordable housing was scrapped and the land was sold to a private developer.
Many Vancouverites are also wondering if British Columbia’s desire to present itself as perfection (its motto being: “The Best Place on Earth”), will mean its “problems”: homelessness and prostitution will be hidden from sight. Vancouver’s East side residents were quietly shipped off to the suburbs when Vancouver hosted the world’s fair in 1986.
The Olympics may ruin this city, and for what? Two weeks of events that depend less on skill and precision, and more on gravity. Sporting events such as Bobsleigh, which is described as two or four racers pushing off for 50 metres and then jumping into the sleigh; and Skeleton, where the “athlete” runs alongside a sled for 50 metres and then dives face first on to sled. Men’s and ladies Luge seems to be the least challenging, as “racers” begin the “race” sitting in their sled and lie down for the duration. Again I say: 600 million dollars.
We are told to be proud to host this year’s winter Olympics. The city even passed a by-law (now being challenged) that restricts signs and banners of protest to certain areas of the city during the Olympic games (not your lawn, for instance). We’re told to show our civic and national pride while welcoming the world to Vancouver. We’re told to don red mittens (that are made in China, not Canada) and shake hands with the tourists. After all, The World is Watching.