Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Post-Olympics Planning - Lessons from Vancouver

With concerns having already been raised about the post-Olympics planning in London (here), it is prudent to look at the example of Vancouver and the current problems with their Olympic Village. Vancouver hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics and by all accounts was judged to have done an excellent job, despite some early reservations (here). The Olympic Village is part of an area known as South East False Creek and follows a long line of large planned mixed use neighbourhoods close to Downtown. The Millennium Water's sustainability credentials have been much trumpeted and is talked of as a 'model of sustainability'. But here is the problem. Whilst 257 of the lower end apartments have been sold, there are still 480 unsold! The remaining apartments were built to high end specifications with the latest fixtures and fittings and were expected to sell at close to $2,000 per sqft. But so far no buyers.

The City Council are in a tough postition as they lent the developer $731 million, of which only $200 million has been recouped. With sales flagging it looks as though apartments may be sold at a fire sale price in order for the City Council to try and recoup some value. So what was once seen as the jewel crown of the Olympics legacy is now threatening the political careers of many involved. There are some excellent articles on which focus on the past politiking surrounding the village and the current troubles with how best to progress the scheme.

Any lessons for London? Vancouver couldn't have predicted the apartments would go onto the market at a time of economic downturn, but this argument falls down because prices appear to have remained strong across the wider city despite global financial troubles. A key lesson is the level of affordable housing. Whilst initial policy referred to a 60% provision of affordable units, the final figure appears closer to 10% in Vancouver. For a city with problems of affordability and homelessness this is particularly disappointing. With two years to go, London is promising 50% affordable units for the athletes village - it will be interesting to see how this develops post-2012.

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