Vancouver: Olympic Park After the Games

On February 12, the 124-year-old Vancouver Rowing Club became Saxony House, a pavilion representing Germany at the Olympics. The historic club will be open to the public, post-Games. (photo courtesy Tourism BC)

Ann Duffy, sustainability officer of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, talks to us about what will become of the hosting sites in and around Vancouver.

This winter’s Olympic games have attracted a lot of attention for being green. How much environmental impact do the Olympics typically have?

It depends what’s involved, but the challenge in convening the games is not only about providing a great experience but also leaving legacies that make a positive contribution to the region long after the games are over. So in 2003, when we won the bid to hold the games, we were already considering the impact to the area, and the needs of the local communities.

We used existing sites and facilities wherever we could. For the nine venues we needed to build, we built on land already being used – in other words, not virgin land. Any new construction was through the Canadian version of the LEED Council, to a silver level. So architects and construction teams were striving for energy efficiency, smart landscaping and the like.

Whistler Olympic Park was designed to host three events in one spot, making it as compact as possible. We actually took the original parameters and shrunk them by 30 percent, which means there were fewer streams to cross and fewer trees to cut.

Whistler Sliding Centre (photo Vancouver 2010)

When people visit Vancouver – and other venues at Whistler and Richmond – what will they find?

The venues were designed to be multi-purpose. For example, our speed-skating oval converts to not just a speed-skating track but also hockey rinks, and our 5,000-meter space converts to eight basketball courts and two hockey rinks. We added recreation trails, which we’re calling the Legacy Trails, for the public to use after the games.

The Whistler Sliding Centre, the site used for the luge, bob sleigh and skeleton competitions, has a wild, very fast sliding track. From the sport point of view, it’s already very attractive, but from the hospitality and tourism point of view, we’ve added entrances further down the course so the public can access it and have the ride of their lifetime—with an experienced driver, of course.

The meeting space in the upper pavilion has a terrific view. We built multi-use facilities to support tourism and hospitality. Same with Whistler Park, where cross-country trails can be used during the day and lit up at night.

What do you think of the park being built in London for the 2012 Olympics? It’s being touted as “the largest urban park to be built in Europe in 150 years,” a reinvention of East London into an environmental and social hub and wildlife attraction.

They’ve taken the sustainability aspect a step further in London. Any bid team looks to what others have done before and figures out ways to improve on it. Just like we did, London is already improving on previous games.