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On Wednesday night, the world watched as drunken revellers tore up the streets of downtown Vancouver. Thursday morning, instead of just shaking their heads and decrying the violence, the city’s citizens decided they should try to fix what had happened. Literally. So they poured into the downtown area with mops, rags and buckets. So many of them came that volunteer organizers had to turn people away. And they came with one consistent message: the riots do NOT represent the “real” Vancouver.
The images have been heartwarming. At “The Real Face of Vancouver,” on Facebook, dozens of photographs show volunteers (many of them wearing Canucks jerseys) filling garbage bags and wielding brooms. The plywood covering the smashed windows of the The Bay store has been covered with messages of love and support for the city. Perhaps the most stunning image is that of a police car completely covered with sticky notes expressing gratitude for the work of the Vancouver Police.
Everywhere the media, government and citizens are asking “What next?” And it’s fascinating to hear how often the word “brand” is being used in the discussion. Since the Olympics, almost everybody seems to have become aware of the fact that Vancouver has a brand, and that it is a precious and valuable asset. So cleaning up after the riot isn’t just about saving face, supporting the damaged businesses, or picking up someone else’s mess – it’s about sending out a message that the Vancouver brand is represented by good people, not bad ones. As one tweet put it: “We are defined not by the riots, but by what happened after.”