Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympic Images

I suspect everyone with a camera has some wonderful photos to remind them of the past 16 days. As the Olympics come to an end, here are some miscellaneous shots from the last week, in no particular order...

The Canada Russia hockey game offered many photo-ops. but I was fascinated by all the spectators in red and white, and the Russian team gathering for its pre-game huddle around the goalie.
It was also fun to watch the game with some English ladies who demonstrated their new Canadian pride.The Royal Mint display at SFU's Segal Business School was surprisingly interesting. I did not have the patience to line up to see and touch the medals, but I was fascinated by the holographic coins and the million dollar gold coin on display.One day, I went up to Whistler where the District of Squamish and Pemberton hosted a day to encourage economic development. It was delightful to meet some of the locals who had won Olympic medals, but for me a highlight was meeting Peter Mansbridge, the evening's guest speaker, who I have admired for many years.Without a doubt, however, the highlight of the two weeks was experiencing the infectous spirit on the streets, especially around Robson Square, where a stage was set up, fireworks were set off nightly, and nearby buildings served as video screens.Around the corner, CTV set up a studio on the street where Bill Good seemed to be broadcasting 24 hours a day...Elsewhere in the downtown, office buildings and trees were lit up and the early blooming flowers created an almost surreal effect for February. The tower crane on the Jameson House site seemed to be saying everything's alright!
The recently completed Granville Mall looked pretty good with the handmade lanterns, but why did they not use a more attractive finish along the street...the broomed concrete is most unfortunate.The nearby Bay Store, with its daily line-ups looked pretty good at night...
Travelling around during the day I came across some unusual sites. On Granville Island, after taking a ride on the new tram, I came across Duh Hockey Gyz...
Over at the North Shore of False Creek I found a series of globes designed as interesting public art, and great demonstrations of patriotism at CityGateOne of the biggest surprises was how well the traffic was fact there was so little traffic at times, the streets felt almost surreal and parking had to be put on sale!I have many hundreds of more images, but hopefully these will inspire others to post some of their favourite photos...It has been a great couple of weeks, but now it's time to start working so that many of the wonderful things that happened in Vancouver can become the legacies for our city.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympic Whistler Weekend

Having seen the Vancouver and Cypress Mountain Olympic venues, we were delighted to receive an invitation from Roger and Diana Hughes to spend an Olympic Weekend at Whistler. Roger was one of the original Whistler architects and kept one of the ski-in, ski-out cabins that he designed for Intrawest on Blackcomb. (Roger was also the architect of record for the new Olympic Curling Centre and Robson Square renovations in Vancouver, but both facilities have functioned so well, there has been little publicity about his designs. He's happy to glow on the inside.)As guests of local residents, we were given a pass to drive the newly rebuilt Sea to Sky highway. While it is much improved, and knocked 15 minutes off the trip, for the life of me I couldn't understand why the transportation engineers had decided to reconfigure the road with yellow pylons, just for the Olympics. In some cases, the pylons add another lane for a very short distance; in others, they change the direction of the middle lane. While the regulars are getting used to it, the changes can be somewhat confusing and disconcerting for first time drivers, especially when the dividing concrete barrier is on your just hope everyone coming in the other direction is paying attention too!

We arrived just as the sun was setting and the tree lights were coming on. It all looked quite magical; but needed a light dusting of snow to be completely transformed into a winter wonderland.

The next day we headed off to the Village Square. It had been set up as a Live City site with a large stage and giant video monitors. A very talented group, with bare-chested drummers was entertaining the crowd, all decked out in red. It was a very festive and friendly atmosphere.One of the prominent retail outlets was selling Russian and Ukranian gear. Since three of my four grandparents were born there, (and I really do like to think of myself as 'non-partisan'), I decided to buy a Russian baseball hat. If nothing else, it was quite an attractive Italian design, and very well made, compared to the Canadian hats....check them out. By the way, can anyone explain why the Canadian Olympic hats came in almost every colour,

If the price of the clothing is any indication, Soichi is going to be a very expensive experience. (The thin cotton golf shirts were $149 and the ski jackets were $600.)We went over to the Brew Pub for lunch and Joe Hussein, one of the creators of Blackcomb sat down at the next table. We chatted briefly and Joe commented how sorry he felt for all of his acquaintences who had decided to leave town for the Olympics. I had to agree. The inconveniences have been modest compared to the joy of the experience. It has been a fabulous experience for almost everyone who has stayed. Joe added that the Callaghan Valley development might turn out to be the greatest physical legacy of the Olympics.

