I recently hosted a campaign reception for Olympic Village residents at the Tap and Barrel restaurant. Six years ago I was in that exact spot wearing a hard hat, surrounded by mud, trucks and deep holes. It seems like a miracle that a whole community has arisen in such a short time.
Not that long ago the Olympic Village neighbourhood was described as a ghost town. There weren’t that many people living there, amenities were yet to be completed, shopping and eating out required a journey, and sales of the residences were slow.
Well, as we know from experience, it takes a considerable period of time to create a neighbourhood from scratch. Create a uniqueness, create a feel, create a dynamic, a pulse, an energy. Creating a neighbourhood where people want to work, entertain, raise families, retire, have fun, and most of all, be proud to live there.
How do you create a neighbourhood with these elements? You need a location, and what a spectacular location; waterfront, city and mountain views, access to downtown, and transit to everywhere. You need exceptional planning and design, like a world renowned who’s who of architects, landscape architects and environmental engineers.
You need to construct what society now demands, an environmentally responsible development, with buildings constructed using green building practices, rainwater capture and usage systems, and being Vancouver’s first and only platinum level LEEDS design. You need to have diversity reflective of our city with social housing, co-ops, rental and owner residences. You need citizen pioneers who are willing and adventuresome and want to watch a neighbourhood blossom around them. The Olympic and Paralympic Games were the opportunity of a generation and was the lever used to create this wonderful neighbourhood.
October 13, 1986 was the final day of Expo 86. Those who lived in Vancouver or visited during that time will remember a massive event with 42 countries 9 provinces and 3 US states represented, and an attendance of over 22 million. Many legacy structures are in our riding of Vancouver-False Creek such as BC Place Stadium, Science World, and the Skytrain. The original Expo line brought four stations to our riding, and the expansion Canada Line created three stations in our riding including, not surprisingly, the Olympic Village Station.
One of the most significant legacies of Expo 86 in our riding was the 165 acres of the Expo site, which was developed into a great neighbourhood and provided a catalyst for the creation of Yaletown as we know it today. But this didn’t occur quickly. It was a slow, methodical process, subject to external influences such as fluctuating markets for real estate. In fact it was many years from the finale of Expo 86 until the first residents moved into condos, and even more years until there were enough residents to sustain businesses such as Urban Fare.
This brings me back to the Olympic Village. I have been there many times in the last few weeks and I am struck by the energy, vibrance and enthusiasm of the neighbourhood. I couldn’t help but think how rapidly this has occurred and how many of the elements of a good neighbourhood are in place and thriving.
There are places to eat and have fun. The Tap and Barrel where I held my reception is a wonderful Vancouver-based restaurant on the waterfront with fabulous views and impressive wines and beer on tap. This coming summer, the historic 14,000 square foot Salt building is scheduled to become the Craft Beer Market Restaurant & Bar, bringing more options to both residents and visitors.
London Drugs is now open and thriving. Urban Fare, one of the first businesses to move in, provides residents easy access to groceries. Terra Breads and Legacy Liquor, apparently the largest private liquor store in the province, were both busy when I was there. There are more and more smaller businesses that continue to open.
The location is spectacular, with access to over 20km of seawall and less than a 20 minute walk to Granville Island. The Aquabus and False Creek Ferries can take residents and visitors to 10 different destinations within False Creek.
The Creekside Community Centre was one of the first amenities to open. It is active with energy and had over 65,000 visits in its first two years, with 90 programs offered. It is one of the busiest in Vancouver’s array of Community Centres.
Hundreds of dragon-boat racers use this area of False Creek to race and practice, creating an tremendously active view.
The neighbourhood has become a destination for residents of many of Vancouver’s other neighbourhoods, a true indicator of a thriving place.
The Vancouver International Film Festival held their opening and closing gala’s in the Olympic Village this fall showing local and international film producers, directors and performers the hip new vibe of the area.
The development set a new standard for environmental initiatives and a lot more emphasis was put on investing in the public places. Consider the habitat island that is such an oasis in this highly urban setting. The city health department used to consider False Creek toxic and the public was purposely kept away from it. Now it has all sorts of sea life returning – it even had a visit from a grey whale!
Residents of the Olympic Village I speak with truly love their neighbourhood. They are proud of it. Its success has inspired even more development adjacent to the existing residences. There are several projects underway representing many hundreds of new residents. This clearly shows that there is a willingness to invest in our riding and a vision that others will want to participate in the Olympic Village experience.
Others are clearly noticing as well. A recent article in the Vancouver Sun had the headline ‘Olympic Village sheds ghost town vibe” and the Globe and Mail had a piece entitled ‘Life thrives after the Games in Vancouver’s Olympic Village”. The Vancouver blog Inside Vancouver labelled their contribution ‘Is the Olympic Village the Hottest New Neighbourhood in Vancouver?’ The answer was yes.
I believe the Olympic Village is an important exploration of the concept of EcoDensity and we need to continue to build such new neighbourhoods that are energy-efficient and prevent sprawl. And as the residents will testify, all this can be accomplished while delivering a fabulous quality of life.
I’m proud of the Olympic Village and what its residents and businesses are contributing to making Vancouver- False Creek a wonderful place to live.