There will be at least one iconic image that will come out of Vancouver’s Olympics.  It’s a nice touch that this image actually includes an icon.  And a fence.

This has instantly become one of the great case studies in urban design.  What were they thinking?  I mean, literally.  What went into their thinking when they designed the cauldron and the public spaces around it?  Did they think about people taking photographs?  Did they think people would even show up?

Was it discussed, or was the design process mainly about security and traffic movement?  Because that’s the way it looks.

What they clearly didn’t expect – who did? – was that so many people would show up wanting to be there.  So many, in fact, that the crowd would be its own phenomenon.

They have come by the thousands, to line up for hours, to spill down the stairs and along the seawall, up the ramps and along the railings, to jam the sidewalks on all the blocks leading to the cauldron.

It’s like Times Square.

Or at least the Times Square before they closed Broadwa y to traffic.  The Times Square where four and a half times as many people as vehicles were squeezed into 11 percent of the space.  Where the car was the priority, and so many people on feet was a problem.  You could see it in the barricades that lined Seventh Avenue to keep people from spilling into the street.  Just like here.

This controversy over the cauldron and the fence is not about the security.  That was thought out.  That could have been been the priority even as a solution was found to accommodate the thousands who wanted a clear view, as close as possible.  What seems to have happened is that they simply didn’t think about it.   The success of this public space, the space beyond the fence, came as a complete surprise.

And that’s not to blame VANOC.  In an endeavour of this scale, not everything can be anticipated.  It’s what you do in response that counts for the future.  

Anyway, they’ve done one big thing so well that it too has come as a bit of surprise.   More later.