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Spirit of the Games Fuels Collaboration and Innovation

“The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing that the 21st Olympic Winter Games in 2010 are awarded to the City of ……Vancouver.”

With those words, spoken at 8:41 Pacific Time on July 2, 2003, President Jacques Rogge of the International Olympic Committee defined the next evolution of Vancouver. At that moment, the Official Development Plan for Southeast False Creek transformed into the plan for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Village.

The Olympic Village plan moves beyond the Vancouver model of urban development, typified by high-rise towers on a street scale residential podium. Encouraged by architects seeking a new direction, City planners and the Council of the day instead turned to a more European form – lower-scale buildings with an extensive public realm and shared amenities.

The intent was to reflect the heart of a European village, focused on trade, gathering and entertainment, while seeking an effective balance between social, environmental and economic “well-being,” as reflected in Vancouver’s bid to host the Games. The synergy between these goals was supported by an unprecedented commitment from private enterprise to contribute a substantial subsidy to the Olympic program while striving to meet the City’s aspirations for an innovative, livable and resilient community.

The Olympic commitment also created the driving force of innovation, technical excellence and bureaucratic cooperation that has become the hallmark of the project. An absolute schedule and demanding functional program forced collaboration and problem solving. These strengths allowed the team to design, document, approve and construct a total of 1.5 million square feet of new development – comprising some 1,100 units of housing aimed at all income levels, supported by a real village centre, unsurpassed urban public realm and livable amenity services – in just three-and-a-half years.

As Mayor Philip Owen noted in his November 15, 2002 letter to Dr. Jacques Rogge:

“Our City looks forward to hosting an exciting, peaceful and prosperous Games. Vancouver is a multi-cultural and diverse society, ideally suited to hosting the Olympic Family and the rest of the world. The commitments for sustainability and inclusiveness will ensure a Games event like no other and set an example for future Games.”

The building of the Southeast False Creek Olympic Village demonstrates what can come from vision, collaboration and high ideals. It realizes a new paradigm in urban development and fulfills Vancouver’s continued evolution as a livable city.


Racing to the Finish: Vancouver’s Olympic Village

On Your Marks, Get Set …

And, they’re off! The selection of Vancouver as host city for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in July 2003 activated Vancouver’s Olympic planning and catalyzed the development of the Southeast False Creek (SEFC) lands. Eight city blocks (17 acres) at the centre of SEFC were designated to be the Olympic Village. The village would house approximately 2,800 Olympic athletes from around the world and be a centre of activity and celebration for the duration of the Games. The Olympic Village designation took the planning process for SEFC to the next level, requiring rapid goal-setting, decision-making and above all, action.

The SEFC Official Development Plan, which established a foundation for urban design and sustainability principles, was approved by Vancouver’s City Council in March 2005. Later that year, the City posted a call for proposals in search of a developer for the Olympic Village site. Proposals from each prospective developer had to take into account the interim use of the development as the Olympic Village as well as the sustainable design guidelines for the site. Millennium SEFC Properties was selected to develop the market residential and commercial areas and to design and build both the community center and affordable housing for the City, while the City undertook to develop the public realm and parks.  This chapter details the timeline, conditions and constraints that led to the ultimate design of the Olympic Village.

Planning + Olympics Timeline

Download Timeline (PDF)


Mike Harcourt: Vancouver’s Offbeat Approach Leads Back to the Future

“This is the way we used to live – it’s the old medieval city.”

I got involved in urban development issues in the 60s, when I helped a citizens’ group stop the freeway slated to cut through Vancouver’s historic Strathcona neighbourhood. At the time, mainstream thought was that downtown was for working, not living, that you should be able to drive anywhere you wanted, and that oil would last forever. The “planned city” was big, tall and beautiful. Urban renewal advocates wanted to “clean out” old neighbourhoods and replace them with Stalinist-design social housing and fast roads to the suburbs.

The trouble was, the old neighbourhoods didn’t want to be fixed up, and the freeway would destroy the ability of Chinatown shop owners to live where they worked. Vancouver said no to the freeway, and yes to a 24-hour downtown. We’ve always had an offbeat approach to development in Vancouver, and it’s why it’s such a great city today. “Livability” – coined by Walter Hardwick – was the buzz phrase of the 70s and 80s. We retained local street shopping and invested in neighbourhoods – community centres, branch libraries, parks, neighbourhood houses, seniors’ centres. So the community of Kerrisdale has a distinct flavour, as does Kits and Commercial Drive.