After an afternoon of wandering around, at 4 pm we set off for the Slide Centre to watch the qualifying runs for Men's Bobsledding. It was very comfortable and I couldn't help compare it with the experience we had had at Cypress Mountain exactly one week earlier. It was easy to get to, and get in. There were lots of food concessions and washrooms, and while we were not there at lunch or dinner, no line-ups.Fortunately, we had $30 general admission tickets, rather than grandstand seats, which meant we could wander around and watch the runs from different locations around the track. I was astounded at how easy it was to move around, and how close you could get to the track and the bobsledders. Given the tragedy with the Georgian luger, the presence of the Chaplains took on a special meaning.After the first runs, one of the Canadian teams (piloted by a fellow with the appropriate name of Rush) was in third place, and we had great hopes. But before they had their second run, we witnessed some drama with one of the Austrian teams at the finishing line. I'm not sure if this was mentioned in the television coverage, but there is a weight limit for each team. At the end of each race, the bobsledders and their bobsled are weighed on a special scale. We only discovered this when we watched the two men balancing themselves on their sled and another spectator turned to me and said "Look, he's cheating!" It seems he 'had his thumb on the scale'...although in this case it was the opposite...he was pressing down with one of his toes outside the scale to reduce their apparent weight.

At one point, both riders got off and wiped all the moisture off their sled. But it was to no avail. The judges ruled they were too heavy!

On the way home, we happened to start chatting with a member of the Austrian media. He told us the story. It seems one of the bobsledders was injured earlier in the week, and a replacement was found. But he knew he was too heavy so he spent the week trying to shed some pounds. He did well, but was still 500 grams over the limit. He was disqualified.

Sadly, the Canadian team was also soon out of the race. In their case, the problem was not weight, but control. They lost it. Tragically, they were in first place went they tipped over. It was a sad ending to a very good experience.

We enjoyed dinner in the village and then set off to watch the crowds. Surprisingly, at 10 pm the musicians stopped, and the assembled throngs had to make do with a portable 'ghetto-blaster'. We were told that organizers wanted the attendees inside the nearby pubs and lounges, not out in the public areas. OK.

We ended up our evening in the Minus 5 degreees lounge...a make-shift 'igloo' where everything is made from ice. The bar is made of ice; the glasses are ice. It was not the ice palace we have read about in travel magazines, but it was an interesting experience and a good way to end a good day.While we regretted that we have given up downhill skiing, the next day we set off for a trip on the gondolas...first the Whistler Gondola, and then the new Peak to Peak for lunch with the Hughes at Christines, a surprisingly elegant restaurant at the top of Blackcomb. It was magnificent...the sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue, and it was warm. An old man seemed a bit disoriented so I asked if he needed some help. He told me he had lived at Whistler for 90 years and if he didn't know where to go now, he never would!

If you can get to Whistler before the end of the Olympics, I highly recommend it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Media failing to keep perspective on Games problems

Yes, there are problems at Cypress Mountain that still need to be addressed, and the changes to the fence around the cauldron revealed a questionable judgment when it comes to balancing security concerns with public aspirations, (although I did see Gordon Campbell enthusiastically defending what was being done). However, there is a fabulous, infectious spirit in the city that is much greater than what I expected. I assumed the big line-ups to get into the pavilions would be temporary, but I'm wrong; there are continuous line-ups, which seem to be just getting longer!

I agree with John Furlong that both the national and international media are losing perspective in some aspects of their coverage. Yesterday, the lead story on CBC was the injuring of 19 people when a barricade broke at the Yaletown Live City. Yes, it was a problem, and did result in some minor injuries and the cancellation of the concert, but it wasn't really that serious, and in the overall scheme of things, this should not have been the lead story. Similarly, today the lead story is the mentally ill man who got close to Joe Biden. While I agree that the fact that the man is infatuated with Biden is news, I question whether this incident should have been elevated to the lead story and extensive coverage. Of course, there is a desire to embarrass the $900 million security program, (which I abhor) but I think we are approaching the point where enough is enough and it is time to more prominently highlight some of the real successes of these games and related Cultural Olympiad, and there are so many.

In this morning's Vancouver Sun, Furlong correctly noted that there are thousands of things going on and given the number of people in the city, it is inevitable that some things will go wrong. He also acknowledged that there is an obligation to address problems. While I admit that I have been critical of some of VANOC's actions, especially when they didn't demonstrate a real appreciation for the importance of looking after the audience as well as the athletes, I hope that problems will continue to be addressed, and the media will begin to recognize this, and appreciate that some truly wonderful things are happening in the city.

I am very proud of Vancouver.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Yes, the Olympics are great. But my advice to VANOC, If you make a mistake, at least make a feature of it!

An architecture professor of mine once gave me some advice that has often guided me through my life..."If you make a mistake, at least make a feature of it!"

In design terms it might mean adding some trim to a wall that is a bit crooked, rather than trying to disguise the fact.

In order to turn around some of the negative publicity, I think VANOC needs to adopt a similar posture to address the inevitable problems that will continue to arise throughout the Olympics.

Unfortunately, I am not sure this is happening....yet.

For example, we have all had to endure lengthy line-ups. Rather than think of the people waiting in line as a queue, think of them as an audience! The VANOC volunteers could be the show hosts, asking people where they are from, introducing people to their new neighbours...helping people to enjoy themselves in the line.

