Posted by: Andrew Pask | March 9, 2010

Of memories and mad science


A tall glass of water.  A bit of rest.

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a 10 days since the Olympics were here.  Funny how the difference between the Olympic crowds and regular-old Vancouver populations left so many residents I spoke to during the Games feeling like they were actually visiting another city.  Were we all tourists in our own back yard?

And the much anticipated hang-over?  Maybe the post-Olympic condition wasn’t about over-indulgence after all (though that certainly happened) but, rather, about this idea of travel, or more precisely, about returning from a trip to a place (a carnival?, Mardi Gras? Club Med?) where the normal rules of exchange were suspended.  I know more than a few folks who spent the early part of last week feeling a bit of the post-vacation blues …even though they hadn’t gone any further than a few blocks from their apartment.

Memories and the word on the street.

The metaphors of the 2010 Games started to shift noticeably over the last week and a half.  For example, the idea of memory (“best memories”, “defining memories”, “personal memories”) seemed, in news stories at any rate, to replace the more austere-sounding notion of legacy.  Whereas the official voices – the John Furlong’s and Gordon Campbell’s of the 2010 Olympics – spent so much time in the lead-up touting the legacies of the Games, things have seemed to quickly lose this sense of monumentalism.  A legacy is more grandiose, more funerary – like a bequeathal – in tone.  Maybe by casting these ideas with in the frame of memory we are personalizing what was a much more social event than was, perhaps, expected.

Or maybe legacies are just more dangerous to talk about now that the Games are done and the Federal and Provincial budgets are being rolled out.

Mad Science.

My favorite bits of language were found in the commentary on the effect the Olympics were having on Vancouver’s urban scene and public spaces.  Check out the following examples.

The first is from journalist Frances Bula:

“One of the many interesting phenomena that have emerged during the Games (which is actually turning into a giant social experiment in our city) is the way the massive crowds are redefining public space in Vancouver.” Frances Bula, Granville Street reborn as the No.1 party spot, February 22, 2010.

This, from author Lance Berelowitz:

“Has anyone noticed how Vancouver’s downtown streets have become a giant social experiment during these Olympic Winter Games?”  Lance Berelowitz, Taking Back Vancouver’s Streets, Vancouver Observer, February 24, 2010.

And finally, Director of Planning at the City, Brent Toderian:

“As a host city, Vancouver has become a massive urban laboratory, with so many opportunities to learn, and we’re soaking it all up… As we are coming to the end of the final week, a few examples of big experiments and learnings come to mind.”  Brent Toderian, Vancouver Olympics a Living Laboratory for Urbanism, Planetizen, February 25, 2010.

All three draw enthusiastically on the tropes of science, of laboratories and experiments.  Here we have it: the levers are thrown, the buttons pressed and… It’s alive!  It’s alive!

Of course, science, when done outside of the castle walls, is all about focus and control, dispassionate observation, and the management of variables.  For those involved in planning for this two-week event, it must have felt a bit like that when the people started to arrive — like the vast unfolding of something that had, for so long, been little more than hypotheses and projections.  The switch had been flicked to ‘on.’

Let’s hope that the science metaphor sticks for a bit.   Experiments are meant to produce knowledge.  There are findings in all this laboratory work that can truly benefit the city – in future work on transportation planning, in diversifying our public art, in recognizing the vitality of Vancouver’s downtown streets, in enabling spontaneous gatherings and in debating and incorporating the diverse politics of resistance – just to name but a few.

There has not yet been any directive given to gather our collective test results… but that would be a good idea.  Something that will help us to learn and grow.  Something a bit more tangible than a memory.

But first… the Paralympics!


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