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The Obscenity of Vancouver’s Olympic Games

The Obscenity of Vancouver’s Olympic Games: Here Comes Frankenstein

by Am Johal
Monday February 5th, 2007

Vancouver Olympics are a ’whitewash’ on the social and environmental front.

No, we can’t blame it all on the Olympics. The downtown peninsula was already about to be built up and real estate economics were savouring the asset value of neighbouring Downtown Eastside property.

Oh, but what to do with the poor people? Kick them off welfare after two years, stop the construction of social housing, put in the Safe Streets Act and bring in Project Civil City? The surveillance cameras are surely soon to follow?

City Councillor Kim Capri asks why people are no longer displaying civil behaviour? Go figure.

Since the Olympics were awarded to Vancouver in 2003, over 800 units of low-income housing have been lost from the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood due to conversions. More property speculation in the coming years, weak intervention on the part of civic government and inadequate funding for new social housing in the province have essentially created a whitewash around what was purported to be the most well planned and sustainable Olympics ever. Another 800 units were also lost in the few years preceding the bid being awarded as well in the downtown core.

Unfortunately, it’s the same old story unfolding.

Global capital meets local greed. Real estate and tourism interests trump the needs of the long term low-income community which has called this neighbourhood home for decades. Academics no longer engaging in questions related to the public interest. Non-profits worried about funding streams, unwilling to be critical of governments.

The really sad thing about it is that people in Vancouver don’t really seem to care.

Even the Olympic village which was supposed to have guaranteed social housing is now being taken away. The ’sustainable’ Southeast False Creek development has also had its moderate income piece taken out.

All of the negative things associated with these Olympics were to have been planned for. After all, the research had been done on what happens in the lead up to these events — none of this should be coming as a surprise. Unfortunately, the apparatus of power in this city has set up the usual old boys way of doing things and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it.

At a meeting in 2002, I remember asking for an SRO bylaw to be put in to place at City Hall and described the evictions which were happening in Salt Lake City. The City Manager informed the councillors that she wasn’t aware of any evictions. Early on, it was clear that the social agenda for the Olympics was not adequately planned for.

Later on, as the Inner City Inclusivity Statement was being formed, I asked if a specific number of housing units could be included in the document so that we would have a number we could hold them accountable for in the future. We were told that they couldn’t do that. That was when I knew early on that any hope for a sustainable Olympics or a different approach was ostensibly dead — this was going to be a public relations document plain and simple.

Someone once told me that the great thing about seeing time go by is that you get to see how things turn out.

The mass media in this city rarely write critical stories of what is happening. As hundreds of millions of dollars is spent on Olympic infrastructure, homelessness continues to increase. Between 2002 and 2005, homelessness doubled in the Greater Vancouver Regional District and will continue to increase leading up to the Olympics unless major changes are made.

The safe injection site for drug addicts is also scheduled to come up for renewal again in December of 2007. If it is not renewed, more users will be shooting up on the streets and will be vunerable to infectious diseases and increased rates of overdose deaths.

Raincity is about real estate and 99 cent pizza depending on where you fall in the economic order of things. The city should erect a bust of Karl Marx and put it up in Oppenheimer Park — it would serve as a lasting reminder of how this neighbourhood is afflicted by capital flows and disfigured public policy based on the winners and losers of the economic system.

The city placed a moratorium on commercial businesses converting to condominiums in the Downtown business district. The idea that SRO’s are being permanently lost at an astounding rate leading up to the Olympics as a conscious part of public policy can only mean that senior city bureaucrats and politicians are working on a de facto policy of gentrification.

Look out for 2010 — here comes Frankenstein.


Am Johal can be reached at

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