What the puck, Vancouver?


Photo: Police stand guard as police cars burn in the background after Game 7 of the NHL Stanley Cup final between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins in Vancouver, June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Andy Clark.

What the puck? Urban binaries and public life in Vancouver

There were two riots in the world on June 15, 2011 that captured headlines, and even competing for news coverage depending upon where you were. The day unfolded to the continued strife in Athens, Greece, its country rocked with demonstrations against Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou’s calls for deepening austerity measures and the nation’s mounting debt. These issues have chipped at a population faced with unpopular government spending cuts affecting salaries and pensions and furthering a weak national government trying to contain the crisis which sparked in 2009. The situation is quite serious and has rippling effects on the economies of the European Union and the world because of Greece’s debt and a much weaker euro zone.Yesterday’s riots in Athens tempered higher as Prime Minister Papandreou jockeyed to mitigate further rifts in his divided Socialist Party after two Socialist lawmakers walked out from Parliament earlier in the day, and an afternoon of continued dischord within the cabinet and outside in the streets.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, Vancouver hockey fans watched intently on the nail-biting Stanley Cup Finals happening inside Rogers Arena between NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, the hometown favorite, playing against the Boston Bruins. At the end of the final moments running up to the game’s tallied score, the Boston Bruins defeated the Canucks 4-0 sending tremors throughout Vancouver that evening. The Bruins and their fans celebrated what would be the team’s first Stanley Cup win since 1972.

Their victory was not shared by Canucks’ fans — hundreds of whom were watching on giant video screens outside the CBC at West Georgia and Hamilton Streets in the center of town and the epicenter of the riots. As the final moments ticked by, disgruntled fans reportedly hurled bottles at the video screens angrily in protest. By the time Canucks cleared the ice in defeat to hit the locker rooms, downtown Vancouver gradually descended into the kind of chaos from riots the city has not seen since the Canucks lost to the New York Rangers in Game 7’s Stanley Cup finals in 1994. That riot lasted for several hours before the RCMP and 540 police officers could contain the crowds (Macleans.ca).

Vancouver’s angry hockey fans unveiled a volatile mix of aggression on the streets in the downtown core that was digitally recorded and relayed via mobile phones, social media outlets including Facebook and Twitter, and with real-time live broadcast coverage on local and regional news. By game’s close near 8PM, a small fire was started in front of Canada Post at Georgia and Hamilton, and shortly afterwards, fans overturned a parked Nissan setting it ablaze. “Fuck Boston!” and calls to start a riot became rally cries according to witnesses present.

As evening darkened under a thick ash cover of smoke circulating between gleaming office towers and glass-walled condos, the riots lingered around the city’s central corridor straddling between Yaletown, the financial district, Robson Square, Granville, and near Vancouver’s West End and the Vancouver Courthouse along Howe Street. In the city that The Economist magazine’s Economist Intelligence Unit gave top marks and a 98.0 rating ranking Vancouver as the most liveable city in the world for the fifth straight year in a row (February 2011), the view of Lotusland looked charred with wasted energy.

People in Greece who have lost their jobs and have seen their pensions cut continue to find it hard to struggle with their country’s mounting debt have turned to riot in Athens in protest against their government’s efforts and trying to hold their economy together for better or worse. In Vancouver, one of North America’s wealthiest cities pulsing with international trade, tourism, software industry, finance and medicine, seems to turn against itself after enjoying playing host city to the Winter Olympic games just one-and-a-half years ago.

In the wake of the riots, Vancouver police are turning to social media for support asking individuals to post and help identify participants acting out on the streets last Wednesday evening. Digital images and video uploaded via Facebook, Flickr, Tumblr and Twitter are part of a shared willingness between residents and authorities, but what about next time? What kind of city does its residents want it to be if not the esteemed liveable idyll it has enjoyed in recent years? I cannot imagine what Vancouver would look like every time the home team loses a Stanley Cup.

Sources: CBC, CTV, The Economist, Flickr, MacLeans, The National, New York Times, Reuters, Storify.com, Vancouver Sun, Wikipedia.

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