Olympic Games: Garvin brings sensitivity to New York?s bid for 2012

Big Apple aims to put on better show than Atlanta with plans to stage 2012 Olympic Games on a close-knit X-shaped site
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The Independent Online

Opinions vary on the emotional impact that New York's bid for the 2012 Games will have upon the members of the International Olympic Committee.

Will the main rival to London and Paris suffer by association with a belligerent United States foreign policy, which has alienated observers in many parts of the world, particularly parts containing Moslems?

Or will the Big Apple benefit from the well of sympathy established in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2001 which left it mentally and physically scarred?

Alex Garvin, in charge of planning for the New York bid, is not remotely ready to speculate on how much of an effect 9-11 will have upon the IOC membership. "I don't know," he said. "I couldn't speculate."

But if this dapper 62-year-old - a commissioner on the New York Planning Commission and Professor of Urban Planning and Management at Yale University - is maintaining a prudent detachment from the vagaries of the strange and eclectic gathering which deliberates on the quadrennial award of the world's biggest sporting event, he can speak as someone who is integrally associated with the city he represents.

Garvin helped to establish the New York bid in 1996, shortly after witnessing the less than totally satisfactory Atlanta Games. ("Of course, there were things there that left a bad taste in people's mouths," he said. "And of course we are going to try to do better.") But in the wake of 9-11 he was seconded to the pressing task of establishing a process to select a new design for the World Trade Center site.

This hugely sensitive undertaking, which resulted in the commissioning of a work by Daniel Libeskind that will create memorial spaces on the two footprints of the original towers, was the subject of Garvin's lecture to the Royal Society of Arts in London this week.

As he returns to the task of helping guide his city's Olympic bid, he is resolved to employ the same sifting process to achieve the best design for the Athletes Village, which will lie in the heart of New York City.

The Village will be located at the centre of an X shape which will include all the main venues. "This is the first time in history that virtually every competition site will be 25 minutes, or much less, from the Olympic village," Garvin said, twinkling behind a blue bow tie.

Earlier this week, the United States' world 200 and 400 metres record holder, Michael Johnson, identified transport as a problem for both the London and New York bids.

Garvin's brow furrowed for the first time at Johnson's assertion. "I don't see that as characterising New York," he said. "We are moving the bulk of the spectators on the subway. In the summertime, during the Games, the ridership of mass transit in New York is down by 800,000, because the schools are shut. So adding half a million to the system constitutes no problem. And the system for the athletes is one of dedicated ferries and trains. So on the contrary, the strength of our bid is its transportation system."

Garvin was clearly dismayed by the news of this week's fatal accident involving New York's Staten Island ferry, but he insisted that it would not have any detrimental effect on the city's plans to move athletes around by water.

"It's a one-off situation," he said. "I'm absolutely devastated that people got killed. But we've been running that ferry for as long as I've been alive. I've been on it numerous times."

Security, which was highlighted by the IOC president, Jacques Rogge, in July as being of "paramount importance" in any bid, is something which has clearly concentrated minds in New York.

Garvin accepts this will involve huge costs, noting the $300m (£180m) operation at last year's Salt Lake City Winter Games which saw F16 fighter planes patrolling the skies. "We are obviously learning from Salt Lake and what they did," he said. "But by the time 2012 rolls around, we are going to have even more advanced security devices. Of course we are concerned about it. Anybody who has planned any bid after Munich has to be. The state of security is already different from what it was before 9-11. New York is a different place thanks to those criminals. I would just as soon we went back to old New York. But we can't."