Olympics used to speed up urban development

Expositions and Olympic Games are a convenient cover for real-estate development, according to an expert on mega events and their impact on housing.

Kris Olds, a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, says he’s not surprised to hear reports about poor residents being displaced from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in the run-up to the 2010 Winter Games.

“The events themselves basically from”¦the 1970s, but especially from the 1980s, on have been used as a sort of a fast-track, facilitative mechanism to speed up the redevelopment process,” Olds told the Straight. “You get things done that you might not get done otherwise.”

Olds was interviewed by phone from Paris, where he is a visiting professor. He recently advised the Geneva-based Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions during the preparation of its report Fair Play for Housing Rights: Mega-Events, Olympic Games and Housing Rights, which was released last year.

Olds, a former Vancouverite who graduated from UBC and worked as an urban planner for the City of Vancouver, has studied the impact of events like Expo 86 and the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics.

Olds will speak about mega events and evictions at SFU Harbour Centre on Monday (January 21),
at 7 p.m.

He described the people behind these events as members of “elite groups” associated with politicians who want to spur on urban development, and real-estate and development groups.

“I would just say they share a sort of a vision of using these Games as a development mechanism,” Olds said. “Housing objectives, usually, and the protection of especially relatively poor people and their housing rights, cannot be high on the priority list. Some are sympathetic, in general, and then some are”¦sort of oblivious to it.”

A day after Olds’s lecture, the Residential Tenancy Branch will hold a dispute-resolution hearing on the bid by the four remaining low-income tenants of the Dominion Hotel to hold on to their rooms, according to Anna Hunter, a housing advocate at the Downtown Eastside Residents Association. Hunter said the other tenants have already been evicted by the landlords, who secured permits from city hall to renovate the hotel.

“Landlords have been doing this for the last two years, realizing they can make a lot more money if they evict their tenants who are low-income, and do repairs, and renovate, and, in this case, turn this into a boutique inn,” Hunter told the Straight.