Monday, December 20, 2010

International Standards of Law and Order: Vancouver & the Olympics

Cities, Crime, and The Olympics

This is the second part of Columbia University’s  video linked here, starting about 28 minutes in until the end, on “economic violence”. The first presentation was by Sudhir Venkatesh, on gangs and inner city regimes that conflict with urban political systems. That was discussed in a previous post.  Professor Cutler discusses, in high contrast to poor inner-city regimes, the moneyed regime of the International Olympic Committee.  I wouldn’t call it violent. I do find it interesting.

She refers to the “collision in normative values.” She means we have daily expectations for city services and amenities (police and parks, for instance). Just as gang regimes pressure cities and reduce control, she says the International Olympics Committee dis-empowered the government of the City of Vancouver.

You should know that I checked with a correspondent in Vancouver. This correspondent thinks Ms. Cutler has an inaccurate analysis of events. And I found Ms. Cutler to be unreliable too--with a theory that makes some sense, and that I might even agree with in part--but spinning the results into something that approaches a violence toward reality. Still it's food for thought, even if it reads like Orwell's 1984.

My synopsis of Ms. Cutler's words are green.

Vancouver Prepares for the Olympics
Ms. Cutler reports that the City of Vancouver subordinated its own authority over its own jurisdiction in order to attract the Summer Olympics. By so doing, they reduced the rights of Vancouver's citizens--their human rights--but also their economic rights. In order to win the Olympic bid, Vancouver had to be an "international city". Its urban planning was then modified to suit people who do not vote there, live there, or go to school there. Those who have local businesses, or provide local security were not accorded the same protections.

The "international community" that expects and values "international cities" are generally parts of large corporations, cartels, and governments, and individuals with a significant disposable income. Every city wants their spending dollars, their investments, and their interest. (Ms. Cutler didn't mention this.) However, what does it mean for those in small business, the homeless, the lower middle class, or the privacy of individual citizens, each who are accustomed to a certain street standard?

Paraphrasing Cutler (and I was typing notes as fast as I could):

Changes in Security Regimes:
A.Vancouver had already begun increasing Panoptic Surveillance and control, but the Olympics bid created a major impetus. Surveillance ranged from elevators in the city to along the long highways to Olympic attractions. The surveillance included perimeter detection, license plates readers, airport style surveillance technology all over the featured parts of the city. Sometimes these surveillance systems along the highway traversed different jurisdictions, outside of Vancouver’s bailiwick.

This indicates something about the control of the state--though Vancouver was the one doing it. It means the nation of Canada may have
1. abdicated control (letting Vancouver hold the mandate instead) or
2. that the state of Canada authorized Vancouver’s extra-territorial control or
3. that both state and city suspended their control in order to let the Olympic Committee create standards, ordinances, and methods of security provision, for the benefit of visitors over residents.

B. The technology-driven security is an economic boon to international marketing, not local security. It is "the corporate face of a new war." But private (international, for-profit) security firms were given broad powers of search, seizure, and arrest. This sidelined both the Vancouver Police and the RCMP (national).

If local security was not sidelined, it still creates a culture of cooperation with a corporate/market entity. It gives some parity to corporate security that formerly was a government monopoly. Security arrangements also privileged international security organizations such as NORAD, which played a part in anti-terrorism measures.

Public/private security partnership may be permanent. Contracts were for installation of surveillance devices, but not their removal.

In other words, these systems were purchased not rented. In almost every alternative, the city continues to give away its power over its own jurisdiction.
1. Vancouver decides not to use the security system they paid for, and still must pay to maintain, thereby creating unsustainable development.
2. The RCMP uses it, giving local security duties/powers to the state of Canada that belong to the city of Vancouver.
3. Vancouver PD staff is diverted from street security to panoptic surveillance, swelling police budgets with new hires or reducing street presence. They also watch areas that are not their jurisdiction, thereby wasting some man-hours or exceeding their authority. (NOTE: she offered no reference for this).
4. Vancouver hires a private security company, thus diverting security to a private firm who has first access to the data.

I'm not sure which of these competing alternatives Ms. Cutler found more dangerous. Mostly she was ranting in the scholarly way, of course.

Zoning Restrictions
C. The city re-zoned itself into orderly zones and free speech zones. No dissing of the Olympics, no demonstrations, riots, posters, sit-ins, or protest parades allowed in the Olympic zones or near city attractions. These "orderly zones" included the public library and art museums. Universities were approached, certain known activists, and students, warning them not to kick up any fusses in areas adjacent to Olympic events. Cutler maintains this also crossed jurisdiction (e.g., University by-laws).

I can't get too worked up over this, given how awful protests could have been. In a way, the City of Vancouver is protecting its investment in Olympic attractions, its reputation, and local property. But it does bring up the specter of how much, how long, what precedent does it set? What is considered a "non-celebratory Olympic demonstration?  Does it get into bad manners? Will it mandate manners next time?

Local Expectations vs. Local Capacities.
D. Courts and Citizens
1. The City of Vancouver empowered the police to take homeless populations to shelters or jail them. But there were not enough shelters for the homeless population, so many were inevitably jailed.

