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What Toronto can learn from the Olympics Add to ...

Hey Toronto, want to host a spectacular, smoothly run, controversy-free international sporting event?

Time to start planning for the Pan American Games, which we will welcome from July 10 to 26, 2015.

Too soon? Not if you want rocking opening ceremonies, a cool 3-D logo and a chance to effectively showcase the city without having to barricade it behind a chain-link fence. If Vancouver has taught us anything, it's that problems can arise even after years of careful prep work.

And so as our West Coast friends prepare to pass the torch, a variety of experts offer advice to Toronto gleaned from the last two weeks of Olympic gaffes and glory.

Opening Ceremonies No one will disagree that k.d. lang's performance at Vancouver's opening ceremonies was one of the highlights of the Olympics, but when it comes to showcasing Canadian talent, Toronto might want to renew the brand a little. "We're not a nation of white Céline Dion crooners," said Steve Jordan of the Polaris Music Prize. What about Arcade Fire, an internationally revered band that can perform rocking anthems in both official languages? "I don't think it's really their thing," Mr. Jordan said. "But it could be pretty spectacular."

Don't fence me in Symbols are important to international events, and restricting access to obvious tourist traps is not a good idea. A chain-link fence erected around the Olympic cauldron in Vancouver became an early symbol of official mismanagement. A similarly negative visual must be avoided in Toronto, said Mat Wilcox, chief executive officer of Wilcox Group, a Vancouver communications and crisis-management firm. "It completely took them by surprise, which it shouldn't have," she said. Anticipating protests, VANOC blocked off access to the flame. But the angry crowds failed to materialize, and tourists who arrived at the flame hoping to snap a picture were punished instead. "They didn't think of the tourism value," said Ms. Wilcox. "It was awful. Even when they fixed it, it wasn't great. They put a gap in the fence and opened a viewing platform, but they didn't do that until the sixth and seventh day of the Games."

Go 3-D Who says cutting-edge technology can only be effectively employed by James Cameron? At Ontario House in Vancouver, tourists could explore 3-D versions of Ontario landmarks via BlackBerry, courtesy of a partnership between RIM and Sheridan College. Darren Lawless, the school's dean of applied research, urges Toronto to showcase its innovation and digital-media capabilities at the Pan Ams. Visitors should see game logos in 3-D - without 3-D glasses. "You want an image of the Games to be trapped in a person's mind," he said. "If you could give them something new like that, they'll remember it."

Goad Stephen Colbert Brilliant public-relations manoeuvres are rarely orchestrated by lowly city publicists. But when Richmond, B.C., spokesman Ted Townsend sent a letter to Stephen Colbert inviting him to act as ombudsman of American speed skaters during the Olympic Games, he set in motion Vancouver's best Olympic "get." The Comedy Network star attended the Games and provided nightly "Vancouverage," which included an interview with Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh. Imagine the character mocking Toronto's New York insecurity complex, and city councillor Rob Ford showing off his local brand of crazy on the show's "Better Know a Riding" segment.

Leverage the brand When is your house the cleanest? Right before guests arrive. International sporting events should be used to expedite a city's wish list, speeding up projects to make a big impression on visitors and leave the host city with tangible improvements. Bruce Dewar, CEO of 2010 Legacies, said his non-profit helped establish permanent recreation, arts, literacy, accessibility and volunteerism programs across B.C. in the lead-up to the Olympic Games. For the past two weeks, he's been meeting with international delegations that are planning Olympic bids. "I've been telling them to start early," he said. "Use the Games to drive bigger social and economic change for their region." He suggests local activists name-drop the Pan Ams in connection to any project they want to get done before 2015, from waterfront revitalization to TTC improvements. "It's really using the power of the games to bring people together to collaborate," he said. "The brand gets people's attention."

Don't bemoan the podium So what if Canada didn't reach its Own the Podium goal? At least we had the nerve to set our sights high, according to Alex Baumann, the program's chief technical officer. Setting an aspirational medal count is common for host countries, he said, and is not just about bravado. "It's meant to be inspirational," he said. "I think it's a cultural shift towards wanting to stand up and be proud of what we can achieve, and I think that's very positive." When Australia got the 2000 Summer Games, it set a goal of 60 medals, compared to the 27 it won in 1992. In the end, it won 58, and Mr. Baumann said it brought the country's sporting community together in a shared goal. The Pan Am Games in 2015 will be qualifying some Canadian athletes for the summer Olympics in 2016, and competitors should set their goals high. "It's really a dress rehearsal for Rio," he said.

Do a weather dance Smog in Toronto in July is as predictable as junkies in the Downtown Eastside. The Pan Am Games will welcome athletes to the city at its sweaty, grumpy, grimy worst. "The weather's going to be the weather and you should prepare people in advance," said Ms. Wilcox. "In Toronto it's going to be very muggy." Instead of blasting the air conditioning, Toronto should simply offer context. When people complained that 28,000 standing tickets were cancelled at B.C.'s Cypress Mountain venue because of the rain, Ms. Wilcox informed them that during the Nagano Games, 60,000 tickets were cancelled due to inclement weather. But Toronto could also take a cue from China, and use the Pan Am Games as an excuse to at least try to improve the smog situation. In the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics, Beijing planted tens of millions of trees, implemented driving restrictions for city residents, and even had businesses stagger their hours to avoid rush-hour commutes.

Highlight the Hammer The Vancouver Games have shown that a single venue needn't hog all the success: Whistler, Richmond and Cypress have all reaped the benefits of Olympic development, which bodes well for Hamilton, which will play a central role in the Pan Am Games. Steeltown will host track and field at a new stadium, and is building a portable velodrome for track cycling. But equally important, organizers just have to make sure people can get there. "There were some teething problems in terms of transportation, initially, but I think you have that with every games," Mr. Baumann said of the Vancouver model. "The athlete village is going to be in Toronto and they need to make sure they deal with traffic issues and moving everyone around."

Be the party Toronto is reputed to be one of the lamest crowds around, sitting politely through rock shows and cringing at any public displays of nationalism. But popular city-wide events like Nuit Blanche and the rowdy joy of Toronto FC games are starting to bring us out of our collective shell. To facilitate happy crowds in Vancouver, Robson and Granville Streets were transformed into pedestrian malls, something that could easily be replicated in downtown Toronto. "What took everybody by surprise was just the amount of people who wanted to be on the streets and have fun," said Ms. Wilcox. "Toronto needs to make itself a fun city. You have to make it a party for it to be a party."

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