Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Negative Side of the Olympics

I don't want to get into the debate about whether athletes should or should not participate in the Beijing Olympics. That gets far too heated, and my personal opinions are still in flux about it.

But when I was in Vancouver, the site of the 2010 Winter Games, they were a topic of discussion in terms of the impact on the residents of the area. And, oddly enough, this week I came across a blog post at And She Knits Too which led me to thinking about it again. My friend KJ (aka Lunadog) posted a comment there, which you can read here. The blog also has a link to some books about the issues of the Olympics, which sound like interesting reads, though the author is quite anti-Olympics as they have become in our current world.

The point of my Vancouver friends' comments is that the Olympics isn't really any lasting benefit to the majority of the Vancouver population - although the development will bring some additional jobs, during the construction of the venues and the hotels/motels/restaurants will be full during the Games themselves. But the average citizen will have major construction delays to deal with as they get around the area, the tickets are far out of reach for most budgets, and after the Games are over, there will be limited positive effects on their incomes for the long term. Obviously the local Olympics Committee says otherwise, in the best corporate-speak. But the local sponsors and contractors, hotel owners and so forth will certainly benefit. The rich do get richer, don't they? Plus I understand that Whistler, where the skiing-related events will occur, is difficult to reach (Mapquest says it's 70-some miles from Vancouver proper) and the existing roads are dangerous and far from adequate for the sort of traffic that will be using them. Building a better road? When did any of us encounter major road construction that can be done in less than a couple of years in the city, let alone in a mountain area?

As it happens, I lived for many years with a side effect of the 1976 Olympics that didn't happen in Denver; it was turned down by the residents, who thankfully had a vote on the matter. My condo development was built by a Californian company that built on speculation that the Games would happen there. And clearly some graft and bribery went into the construction, since we discovered to our sorrow that the insulation was flimsy at best and several aspects of the plumbing failed to take Denver winters into account. Two out of the four condos in each building had water pipes running up exterior walls with no - that's right, NO! - insulation around them. When I moved there in 1978, I found that the ceiling insulation didn't even cover the ceiling beams. Those of you who live in climates like Denver's can imagine the problems - frozen and burst water pipes, water damage, etc. The financial impacts were horrible, both for the residents and the condo association; at one point we nearly lost our blanket insurance policy and the association's finances were so bad that many lenders wouldn't issue mortgages for the units. (Yeah, I wound up on the condo board.)

I understand that some low-income housing will be demolished to provide housing and other structures for the Olympics. I wonder if some of the new housing will be pushed through under marginal standards, with the excuse of the 2010 deadline. How will the low-income families displaced be housed, either during the construction or after the Olympics?

My conversations in Vancouver and my housing problems in Denver don't begin to constitute a thorough look into the side effects of hosting an Olympics, as they affect the residents. But I'm interested in the experiences of others who live or have lived in an Olympic host city. Most of the comments I've heard about the 1984 Olympics here in LA only say that, because employers cooperated with flextime for their workforce, the traffic flow was the best in anyone's memory. Were you living in Atlanta (1996), Calgary (1988), or Salt Lake City (2002)? If so, please speak up about your experiences.

Oh, yeah, this is a Knitting Blog!

On the knitting-related front, yesterday I had my first physical therapy session for my tendinitis, which has in the last couple of weeks caused some nerve tingling in my hand as well as the pain in my arm. Diagnosis: poor posture with rounded back and hunched shoulders, too many hours at one time at the computer and knitting or reading (all involving much the same body position) and not enough exercise. So I got a wonderful neck and shoulder massage, exercises to do with my shoulders and back to stretch my shortened chest muscles, and orders to take frequent breaks from the computer or knitting or reading, and to WALK more. I go back tomorrow and I have a couple more appointments for next week. I've been doing the exercises, I've put pillows under my elbows while knitting and reading (another change), and I plan a walk today after it cools off. But I just realized I've been here Net surfing and typing for most of 2 hours. Gotta get that kitchen timer in here. Guess I'll go wash and block a couple of FOs so I can show them to you.


TracyKM said...