2. Vancouver also empowered "City Ambassadors" to "move undesirable people along", watch streets or parks, and report undesirable persons or activities.

Where I live, this activity is routine and not draconian. It does extend surveillance in particular tourist-attractive areas. It also keeps the streets clean, gives the tourists good directions to attractions, and so forth. It is also a benefit for those who live in those parts of my city--that is not shared equally by all residents of that city, but for which all taxpayers must pay.

During the events, a special system of courts was set up, separate from normal municipal courts, to deal with jailing "undesirables" 24/7. This may strain city budgets.

E. Likewise, local business was subject to specific opening and closing times. In the event of business conflict, local businesses in Olympic venues had to agree to take grievances to international commercial arbitration rather than the local court systems.

That’s pretty standard, I think, around the world. It keeps international corporations out of local court. It also creates a huge barrier to suing an international corporation for a small business.

Conclusion—Two Dilemmas
Perhaps the citizens of Vancouver saw this influx of security, such as a 24/7 court system, as desirable. Perhaps the drastic change in "normative values" by moving the homeless along meant that sitting in the park, going to the library or museum, or even taking a walk was better than before.  We would then say that international business brought in greater urban capacity. And that’s what cities need.

But even finding it desirable might also show that cities have lost power. Maybe Vancouver could not enforce these desirable standards without international scrutiny (or the excuse of international scrutiny). Maybe citizen scrutiny was not enough. Or maybe citizens have already accepted a decline in normative values.

Either way, under Cutler's exposition, the city looks weak. And we need not single out Vancouver, either. All cities are trying to attract international business. They are all giving out tax breaks and making promises to get them to come to their cities.

Second, at what point do all of these temporary "protections of investment" manage the risk of terror, riot, local safety, and at what point do they impinge upon citizens? Maybe demonstrations aren't your concern. Maybe some other "normative right" is.

I wonder what you all think of this, and what examples you may have in your own city.

Enhanced by Zemanta


Bob G. said...

Regarding the olympics, I think ANY city has to consider the "aftermatth" even before the venue itself.

How much will it COST that city AFTER the teams all leave town?
Who maintains the complexes?
Who pays for it all?

But there are good points made regarding cities in general.

Some places simply cannot handle the basics, let alone the logistical nightmares such a HUGE event like the olympics can bring.

Lots of good stuff there to think about, even IF you're not hosting some international extravaganza.

Have a great week.

Lt said...

First, I'd say I'm not in favor of short term solutions, like "moving the homeless along". Or rented security measures. Or anything that is simply a band-aid. Long term solutions should be the goal. That said, a short run venue like the Olympic games doesn't necesarrily invoke priorities on the long run options. It shortsidedness, but it's political reality.

All safety measures impinge on citizens. But societal shifts often mask impingements as norms. To what extent we are willing to tolerate them, well, that's up to society to decide. And it's never an easy, or unanymous, decision. I've been up all night. Feel free to edit for grammar or content.

Ann T. said...

Dear Bob,
What you bring up is the spectre of "unsustainable development"--that's what they call it in international affairs, anyway. And it's a darn good point. Most cities lose money on these big items--according to the news though, Vancouver didn't.

It is really interesting to me, how governments interact with markets. I keep trying to figure out how cities are going to take the hit. Maybe the lessons of Vancouver should be how they got it right!

Thanks for writing in!

Ann T. said...

Dear Lt.,
If you have been up all night, then I am truly flattered that you wrote in. Never mind the grammar!

I do think temporary measures such as you describe don't solve anything. For many cities, it is a band-aid on an artery--too little, too pathetic.

Thanks for writing in. That perspective was missing here.

Ann T.

The Observer said...

Ann T:
I thought about it in the context of the conventions this city is constantly pursuing. We had the NAACP in this year.

If you can't handle what you have, how do you handle the extra?

Be careful what you wish for...

Thank you for the post.

The Observer

Momma Fargo said...

Interesting post and perspective. I think location is the key and how the city's economy for big ticket items to work and court 24/7...ugh...but necessary. Security for these measures is hugh dollars to any city and taxing on the law enforcement. We have much smaller events like College National Finals Rodeo and over the course of 5 years have earned back money spent on structures, huge arenas and facilities. It would have been a huge loss to the city if held for a one year event. The contract was 5 years minimum. I am surprised by a one time Olympic event Vancouver did not lose big money.

Ann T. said...

Dear The Observer,
I agree that some conventions are better than others--and more conventions are more cost-effective than one, just as Bob says. To build a convention center is to have to fill it.

I think pols hope to grow the business. But also it gives some splash. It looks productive. It also allows some junketing and lobbying--more fun than studying traffic patterns, I bet.

A lot of good points! Thanks for bringing them up!
Ann T.

Ann T. said...

Dear Momma Fargo,
This is very interesting comments! I had assumed you would like a 24-hr court just to get some of the procedure out of the way.

It sound like the 5-year deal was a smart move on the part of city fathers. As for the overtime and stress on law enforcement, I guess you can't hire for it--seasonal gig--unless you have this kind of traffic all the time.

More good points. Thanks for writing in!

Ann T.