The Winter Olympics will begin later this week in Vancouver, British Columbia. Like other hosts of such large-scale sporting events, the city has been getting ready for the international spotlight for many years. To hear more about what's been going on in the city in terms of urban planning, I interviewed Vancouver Planning Director Brent Toderian, and you can read a transcript of that Q&A on Places.
The Olympics can be awesome for cities. Or they can be devastating. Rarely they're both, and most often they are an economic drain caused by over-investment in facilities with limited long-term usability. So when London's plans for a 2012 Summer Olympics stadium that would reduce from 80,000 seats during the games to a more realistically usable 25,000 seats after, Olympics experts, city officials and taxpayers rejoiced. But recent news has turned that rejoice to disgust.
Here in Los Angeles, the local professional basketball team just won its league's national championship. When I was in Barcelona a few weeks back, the local soccer team won a major international championship. These were two days for the cities to celebrate their home teams' triumphs, but the differences in how they celebrated says a lot about these cities and their civic cultures.
Whether you've realized it yet or not, soccer is a big deal in this gloabalizing world. And every four years it's a huge deal for one country: the host of the FIFA World Cup. All eyes are on the host country for the 32-team tournament, which is the most-watched sporting event in the world. And though showtime is just one month long, the host spends years vying, preparing and investing for the tournament. It has major potential to spur broad countrywide improvements and economic development. So when the U.S. made news recently by offering forth 70 stadia as possible host sites for either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup (along with a reputation booster from President Barack Obama), I had to filter out my national pride. Sure, the U.S. would make a good and clearly able host for the event, but it seems that the potential of the World Cup could be better directed towards a country that really needs large-scale civic improvement and investment.
This mentality represents some challenges for cities, but also some opportunities. The challenge is that if people don't have to pay for something, they probably won't. And the opportunity is that if people don't have to pay for something, they're way more likely to want it. Let's think of this concept in terms of three innately American traditions: pancakes, mobility, and beer.