Posted on May 5, 2014
With Olympic Village debt retired, is it time for longer review of city’s “worst real estate project?”
With Vancouver’s $630 million Olympic Village debt retired, and $70 million left over to pay other costs of the False Creek project, real estate writer Bob Ransford believes it’s time for a full post mortem on what he terms “the worst real estate project in Vancouver’s history.”
In particular, Ransford wants to revisit the decisions around built form — low rise high density buildings — and the decisions on social housing and green technology.
I agree with Ransford that the decision not to dump all the Olympic Village units on a faltering real estate market in 2010 may have been one of the most important in what turned out to be a five-year work-out of the project’s 2008 implosion.
It was a key decision, but just one of many in the long battle to fix the sinking ship the Vision Vancouver team found upon taking office in November 2008. In the previous three years, Sam Sullivan’s NPA council had made all the key decisions that resulted in the Olympic Village debacle.
But the other issues Ransford has identified — social housing mix, green design, built form — are as much political as technical, complicated in this case by Olympic deadlines.
Sullivan’s NPA council made the reduction of affordable housing and social housing in the Olympic Village plan its first act in 2005. That made the entire scheme much more profitable, and opened up more units for those who can afford top end condos. But if the city won’t insist on some affordability in its projects, who will?
The steady inclusion of green features, some pre-planned and others improvised, occurred after selection of Millennium by the NPA council in a process which ignored concerns about the developer’s sustainability team and made the high price of the land the key consideration. That price has not been realized and problems over new green technology soon emerged. Most have now been resolved.
Does anyone believe housing affordability is a goal the city should walk away from? Or green neighbourhoods?
A post mortem on the Olympic Village — a one-of-a-kind experience if there ever was one — won’t answer those questions, which are really about what kind of a city we want to build, a political question if there ever was one.