Friday, July 8, 2016

Vancouver's little gulag

The former Olympic Village (now called Millennium Water) is a grey place indeed, but my friend Ros enjoyed the giant sparrow statues.

This is an example of what the village looks like in summer. Take away the greenery, and imagine how bleak it looks in the winter. My partner John calls it a gulag.

Construction around the village continues apace. There are never enough luxury condos in Vancouver.

En route to the village, Ros and I stopped to sit on the chairs locked together on the seawall. Ros took this picture of me looking out over False Creek.

Outside the village centre,  flourishing garden boxes provide a jolt of colour and some fine vegetables.

My friend Ros has been away from Vancouver long enough to have missed the whole Olympic Village fiasco -- its initial developer going into receivership, the city having to take it over to get it done in time for the 2010 Olympics, the controversy over whether the city actually lost money on the deal, the village's years as a ghost town, and the complaints about shoddy construction, complete with photos of water running out of electrical outlets.

As a Vancouver Sun editor, I had dealt with many of these issues as they arose, but I'd never spent much time in the village itself. So when I suggested to Ros that we make the former athletes' village our destination for a walk Friday, both of us were heading into unfamiliar territory.

"A village?" she said, when I first pointed it out in the distance. "It doesn't look like a village. It looks like a whole bunch of highrises."

As we continued along the seawall toward our destination, she noticed the grasses and trees of Habitat Island in False Creek, a man-made peninsula aimed at replicating a natural shoreline habitat. "It looks," she said, "like it's trying to escape the village."

The village didn't impress on first inspection, with its minimal greenery, swaths of concrete underfoot, and its rows upon rows of massive blocky buildings. I told Ros that my partner John, who has done some photography there, calls it a gulag, especially in winter when it loses its greenery. Ros thought gulag was a good word for it.

There were some positives. Village tenant Terra Breads makes great chocolate cookies, one of which we shared on a bench looking out over the water. The canoe bridge was a hit, although Ros noticed the sad green mould on its white superstructure. People were sitting and chatting on stacked grey blocks stepping down to a water feature, which we agreed was kind of village-like. And Ros liked Myfanwy MacLeod's giant sparrow statues.

I learned later that MacLeod was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's creepy The Birds in creating them. She used sparrows because they are a foreign species introduced to North America, which then wiped out many native birds. She saw the giant statues of the little birds as beautiful but frightening, a warning of how a foreign species can upset the ecosystem, as well as a message that we should pay attention to the interdependence of nature. Hmmm. Anything like tons of grey concrete wiping out all vestiges of nature on the land the village sits on?

I also learned that because of the high LEEDS building standard the village attained, it is considered one of the world's greenest neighbourhoods. It is the greyest greenest development I have ever seen.

1 comment:

  1. We haven't got down to the "gulag" yet. "Village" it is not! Now, the wonderful village of Carqueiranne, the villages in the Alpes-Maritimes, the villages in the hills of Tuscany, the villages on the Isle of Skye, the villages in Yorkshire and in the Cotswolds....these are villages. Even Paris can have a village like feel or did...too many wretched tourists these days. The most visited city on earth apparently. I think I will keep the memories I have and not go a thirteenth time.