VANOC should also round up more street performers...there were quite a few downtown...why not invite/allow many more street musicians, magicians, and others to entertain people who are waiting in lines.

On a related matter, why do we always have to line up? Why not use the systems employed at Disneyland and other venues...for something like the zip line, or getting into Canada House, give people a number and tell them to come back at an appointed time. It's not too late to make some changes.

The fence around the Cauldron is another missed opportunity. For the life of me, I cannot understand why VANOC is continuing to allow the security people who have dominated so much of the event organization (at considerable unnecessary cost) to continue to dictate how things are done.

It seems like common sense to remove that awful make-shift chain-link fence completely and employ some of the thousands of police (many who appear to have been brought in from across Canada) and other security personnel to protect the flame. If it's a problem at night, then put up the fence.

The decision to modify the fence seems very foolish to me. The fence has become such a strong negative symbol of our Olympics, the logical and creative thing would seem to be to take it down. If God forbid some local protesters or terrorists damage it, then VANOC will be vindicated! But I don't think this will happen. And if I am wrong, could VANOC at least explain to us why the fence has to be there in its revised configuration. I have not yet heard any justification.

Let's talk about Cypress Mountain. Firstly, we should start by publicly mocking the Utah journalist who claims that spectators are falling through the bales of straw. We all know this isn't true.

But then we need to review what is really happening there, and be truthful. As I previously noted after my visit to Cypress on Saturday, it was obvious to me on the first day that there were inadequate food and shelter facilities to accommodate the number of spectators, especially since we had to arrive two to three hours in advance of the qualifying round, and then wait a few more hours for the finals.

But this could have been addressed without cancelling all the standing room tickets. If the concern is safety and we need more snow, bring in snow, or plywood to make the place safe. I am having trouble understanding why this issue cannot be addressed.

If the concern is inadequate facilities in terms of food and shelter, bring in some hot dog stands, some urns of coffee and hot chocolate, and allow people to bring their own food. (I refuse to accept the excuse given that outside food was restricted in case someone got sick....)

If they can't bring in another tent...and I can't believe there aren't some tents available, give people $5 umbrellas if it's raining (and let them keep them!) And bring in more performers and other entertainers.

The fact is, the VANOC spokesperson is right. It's bad to lose your luggage, but it is worse when it is not handled well. We are going to continue to have all sorts of problems, and negative press, until local residents, visitors and the media believe we are making the best of a bad situation.

Notwithstanding the current negativity, I think it can be turned around. I know John Furlong and he is an extraordinary person and leader. He has done a superb job of rallying 'the team' to accomplish a great deal up until this point. But there are mistakes...obvious mistakes...and rather than try to conceal them, let's acknowledge them with humour and thoughtful action. The way we deal with our mistakes can help make us all proud of these Olympics and our city.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympic Sights and Follies

There are some interesting and delightful things happening around the city. At a Blenheim Street round-about I came across this Olympic display.

Near the Shaw Tower, two containers have been converted into a small video theatre. While I'm not overly impressed with their exterior design, I like the fact that the re-use potential of containers is being showcased, and the display is partly powered by photo-voltaics.

I was also intrigued by the graphic film that has been installed on portions of Robson Square. It looks just like paint. While Arthur Erickson is probably spinning in his grave, I like the treatment to the step risers, and am intrigued by the possibilities of this product.But I don't like the screens placed across the front of the Art Gallery. I think the concept is clever, and while I suspect the intention was to be provocative, this strikes me as a lost opportunity. (Having got to know many of the curators at the VAG during the 8 years I served as a VAG Trustee, I'm sure they feel they have probably succeeded if people like me don't like the installation!)I do like what they have done with Pacific Centre!

And as for converting the Vancouver Club into the Olympic Club, well, the one million dollars that the club received will go a long way!

Canada House: What happened here?

As the postcard being handed out in the Canada pavilion says "These are Canada's games-Ce sont les jeux de tout le Canada. " So why did the federal government appear to decide to begin the planning for the pavilion in November? While I do not have first hand experience with the decision making leading up to the tender call, it seems that a two week tender period for a project of this significance is both irresponsible and bordering on the preposterous. Someone should be called to explain this, especially given the final product, both inside and outside.So what is inside? Mainly sports related exhibits, some 'we games' and interactive exhibits, although there is one 'sustainability-durabilite' display that highlights the federal contributions to Vancouver's Olympic Village and other projects.What's not there is anything to help international visitors to get a better appreciation of our country, other than a badly designed pamphlet and a video monitor that was showing the opening ceremony.I can appreciate that given the limited space, it would be hard to communicate too much, and I can't disagree with the focus on Canadian Olympic achievements, but this pavilion really is a bit of an embarrassment.One example. There was a fellow signing autographs, but no one knew who he was. No sign, nothing! It's just one example of the poor planning that went into this production. I realize it's too late to change the pavilion, but maybe someone will think about putting up a sign to let people know who is at the table signing autographs in the future!