I caused a bit of a kerfuffle when I brought up my curmudgeonly attitude about the Celebration of Light (no longer, as Colin kindly pointed out, the Symphony of Fire) fireworks that happen over four nights in downtown Vancouver. The comment thread is enlightening reading, as Todd articulately disagrees with me. Jen also takes issue with my comments, to which I reply over on her site. She asks:
Can we all put up with a few days of distraction and disruption in our everyday routine for the betterment of the city?
There's the rub. We need some sound metrics for what 'betterment of the city' means. I'd argue it means, first and foremost, economic impact. As I say over on Jen's blog, we need hard numbers to evaluate all of the events this city holds every summer. We need to be able look objectively at these events and hold them up to scrutiny. What do they cost? What do they earn? Could we be running a different event instead?
Another concern: if this is, as Todd points out, an art-form, then how much is the city spending (in administration, in extra police officers, etc--not huge cash, but not trivial either, I expect) in propogating that art? Are there other, say, local artists that might benefit from that funding?
Then, of course, there's the non-economic concerns. Does the event encourage civic pride? Does it foster attitudes and perceptions that we want people to hold about our city? Clearly there are some people who like the fireworks, and some who don't. If you read my comment thread and a similar one over at Vancouver Webloggers, you'll see that attitudes vary considerably. These issues are far more difficult to measure.
This was one of my problems in assessing the value of the Olympics bid. There were so many conflicting reports from previous Olympic cities about the Games's apparent beneficial or detrimental impact.
The Arts Vancouver