I haven't lived in an Olympic city, but I have visited both Montreal and Calgary (Calgary was in 89). I can't imagine living in a city while the Olympics are going on; I'm anti-crowds/trendy things, LOL. Calgary has had some lasting benefits, and it happened at the beginning (?) of the Alberta boom, but I don't know that for what has to be done, the benefits would be worth it in Vancouver. If the Olympics were to come to Toronto, I think I'd be moving to my parents (2 1/2 hours away from the city) for at least a year, LOL.

smariek said...

Oooh, the neck and shoulder massage sounds wonderful. A timer can be ignored. What you need is for your computer to blank the screen after x minutes, and remain that way for y minutes while you go do something else. Can't cheat the system that way. :-) Geez, I could use one of those...

Interesting about using a pillow for knitting/reading. I may try that when the weather is cooler. It's too hot to add anything more to my lap. Have you changed the way you sit? I'm finding I can't even sit comfortably anymore (sofa, glider, recliner, whatever), it hurts my lower back or hip. How am I supposed to knit? DH is lumping all my complaints under the pregnancy umbrella.

I can't remember the last time I actively watched the Olympics on TV, maybe back in college because it was better than studying. Overall many sports have lost something (sportsmanship, integrity, drugs, amateur vs professional, politics, etc). I can't even watch the Tour de France either anymore for similar reasons.

That said, I am still participating in the Ravelry thing cuz it's mostly a kick in the rear for me to start AND FINISH a knitting project. Not being very optimistic, I already foresee failing the task. Besides, I really need to get cracking on the Elann HUGe thing. I'm still working on #6 or 10. It's not the quickest project, but it IS one that I can do.

lunadog said...

I expect lot of the low-cost hotels will just be tarted up so they can bring in some tourist revenue after the previous tenants have been removed. I saw this happen for Expo 86.

Remember the Montreal Olympics in 1967? Did you know city taxpayers only just finished paying off the debt in 2006? This for an event that was supposed to "pay for itself". Go figure.

Anonymous said...

First, your comment about lasting benefits: Specific Olympic spending in Vancouver and Whistler is $580 million in new or significantly upgraded sports facilities that were already heavily used by jes' plain folks.

These are planned to be normally used by the hundreds and hundreds of people per year who live in those cities and become healthier for their use, and those facilities have life spans measured in decades.

But additional spending by others on those and related facilities prompted by the simple existence of Olympics is another $319 million of things for regular folk after the Games that never would have been built if they Games didn't arrive.

Almost all of that money is coming from outside the region and flows within the region, generating jobs, lots of them permanent.

By the way, the Games organizers are raising about $1.4 billion (yes, with a 'b') privately (as in not taxpayers), through broadcasting rights sales and corporate sponsorships, to run the Games. Virtually all of that money is coming from outside the region, much of it from outside the country, but spent in the region on things the region can easily make, like flags or fences, scaffolding, stitching logos on thousands of uniforms, porta-potties.. you name it.

One of the corporate sponsors, General Electric, this week donated (as in for free) a $1.4 million, state-of-the-art CT scanner to a Whistler medical clinic because one is needed for when the Games are in operation, and Whistler didn't have one. It'll be left there at the clinic when the Games leave for use for years. To me, that counts as a lasting benefit.

You say "the tickets are far out of reach for most budgets," but half of the 1.3 million tickets to events will be less than $100, and 100,000 are priced at $25, another 100,000 will be given away to charities that help poor people.

You say that Whistler roads "are dangerous and far from adequate for the sort of traffic that will be using them." Well the BC government began a four-year upgrading project to turn that dinky road into a modern highway -- it's now in the third year and it will be finished next summer, well before the Games begin.

But Olympic organizers are setting up hundreds of shuttle busses to take people between Vancouver and Whistler so they won't have to drive (and, besides, organizers are telling everybody there won't be any spectator parking at any of the venues).

Anonymous said...

Very interesting that the pro-Olympic poster wanted to be anonymous. It would take too long to refute some of the claims, but the costs are rising, police costs are rising, the cost to the road to Whistler is rising. And "hundreds and hundreds" of people who are supposed to benefit by the Olympic venues after the games according to "anonymous" is far from the thousands and thousands and maybe millions of residents who will not benefit at all. A letter to the editor of our local paper had a good suggestion - do as the Greeks did for the original games and choose a permanent location.

Don said...
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