As London began welcoming Olympic athletes, officials and VIPs this week — swelling traffic through Heathrow to more than 250,000 people per day — the legacies and benefits of hosting the Olympic Games came to mind.
Not that London has a lot in common with Whistler, other than Whistler Mountain used to be called London Mountain, but it's interesting to compare expected outcomes from the Games.
Whistler, as many people know, was born out of an unsuccessful bid to host the 1968 Winter Olympics. One of the primary reasons for the first bid was to open up the area north of Squamish, including Garibaldi Park, to recreation and development benefitting Lower Mainland residents.
Bids to host the Games in the 1970s were also unsuccessful. Finally, in 2003 the 2010 Winter Olympics were awarded to Vancouver, with Whistler listed as the official Host Mountain Resort. And two years ago, 50 years after Whistler was conceived, the community co-hosted a very successful Winter Olympics.
But in the past two years there have been many comments and questions about what Whistler has to show from the Olympics, why we haven't made more of hosting the Games and, perhaps most strikingly, where do we go from here post-Olympics?
They are questions probably every Olympic host ponders following the Games, but with careful, realistic planning the questions should be answerable.
London, of course, was conceived long before Baron de Coubertin resurrected the Olympics. And The City will continue on through the Games and for centuries after with many of its citizens never giving a moment's thought to twice hosting the Olympics (in 1948 as well as 2012).
Nonetheless London, or more accurately, Prime Minister David Cameron's government and Games organizers, have identified four "legacies" they hope to achieve from the 2012 Summer Olympics:
• Harnessing the U.K.'s passion for sport to increase grassroots participation, particularly by young people, and to encourage the whole population to be more physically active;
• Exploiting to the full the opportunities for economic growth offered by hosting the Games;
• Promoting community engagement and achieving participation across all groups in society through the Games; and
• Ensuring that the Olympic Park can be developed after the Games as one of the principal drivers of regeneration in East London.
Urban renewal and/or affordable housing seem to be part of every host community's plans for the Olympics. It is for East London just as it was for Vancouver, for Whistler, for Torino and Athens. Similarly, transportation infrastructure is key for Olympic hosts, regardless of whether it is counted as a direct Olympic expense or something government decides to make a priority in time for the Games. The Sea to Sky Highway upgrade and the Canada Line are examples from 2010.
Whistler Olympic Plaza and the massive fibre optic connection with the Lower Mainland are a couple of other physical legacies from the 2010 Games that Whistler will benefit from for a long time. The Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre may be another.
Whistler's Olympic facilities themselves are a mixed bag. The snowmaking and other improvements on Whistler Mountain benefit the community as a whole. The Nordic centre is a beautiful facility; whether we can afford it is something we'll find out in the next few years. The bobsleigh track was a huge expense for something used by few. Keeping it running is going to require some financial gymnastics.
While the redevelopment of East London is a very tangible legacy, London's three other legacies are rather wishy-washy. Not that Whistler hasn't claimed some unquantifiable legacies from the 2010 Games, but London's seem particularly nebulous. And, by some accounts, unfulfilled.
But for a city the size and influence of London, the two-weeks of the Games are really a celebration of national pride. The long-term impact of hosting the Games is likely to be lost in the clout of the city's financial sector and the people's fixation with football.
We wish London well. We hope Londoners take time to enjoy the Olympics, fleeting as they are, and realize some real legacies from hosting them.
But the experience of Whistler, Vancouver, Torino and Athens suggests that while it's a major accomplishment to host the Olympics, making something lasting — beyond the physical legacies — of that opportunity takes some real focus and determination.
For the record
Two weeks ago in this space I reported on the bankruptcy of Mammoth Lakes and the comparisons to Whistler in the early 1980s. I wrote that the "municipally owned Whistler Village Land Company had $20 million in liabilities" and that "...the provincial government finally stepped in and bailed out Whistler, although the municipality never was bankrupt."
In fact, as former councillor Garry Watson pointed out to me, the land company's debt at the time of the "bailout" was about $7 million, rather than $20 million. And the "bailout" was a commercial loan rather than money from the province, although the province did guarantee the loan. The loan was for approximately $20 million, which included about $11 million to finish the half-completed conference centre.