It is beside the point that Alexander Garvin "never really
paid attention to the Olympics" until he was recruited to plan one. Or that
Garvin, a high school miler, ended his athletic career as soon as he earned his
varsity letter. At 62, he said, "The sport I follow now is called opera. And
the best athletes are the ones who can hit high C."
Actually, his credentials are suitably Olympian: public official, author,
university professor, real estate executive, heavyweight in the world of
architecture and urban design.
Plus - and perhaps most important - Garvin describes himself as "a typical
New Yorker; very skeptical," even as he points to a lesson learned from famed
builder Robert Moses: "The art of getting things done is something you have to
include in all planning."
That could be the Olympic dichotomy in a nutshell: Be wary, be dreamy.
Garvin has done the physical planning for the 2012 Summer Games in New York
City, and "I am convinced," he said, they will get done. His "Olympic X"
blueprint - a simplified north-south, east-west road map through Gotham's
countless complications of congestion, municipal jurisdiction, security and so
on - is meant to answer whatever questions the International Olympic Committee
"It's all trains and ferries," Garvin said, somehow making it sound closer
to a routine outpatient procedure than open-heart surgery. "We've made a plan
that does not intrude on the city of New York. And I genuinely believe that New
York not only will have the best Olympics ever, but that the Olympics will be
the greatest event ever in New York. Much bigger than the tall ships and the
This production of operatic girth all springs from the bones of the "X,"
and it all started for Garvin with a 1996 telephone call - "out of the blue
from a man named Dan Doctoroff," he said.
At the time, Doctoroff, now a deputy mayor, was working as an equity
investment manager in midtown Manhattan and mulling a fairly outrageous
thought: that the Olympics belonged in New York because the Games, in his mind,
always have been Big Town's alter ego. To Doctoroff, both the Olympics and New
York bring citizens of the world together, both represent competition at the
highest level, both are about the pursuit of dreams.
In that phone call seven years ago, Doctoroff confided in Garvin, however,
that "everybody tells me I'm crazy." He asked Garvin, "Do you think we could
hold the Olympics in New York?"
Garvin said, "Sure."
Doctoroff asked, "How would we do it?"
Garvin said, "I haven't a clue in the world."
Garvin had just finished his exhaustive, prize-winning book, "The American
City: What Works, What Doesn't." He was, still is, a New York City planning
commissioner, and had been deputy commissioner of housing, a private developer
and a property manager. For the past 36 years, he has taught city planning at
Yale, his alma mater. Most recently, he served as vice president of the Lower
Manhattan Development Corporation, which is taking on the city's other massive,
long-range endeavor, the revival at Ground Zero.
It is safe to say that Garvin knows his way around New York City. Born and
raised on Manhattan's Upper East Side, where he still lives, he said he "spent
my entire childhood and adolescence in Central Park." Asked, as an architect
and planner, what his favorite building is in the city, he offered an
immediate, "Central Park."
His father, who emigrated from Russia in 1939, owned a canned meat factory
in Flushing; his mother was an artist whose sculptures sit among the many
paintings and countless CDs in his roomy apartment. Garvin's early interest in
gardening evolved into landscape architecture and then urban planning.
Hired by Doctoroff for the Olympic project - at the time, both believed the
New York bid would be for 2008, until the U.S. Olympic Committee proclaimed
that all American cities should wait for 2012 - Garvin traveled to Atlanta
shortly after the 1996 Summer Games to study venues there. He read bid books
and reports from the '88 Seoul Olympics and '92 Barcelona Olympics. He
recruited two of his former Yale architectural students, Chris Glasek and J.B.
Clancy, and examined "at least" 300 potential competition and training sites in
the metropolitan area.
"One day, in February [of 1997], I remember it vividly," Garvin said. "A
Tuesday. I got Chris and J.B. and I said, 'We know enough. Today we're going to
close the door, no telephone, and figure it out.' And each gave the same
answer: 'The Water Olympics.'
