Vancouver draws the blinds, welcomes the world’s gaze

NY Times witnesses a DTES altercation accompanying former Mayor Sam Sullivan

Whether we like it or not, Vancouver is now on the world stage warts and all. A lot is being written about the underbelly of our city, which is consistently rated as the world’s most livable despite the scourge of drugs, poverty and mental illness that is concentrated in the Downtown Eastside community. If there is any bright side at all, and I use that term advisedly, is that we’re not sweeping these problems under the rug just because a TV station from Berlin has arrived.

Much has been made of a column by a political writer with the Guardian newspaper which seemed to trot out all the anti-Olympics cliches cited by critics. Local columnist Gary Mason had his own take on the Guardian piece, calling it "complete rubbish." I agree with Mason.

Vancouver does have its problems, probably too many to list in a short blog post, but we’re also recognized for our excellence. We hardly give ourselves enough credit for our compassion, our fantastic diversity, and our ability to embrace the future. Scrape away all the usual self-effacing rancor, and Vancouver is the envy of the world for its beauty, its generosity, its copious resources, and its imagination.

As one of the most influential newspapers in the world, when the New York Times pays attention to you it’s hard to overlook. Recently the Times visited Vancouver, devoting a front page story to what’s happening on Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Was it pretty? No. But the article gives readers a sense of hope.

The writer had a little help from an old friend, Sam Sullivan, who has long since hung up public life and turned his endless energy to a non-profit society. An outcome of his new work with the Global Civic Policy Society is a relationship with Explore, a US-based multimedia organization who are documenting leadership from around the world on a wide range of causes. They’ve produced over 250 films, and their most recent, titled Life in a Wheel features Sullivan.

Tom Pollock, Executive Producer with Explore, is in Vancouver this week to screen Life in a Wheel at a cinema in the Downtown Eastside along with Sam and several of his guests. As his host during the Olympic Games, Sullivan hopes to create an even greater impression for the filmmaker that our city is not wallowing over its social problems, but giving them the attention they deserve.

Even Mayor Gregor Robertson, pressed by the world media on the subject, is quick to acknowledge the troubles of that community, and the urgent desire of the city to address homelessness and drug addiction there.

All Vancouverites, not just our politicians, admit openly that we can do better. Being on stage for the whole world to see could be an important catalyst for change.


UPDATE: Sam Sullivan appears on GlobalTV (clip runs after short commercial), discussing his role in the Torino Winter Games, and his upcoming part in the Olympic Torch Relay.

– post by Mike

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  • David Warner

    A balanced approach to the reporting of Vancouver’s obvious downside. I like the fact we (I live in Vancouver) are not hiding the problem but putting it out for comment and debate. Does any city really have a good handle on this? I hope one of the legacies of the Games is a better social awareness.

  • Mike, curiously both you and Gary Mason don’t seem to mention the National Post article that is referenced in the Guardian piece. That article is also critical of VANOC and it appears to be where some of the Guardian info is taken from.
    It’s true, there isn’t a cop on every corner. But if they didn’t congeal in groups of half a dozen or more there probably could be.
    The key point I took from the Haddow’s article is that this is the best chance yet for the Olympics to be exposed for what they are, ‘a corrupt relic of the 20th century that does little more than gut city coffers and line the pockets of developers and investors’.
    By all means. lets all get out and enjoy the free entertainment. With any luck it will be T-shirt weather. But let’s not promote the fallacy that we needed the Olympics to spur us into doing the right thing for the DTES or transit or to get a couple of new ice surfaces.

  • david hadaway

    Tell Amy Goodman and Martin Marcias Jr that we welcome the world’s gaze!

  • Mark

    People that write for the leftist Guardian really do take the cake. They are so wrapped up in their own little fantasy world that they have no idea how absurd they can sound to others.