It’s official. Olympic Village – home to more than 2,800 athletes and officials during the Olympic Games – is now Vancouver’s newest neighborhood. On Saturday, VANOC handed over the Olympic Village keys to the city. I checked out the event, which included speeches, music and more than a little controversy.
Hundreds of people turned out for a glimpse of the new community, which developers have called Millennium Water. All told, there are 1,108 units, ranging from high-end penthouses to rentals and affordable housing, divided among several blocks of gleaming new highrises. The neighborhood is anchored by a central square that looks out onto False Creek. Tree-lined streets radiate out from the square, running past neatly manicured gardens. A brand new community centre on the waterfront is scheduled to open this summer. And plans call for an Urban Fare, London Drugs and even a new elementary school and park.
Saturday’s ceremony corresponded with an open house for buyers eager to snatch up the former Olympic residences. With real estate brochures in hand, prospective homeowners shuttled back and forth between show homes set up especially for the occasion. Others pressed their faces up to the windows of ground floor apartments, hoping for a glimpse inside. 263 units were sold before the Games, and developers hope to sell the remaining 474 in the months ahead (Prices range from $500,000 all the way up to $10 million).
But the event wasn’t without turmoil. Olympic Village was built at a cost of $1.1 billion, much of that taxpayer money. On Saturday, demonstrators turned out to protest the lack of affordable housing in the city. Although 126 units in Olympic Village have been set aside for social housing, some 800 units were originally proposed for that purpose.
All the controversy made for a surreal scene. While buyers hurried from home to home, mounted police assembled around the edge of the new community. A crowd of several dozen protesters – including housing advocates and indigenous rights advocates – made laps around the main square, shouting slogans into megaphones and holding up signs that read “Homes for All.”
In the end, the demonstration finished peacefully. As I was leaving the neighborhood, I spotted a young couple smiling and posing for pictures outside a new, ground-floor condo. They explained that they had just bought their first home. That drove an important point home for me: Despite the controversy, Olympic Village is now a part of the fabric of Vancouver life. With beautiful architecture and an illustrious past, it seems bound to become an important urban centre in the years ahead.
Anyone else had a glimpse of Olympic Village? First impressions? Please leave a comment below.