Olympic Investments in Cities
The PyeongChang Olympic Games being only 3 days away brings back memories of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Although the projects, the politics and the Games themselves faced opposition since Day 1, looking back, the investment in infrastructure accelerated development and improved the city’s liveability. Vancouver’s sustained use of Olympic infrastructure after the Games and the development that ensued around these projects mirrored those of Sydney, Australia in 2000.
The key to success was the planned use of these amenities after the Games. The large investment from all tiers of government into Vancouver and Sydney continues to act as a catalyst for private investment in residential and commercial development, even decades after a successful bid for the Games. Vancouver’s similarities to Sydney shed light on the opportunities to come.
Development around Transit
Once Sydney, Australia won the Olympic bid in 1995, development of a rapid transit connection from the airport to downtown, known as Airport Link, commenced. The 10-kilometre transit line originally travelled through underdeveloped brownfield industrial land, but politicians ensured urban redevelopment was part of the plan. Properties were purchased and developed into a range of retail and residential projects surrounding the Airport Link stations.
Olympic Park Railway, Sydney, Australia
In Vancouver, the Canada Line was arguably underrated when it was announced. Many predicted low ridership and slow adoption, but that quickly changed. Within months, Canada Line ridership hit the year three projected level of 100,000 boardings a day, and earned praise from tourists and residents alike. Outside of the Canada Line tunnels, developers quickly secured development sites at and even between every station. Richmond has seen exponential growth around the No. 3 Road Station and plans to triple the current population from 40,000 to 120,000 by 2031. In Vancouver, single-family houses are being converted to apartment buildings and retail centres have been developed and/or expanded, not only at each stop, but along the entire Cambie Corridor into Downtown.
Rapid transit lines, particularly the Canada Line, are catalysts for residential development as cities densify, property becomes increasingly expensive and residents reduce their reliance on automobiles. Much like Sydney, the Olympics forced Metro Vancouver to accelerate its transit plan, increase services and provide adequate transportation to tourists, students and residents alike. In doing so, the legacy of the Olympic Games continues to fuel incredible growth along the transit lines, while creating more liveable spaces in Vancouver.
Looking across the world to Sydney again, residential development continues well after the first 10 years following the Olympic Games. Originally, Sydney Olympic Park featured 10 Olympic-sized venues built on suburban brownfields 16 kilometres from the downtown core. As the Olympics wound down, only 1,600 residents lived in the surrounding area. Between 2000 and 2016, Sydney saw significant population growth and increased property values, much like what Vancouver is facing now. Seeking densification and utilization of the infrastructure in Sydney Olympic Park, in 2016, Sydney’s urban planning department approved plans to densify the lands by more than 1,000% to 23,500 residents by 2030. The government’s decision to focus density in this area will also increase the student population by five times and double the number of jobs within the next 12 years. Existing sports amenities and transit infrastructure are ideal venues for residents to engage with the community in which they live.
Prior to Vancouver winning the Olympic bid, the lands along Southeast False Creek were vacant, dilapidated and contaminated. Aged industrial buildings lined the oceanside, providing little animation and entertainment for Vancouver residents. After considerable planning and consultation for the False Creek Flats, The City of Vancouver led the development of Athletes Village consisting of 1,100 LEED® Platinum units in 16 buildings, with the intent to convert them to residential units after the Games.
Construction of Olympic Village, Vancouver, Canada
Although development and sales were slow initially, growth in the community has exploded with the area now being home to nearly 13,000 residents, up from none in 2009. As well, all of the lands north of West 2nd Avenue between Cambie Street and Main Street have been purchased and are in various stages of development. This growth has attracted breweries and restaurants and, most recently, national retailer Mountain Equipment Co-Op chose this area as the location of its new flagship store.
Eight years after the Olympics, the lands surrounding False Creek have transformed into a vibrant neighbourhood that engages the community and highlights the benefits of the local geography. The Olympic Games spurred growth in the South False Creek area, which, without foresight from planners, could have taken decades longer to develop. In many ways, this phenomenon is a déjà vu of what happened in Yaletown and North False Creek in the 1990s and beyond, as a legacy of Expo ’86.
Much like Sydney, Vancouver is already headed for another burst of growth through the next decade. The Cambie Corridor continues to densify. The north side of False Creek is yet to be developed. Towers surrounding the stadiums are complete. And in due time, the Georgia Street Viaducts will be removed to make way for more residential projects. Certainly, Vancouver would not have transformed into the liveable city it is today as quickly, without the capital investments the Olympics fueled.
Unlike Sydney, Vancouver has not seen 18 years since it hosted the Olympics. But there are plenty of similarities. Massive scale development in Sydney continues to be concentrated around infrastructure built to support the Olympic Games. Vancouver is following the same strategy, maximizing the use of and investment in the Canada Line and Athletes Village to better the city. Using Sydney as a comparable guide, Vancouver will become more liveable and accessible, and continue to grow. Vancouver’s investment in the Olympics turned its attention to underutilized parcels throughout the city, and focused investment on growth potential and opportunity. This legacy continues today, and should certainly continue through the next decade.