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We can learn from London's world-class insight

The British media, which had a peevish Olympics, have been fun to kick around. But on one issue, they’re right on.

The British media, which had a peevish Olympics, have been fun to kick around. But on one issue, they’re right on.

Ever since the Economist declared Vancouver the most livable city in the world, the Brits have been beside themselves with ridicule. A real world-class city, they harrumph, is more than a nice view. A real world-class city is exciting and alive, not merely pleasant.

From the world-class heights of London, there’s not much difference between Vancouver and Squamish, say. Just more of the same: Recreational. Benign. Boring.

After the Olympics, however, all that has changed. Even the Brits acknowledge that Vancouver has jacked it up a notch, world-class wise. If this keeps up, we may even come close to owning the world’s podium. But let’s keep a perspective.

If you spend any time in London, and I recommend spending as much time in London as you can, you are struck by the vast crowds on the streets. Robson Street at its dizziest Olympic peak still barely came close to the carnival that is Piccadilly Circus, 24/7. Trafalgar Square, Harrod’s, Charing Cross Station, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Soho, wherever you go, London is like a permanent Olympic event.

And it’s no big deal. Public transit: Trains, buses, undergrounds, bridges, are all designed to handle the daily peregrinations of 10 million people, plus, on any given day, thousands of tourists. The British Museum alone draws six million visitors a year, second only to the Louvre’s 8.5 million, in that other world-class place.

London, in short, is an annual gold medal urban champion. Here in Vancouver, we’re just getting started.

The trick is to build on the excitement of the Olympics, and we could look to London for help.
London has great galleries, shops, museums, nightlife. Vancouver has … sigh. At least we can remember what it’s like to have world-class fun and try to have it again.

London has great transit. Vancouver has some transit.

London has bobbies: Friendly, helpful, respectful. Vancouver’s police have finally discovered crowd management doesn’t necessarily include Tasers and pepper spray. We can only hope that a kinder, gentler police force is a permanent legacy of the Games.

London has two Michelin three-star restaurants, eight two-star and 40 one-star. Vancouver remains unrated, despite its dining pretensions. Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, two three-star chefs from New York, have opened restaurants in Vancouver. Kind of like Lewis and Clark discovering the wilderness.

London has 2,000 years of recorded history. Vancouver has 200. Now, if we can absorb the lessons of the past few weeks, we can start writing the next chapter with world-class confidence.

– Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;

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