To me, developments like the new Olympic Village are “back to the future.” This is the way we used to live – in apartments over shops, walking everywhere – it’s the old medieval city. Most of us are social; we like interaction, the personal touch. True, some people want to live in a McMansion and go everywhere in their car. But with peak oil and climate change upon us, the necessity of integrated sustainability practices is changing cities dramatically. Besides, I think in 20 years McMansions and Hummers won’t be cool anymore. People will look at that lifestyle as crazy, with so much money squandered. Cost, climate change and a desire for community – these are the drivers shifting sustainable development from the fringe to the mainstream.

We’re at a point now where there’s a lot of awareness and acceptance of sustainability values. But we face a huge challenge: how are we going to rapidly shift so that all communities are built this way? I see this challenge as two-fold: training, and marketing. Over the next few years we need to train thousands of architects, engineers, construction trades, developers, lawyers, accountants and others to be sustainability managers. And we need to make sustainable communities cool, to market this lifestyle.

The 1950s car-oriented world came to a halt in Vancouver when we stopped the freeway. Livability came to the forefront as we strengthened neighbourhoods and brought life to the downtown. With leading projects like Millennium’s Olympic Village, we’re proving that we can integrate all aspects of sustainable communities into a single development. Now, we must meet our challenges, build on these successes and create resilient cities for a sustainable future. Mike Harcourt Vancouver City Councillor and Mayor, 1973-1986 British Columbia MLA and Premier, 1986-1996


The Evolution of Form in Vancouver’s Southeast False Creek

Scot Hein, Senior Urban Designer, City of Vancouver

The European development model (narrow streets, low- and mid-rise but highly dense residential spaces, inner courtyards, open public space and vibrant street life) has played an influential role in the planning and design of Southeast False Creek.enlarge

The European development model (narrow streets, low- and mid-rise but highly dense residential spaces, inner courtyards, open public space and vibrant street life) has played an influential role in the planning and design of Southeast False Creek. Serge Beaulieu, 2007

Vancouver’s recent urbanism renaissance is recognized for the invention of high density/mixed use development that enhances streetlife by infusing residential energy. This strategy has proved immensely successful in the downtown peninsula, where the West End and Central Business District are generally characterized by towers and podiums.

However, as attention turned to the southeast shore of False Creek, where much of the land is owned by the City of Vancouver, it became important to determine whether form should follow finances (the creation of value) or follow context (the creation of place). City staff had explored this critical city-building question prior to the awarding of the 2010 Olympic Games. During that time, advocates from the design professions recommended new approaches to density and form as an extension of SEFC’s industrial heritage – qualities that had not been evident in the downtown peninsula. The design profession challenged staff, and City Council, to deliver urban densities while reinforcing the integrity and identity of the lower-scaled context prevalent on this last undeveloped tract of land on the creek.

Notwithstanding the challenging Olympic timeline, Council agreed, concluding that “authentic place-making must drive design intent.” The invention of new lower-scaled mid-rise buildings was coupled with innovative approaches to public realm design, including open spaces, streets and the waterfront. This has produced a distinctive Olympic Village neighbourhood centre (The Shipyard) whose identity will be reinforced by subsequent neighbourhoods (The Worksyard and the Railyard) towards an honest and contemporary expression of Canadian West Coast urban life.

False Creek North boasts high-density, high-rise residential living and community amenities. SEFC’s unique approach demonstrates a shift to low- and mid-rise density with a focus on environmental and community benefits. Danny Singer, 2009enlarge

False Creek North boasts high-density, high-rise residential living and community amenities. SEFC’s unique approach demonstrates a shift to low- and mid-rise density with a focus on environmental and community benefits. Danny Singer, 2009


The logo and mascot of the future 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics is based on the Canadian Inuit inukshuk. The stone marker used by the Inuit to guide themselves through the Arctic terrain for centuries has become a symbol of leadership, cooperation, friendship and the human spirit. Designer Elena Rivera MacGregor’s intention with Ilanaaq (which means “friend” in Inuktitut) was to represent the culture, environment and people of Canada.  Source: VANOC 2005