Vancouver olympic feat

Vancouver accomplishes Olympic infrastructure feat 

Few things catalyze urban infrastructure like hosting a major sporting event. For Vancouver, the hosts of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the massive event provided not only an opportunity to show off their city and province to millions of spectators around the world, but also to fundamentally transform their urban infrastructure to meet the needs of future generations.

Avoiding elephants

Talk to any host city about sport-related infrastructure and you can be sure that the term 'White Elephant' will come up. They are every government's nightmare: huge, expensive or unnecessary infrastructure builds that - after the big event - are left to rot and decay through disuse. Horror stories abound: stadiums built to such a singular purpose that they are useless to the communities in which they remain; four lane highways to tiny hilltop villages; high speed rails with no passenger demand.

"We made sure we approached infrastructure development by looking at the long-term use over its lifecycle and how it would be used by the community," noted Dr. Penny Ballem, City Manager for the City of Vancouver. "If you just build infrastructure to meet the needs of the games without thinking about where the community is going and what its needs will be, you'll never be able to optimize your investment, even over the 60 or 80 years that the asset will exist."

Creating long-term value

As a result of this long-term thinking, Vancouver is already seeing great value from their games-related infrastructure. But beyond the world-class sporting venues and conference centers, the city also approached infrastructure projects as a way to revitalize the downtown core. For example, the Canada Line (a rapid transit service) was not only an integral part of the games-related transportation plan, it also allowed the city to reformat the public spaces in the downtown core and 'activate' key streets. The line also enabled a significant 'mode-shift' as citizens gained greater access to public transit and bicycle paths. As a case in point, the Canada Line was originally expected to see 100,000 rides per day by 2013, a milestone that it proudly passed in March 2010.

"The games really changed the way we use and interact with our city," noted Dr. Ballem. "We focused on creating a critical mass of public spaces like the Waterfront area and around the Convention Center, and these spaces are now in use almost every weekend."

Participatory planning

Key to the success of both the games and the related infrastructure development was the city's ability to bring a wide variety of stakeholders into the planning and development process. "These are big and complicated events to pull off so it was crucial that we understood all of the partners that would need to be involved, and worked with them to develop our plans and communicate our vision," added Dr. Ballem.

These relationships continue to pay off. Vancouver's city administration is now much more integrated and collaborative across departments, which has enabled the city to rapidly move projects ahead and reduce duplication. But just as important has been the relationship that the city has forged with other levels of governments, local businesses and the citizens themselves that has - in turn - changed the very culture of the city.

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