"I put a piece of tracing paper over a map and drew a line for the ferry
[along the East River] and one for the railroad [from the Meadowlands to Nassau
Coliseum on Long Island]. And that was the 'X.'"
Garvin hired a helicopter and spent three days taking aerial photographs
along his "X." NYC2012's 600-page bid book is filled with those photos as well
as computer-enhanced renderings of how he visualizes them for the Games. Among
the detail he has envisioned is a flotilla of tall ships sailing around the
southern tip of Manhattan from the athletes' village to the stadium for Opening
Ceremonies on July 27, 2012.
To gather yet more details, he took in five days of the Sydney Olympics
three years ago - "I was looking to see where the bathrooms were, where they
put the newspapers reporters and so on" - and found himself "impressed with the
live sites, the way people would gather in a park to watch the sports on a big
screen, and they'd be selling cappuccino while there was an acrobat climbing a
40-story building and others were preparing a jazz concert."
"Just getting on the trains with hundreds of people who were going to
events. It was stirring. Exciting. I went to see beach volleyball, which I
found enormously exciting; I thought it would be dull. I saw synchronized
swimming, equestrian competition, rowing. I was there when the great Australian
runner [Cathy Freeman] won her race. That was exciting."
Such a thing in New York, Garvin believes, and what it will leave behind,
could hit high C.
Today the National Olympic Committees of at least nine nations submit their
applicant cities for International Olympic Committee consideration to stage the
2012 Summer Games. Among those will be New York City. The others are London,
Paris, Moscow, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, Havana, Istanbul and
Leipzig, Germany. Reports of possible entries from Milan, Cairo, New Delhi and
Abuja, Nigeria are not expected to materialize. In the spring, the IOC is
expected to trim the field to four to six candidates, which then would face a
final IOC vote in Singapore on July 6, 2005.
Population: 2.1 million
History of bright lights and romance, experience with 1998 World Cup soccer
tournament, finalist with Olympic bids for 1992 and 2008 and widely seen within
the IOC as rebellious political hero in war against Iraq.
Venues far-flung in a city with a reputation for caring more about dinner than
Early frontrunner, especially with the IOC's assumed desire to return to Europe.
NEW YORK CITY
Population: 8 million
World's financial, entertainment and media capital, accustomed to
projects with international scope and complexity.
Economically ambitious bid assumes an enormous ongoing political will, a
reputation for gridlock endures, and Bush administration politics do not play
well in the IOC.
Technically the best bid at this point.
Population: 3.9 million
Experience with major international sports events, with good marks for
infrastructure and accommodations.
Overshadowed by stiff European competition, and Barcelona staged 1992 Summer
Great alternate to politically Motivated votes.
One of the grand world capitals and accustomed to major events.
Uneven political backing, significant construction necessary for most venues,
and a decision to decline the 2005 world track championships not helpful.
Good enough, but it comes down to the campaign the city runs to woo the IOC.
Population: 8.9 million
Turkey's Olympic leaders have been persistent in repeated bids and there is
sentiment within the IOC to go to a Muslim country soon.
Infrastucture judged below IOC standards more than once, and Turkey is next
door to 2004-host Greece.
Will win votes intended to block others' chances.
RIO de JANEIRO
Population: 10.6 million
Perfect for a big festival, and the IOC would love to go to South America for
the first time.
Unpredictable economy and is considered a step behind other major contenders in
ability to host Games.
Maybe in 2016 or 2020.
Population: 8.4 million
Another world destination with a history of big productions.
Post-Soviet economy continues to struggle, and old USSR political will for
sports extravaganzas has faded.
A finalist at best.
Defeated four larger, better-known cities to become its national candidate, a
triumph for the old East Germany.
Incomplete bid plans include a recent attempt for more compact venues and calls
for a marketing strategy.
Not against this field.
Population: 2.3 million
Hosted 1991 Pan American Games without incident and cares about producing an
No bid specifics have been made public and economic wherewithal is questionable.
No, lo siento.