I have not commented before because it really did not feel like it was my place to do so. Vancouver does not really feel like it is my city yet and the Games were announced long before I arrived. So I am a tail end Charlie. However, I am mindful that the Summer Olympics are coming to London in 2012, so I have been watching events unfold here with some interest - is this how it will be for Londoners too?
From personal, informal observation (gathered from people I know, reading the media etc.) local residents of Vancouver appear to be split into three main camps:
- gung-ho for the Games;
- ambivalent about the Games; and
- extremely vocal in a negative way about the Games.
I need to admit that I am not sure that I have actually met anyone who is in the first category but I do hear that they exist. Perhaps they are just keeping their excitement well hidden (in the way that a football fan might do if their team scores but they are seated at the wrong end of the pitch)?
It is possible that when the Games start, these people will stream into the streets,
cars bicycles (as these people will be compliant with VANOC's transport recommendations) bedecked with Canadian flags and toot their horns ring their bells in triumph at a Canadian medal winning performance.
I do know a number of people in the second category. They appear to be doing what they can to make the best of the fact that the Games are coming to Vancouver and they plan to get on with their lives, as best they can, around the event. However, they do not sound that excited about it. They sound a bit well...resigned? The impression they give is that they are steeling themselves for the arrival of the Games rather than looking forwards to it.
Based only on what people have said to me in discussion and from reading local media, it seems that many people fall into the third category. Despite a lot of positive PR (which includes endless ads on tv "Do You Believe?"...ack, cheesy... and a big poster campaign around the city etc.), the discussion tends to focus on:
- the expense of the Games, the projects that money has been spent on, the disruption to the city-businesses-people that these projects caused while they were in progress and the long term value of those investments versus what people feel the city should have spent money on (longer term relevance and value);
- the fact that the Games are very over budget and residents perceive that they are going to be paying for the honour of being a host city for many years to come;
- wondering what positive legacy will be left in place for the city and its residents after the Games are over;
- the feeling that Vancouver did not really need the publicity associated with being a host city. Whistler is a well known ski resort and the city of Vancouver is a popular tourist destination (courtesy of having the reputation of being one of the best cities in the world to live in);
- the disruption that the event has brought in the run up to the Games (which is going to worsen while it is on) and the impact that this is having on communities, commutes, livelihoods and families.
To give you an idea - there will be road closures, parking and stopping suspensions. There will be area security closures around key Olympic venues. This may sound obvious but as a result...
...some schools and businesses plan to close. This might sound great but is likely to impact some residents personally (extra child care requirements / adverse impact on income).
Some employers are following official guidance and are requiring that their employees change their regular work hours from 9am-5pm, 7am-2pm during the games (to alleviate anticipated Olympic congestion downtown).
Others seem to be implementing a 'regular hours' contract with staff - someone who landed a job recently was required to sign an employee contract that committed them to regular work hour attendance during the Games. If they are absent or late? It will be grounds for dismissal.
Not to mention the 200 or so homeless people who were relocated to Squamish from Whistler for the period of the Games very recently (for security reasons, apparently).
More about what the city recommends to local residents and businesses can be found at this link. You may need to read between the lines to assess the impact of this advice on a busy city.
Now VANOC consulted with an official from a former Games host city and as a result, distributed a leaflet to local businesses advising the fact that while they expect hotels and restaurants to benefit from the Games, they do not expect very much in other areas of retail sales. In fact, they might drop. From the evidence collected from former host cities, people who travel to Vancouver to be a part of the Olympic experience may buy things that they have forgotten to pack or did not realise that they needed (e.g. wellies, raincoats and umbrellas) and they may buy memorabilia. However, that is pretty much thought to be it. Consistent with this, many watering holes/restaurants popular with local residents have warned that they are booked throughout the Games as they have been adopted by competing nations as hospitality venues. This means that they will be pretty much closed to the general public.
So, despite the fact that this should be, a memorable, 'once in a lifetime experience' for the city and its residents, many people are voicing that they do not feel that there is anything in it for them. In fact, they plan to avoid the city and the Games altogether.
Some are taking holidays (abroad in some cases - yes, leaving the country to avoid the Games), some plan to work from home in order to avoid coming into Vancouver and the rest appear to be gritting their teeth, or grinding them, about the prospect of their commute and the disruption to their usual routine.
So, in summary, I feel that I am living in a city that appears to be bracing itself for the Winter Olympics, rather than embracing the forthcoming experience of being the host city.
Personally, I hope that the angst and worry is misplaced. I hope that the whole event goes well - particularly for local residents. After all, if local residents will be paying for this event for years to come, they may as well get as much as they can out of the experience while it is here.
As for us? We will stay out of the way. I did meet a few people early last year who obtained event tickets through the residents' ticket lotteries (not met any since though). I was not eligible to participate in the lotteries at the time and the Games were too distant for them to prickle the Fella's interest at all. By the time he was interested, the lotteries were over and he's looked since but there do not seem to be any tickets available (certainly none that are affordable) for the sorts of things that we are interested in.
So despite the fact that we live here, we will watch the events on tv, just like everyone else around the globe. Yes, there is every chance that we will fight over the remote (convertor). The Fella wants to watch the ice hockey and I want to watch the figure skating!