This post was originally published on the now-retired Make & Meaning blog on January 30th, 2010. It’s not very topical now,  five months after the Olympics, but I wanted to save this post in a public forum. (Also, heh, look how jaded I was before the Games! Look how I totally failed to anticipate the amazing community vibe!)

I spent much of this week wanting to write about the Olympics. I’m not an athlete and I shudder at the thought of competing athletically (heck, I had to be taught to want to win a board game). I’m not really a sports fan and my main interest in the last winter Olympics was the sweater I wanted to complete for the Knitting Olympics (I think I finished it two years after the Games).

But I live in Vancouver, and so this year I’m very interested in the Games. I still don’t care much about the sports (though we’re totally going to see an Olympic hockey game ten minutes away from our house!), but I do love massive events. There are just so many variables! This event has been seven years in the making, and that’s not counting the time it took the committee to put together the bid package that laid the foundation for the tasks that have taken seven years to complete.

Anyway. When it was announced in 2003 that Vancouver and Whistler would host the games, people were pretty psyched. I was psyched.

And then seven years passed and now the Games are upon us. Road closures and traffic restrictions have begun, security checkpoints are being set up, bus routes are changing. And you know what? The locals are grumbling. A lot. Me among them.

Then I put my finger on what’s really going on. The committee in charge of the Games, Vanoc, has been ignoring us. In their focus on making their sponsors happy, they’ve neglected the actual community that’s hosting the games. And that’s had me thinking about how to engage communities, which is something I think about a lot, but not often in the context of my own geographical backyard.

Still, online communities, crafts communities, local communities – they’re all the same.

I wish Vanoc had remembered to psyche us up for the Games. I wish they’d acknowledged our feelings, positive and negative both. I wish they’d spoken to us, human being to human being, about all sorts of things – about world-class athletics, about multiculturalism, about hospitality, about the homeless population of our city and how they’ll take care of our most vulnerable neighbours, about parties and celebrations, about inconveniences and road closures and working from home when we can’t get to our downtown offices.

Richmond Olympic Oval Vancouver 2010 Olympics

That human-being-to-human-being bit is significant. Vanoc has spoken to the people of Vancouver as a corporate entity, not as one of us. They’ve spoken to us as an authority with power over us, but not as fellow Vancouverites who feel honoured to host such an important event. If they had done that, I imagine we’d feel honoured, ourselves – honoured and pleased to be a part of something so huge, something that brings people from all over the world together in our relatively small yet tremendously beautiful home.

That’s what we, as makers, try to do when we want to build community, right? We behave like human beings with other human beings. We open ourselves up to learn from others at the same time that we teach. We listen. We laugh it off when things go wrong and explain where we’re coming from when we put a stop to things going really wrong.

We relate to people who behave this way, just as we’re trying to make it so people relate to us or to our businesses or to our brands.

And so this massive event that’s putting my small city on display for all the world is really still about community. I hope my friends and neighbours can dig through the corporate sheen and press-conference drivel to find that community they’re already a part of. To celebrate in it and with it. To enjoy this insane event which will certainly change our city forever, and to enjoy it together.

Will you be watching the games from wherever you are? Hey, where on earth are you? I’d really love to know.


Photo credit: Richmond Olympic Oval Vancouver 2010 Olympics by Online Photography School on Flickr (CC-A licensed)

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