Here are five good reasons not to host the Olympic Games

Cloudy skies over London 2012. Image: Getty.

The prospect of hosting any mega-event – especially the Olympic Games – is cause for serious consideration. At local, national, and international levels, the discussion takes shape around two key questions: is it worth it? And if so, for whom?

The question of worth is not limited to cost – although that certainly remains a crucial feature. Rather, there exists a series of interrelated concerns about how mega-events can disrupt cities, and distract from long-term planning agendas. Bids to host the 2024 Olympics from both Boston and Hamburg were withdrawn for such reasons. Meanwhile, Rio de Janeiro is demonstrating just how challenging preparations for the Olympic Games can be.

Here, we take a closer look at five key reasons why a city might be reluctant to host the Olympic Games.

1. Sheer cost

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Here are the estimated costs of the last four Olympics, and the projected cost of the upcoming games in Rio.

  • Sydney 2000: $4.7bn
  • Athens 2004: €9bn (nearly $10bn)
  • Beijing 2008: $42bn
  • London 2012: $11bn
  • Rio 2016: $15bn or more (over two decades following the event)

While the exact cost of any Olympics is difficult to pin down, and is often a point of contention, the last three games witnessed unparalleled public and private investment. Beijing, London and Rio have built longer term “legacy” planning into their budgets, to try to ensure that investment in hosting the games continues to pay off for years after the event.

Olympic legacies are hard to come by. Rio. Image: Dany13/Flickr.

Such legacy promises often promote infrastructure redevelopment, improved transportation systems, economic growth and job creation, projects of urban renewal and regeneration, improved physical activity participation and environmental sustainability. In Rio, planned infrastructure developments are set to continue through to 2030.

The financial undertaking for such bids – and the subsequent planning and implementation – is nothing short of enormous. Undoubtedly, the most significant cost relates to the (re)development of urban infrastructure. This leads us to our second deterrent.


2. Infrastructure challenges

Hosting a mega-event always involves urban renewal and regeneration. Yet developing the sporting stadia, accommodation and transportation networks to cope with increased numbers of tourists and athletes is anything but straightforward. Before refashioning the urban landscape, planners must know which sites are to be redeveloped, for whom, and to what end.

Clearly, catering to the demands of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is one priority – but arguably, it is the least significant. Rather, planners seek to capitalise on urban space by re-imagining the city as a recreational environment – a resource for tourism and consumerism. Retail, festival, sporting, leisure, hotel and heritage spaces are at the core of this vision.

While improvements to transportation may provide benefits to the populace, these redevelopments only offer hope for increased tourist dollars and a small number of low-paying jobs. One example is the Estádio Mario Filho (better known as the Maracanã) stadium in Rio, which underwent more than $500m in renovations ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Once cast in the populist light of the 1950s to communicate ideas of democracy, it now aims to attract a different kind of person: the consumption-oriented international tourist.

One of the central challenges of hosting any mega-event is what to do with the new infrastructure after the athletes and tourists have gone. Some host cities – such as Barcelona – have made good use of their stadia, but others are replete with white elephants. Montreal, Sydney, Athens, Beijing and Vancouver have all had their share of post-olympics venue failures.

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa offers a particularly stark warning: the stadia continue to rot from disuse. And Brazil appears destined to repeat the same mistakes, as the country struggles to find a purpose for its 2014 World Cup facilities. White elephants are highly-visible reminders that mega-events may not be worth the cost. But there’s an even more insidious side-effect which is often overlooked.

3. Human rights violations

Building new infrastructure in a city means destroying established urban areas. When that happens, local populations and communities are often dispersed and displaced.

To make way for Beijing’s 2008 Olympic infrastructure, an estimated 1.5m people were forcibly evicted from their homes with minimal compensation. The neighbourhoods were destroyed and residents removed to the outskirts of the city far from friends, family and places of work.

Not sports fans, we assume. Image: Krus Krug/Flickr/creative commons.

In Rio, the forced eviction process has taken on a militarised ethos, as Police Pacification Units (Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora) try to control a number of the city’s favelas. Demolition, displacement and the razing of Unesco world heritage sites all feature in preparations for the games.

Repressive measures within China and Tibet at the 2008 games, LGBT rights issues surrounding the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and casualties on construction sites for the Qatar 2022 World Cup all point toward the persistent human rights issues which all too often accompany mega-events. Rather than representing unity and diversity, it seems as though the Olympic Games have started to signify oppression and exclusion.

4. Fear and security

In many host cities, publicly-funded yet privately-owned urban renewal projects have been leveraged to impose enhanced surveillance measures. For instance, London 2012 saw the rise of “defensible” architecture, which restricts the access and activities of those deemed “undesirable” – particularly skateboarders, protesters and the homeless – in newly-developed areas.

London’s Strand East Community – developed by Vastint Holding, IKEA’s holding company for residential development, ahead of the 2012 Olympics – is characteristic of the city’s propensity towards “enclave living”. This means a high security presence, which accepts those with the capital to invest, and rejects those who are deemed a threat to the safety and security of its residents. Such projects have caused urban spaces to be splintered. Those who lack the desire or means to engage with the consumer economy are stigmatised as “unwanted”.

London looking welcoming. Image: diamond geezer/Flickr/creative commons.

This process of securitisation has been fuelled by fear of attacks on popular sporting events, such as the bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the targeting of Paris' Stade de France in November 2015. Planning committees have been burdened with the impossible task of preventing such attacks, by building security into the infrastructure, planning, organisation and practices associated with mega-events.

5. International prestige

Hosting a mega-event can create buzz, offer the chance for a positive re-brand or garner international prestige. But it can also draw unwanted attention and bad press. Host nations often obscure human rights violations, but will find it more difficult to manage the high-profile political and economic problems associated with international organisations like the IOC. For example, political scandals have recently tarnished the reputations of sporting bodies such as FIFA and the IAAF.

By being more aware of the potential pitfalls of hosting mega-events, residents are in a better position to engage with the bidding process – or to resist it, like those involved in the “No Boston Olympics” campaign. Instead of grasping at opportunities to host the Olympics, city authorities are getting better at considering how the games actually fit with their priorities – or if they do at all. This can only be a good thing.

Bryan C. Clift is a lecturer in the Department for Health, Humanities & Social Sciences, and Andrew Manley a lecturer in the Department for Health, at the University of Bath.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Space for 8,000 new homes, most of them affordable... Why it's time to demolish Buckingham Palace

Get a lovely new housing estate, there. Image: Getty.

Scene: a council meeting.

Councillor 1: They say it’s going to cost £369m to repair and bring up to modern standards.

Councillor 2: £369m? Lambeth balked at paying just £14m to repair Cressingham Gardens. They said they’d rather knock it down and start again.

Councillor 1: Then we’re agreed? We knock Buckingham Palace down and build new housing there instead.

Obviously this would never happen. For a start, Buckingham Palace is Grade I listed, but… just imagine. Imagine if refurbishment costs were deemed disproportionate and, like many council estates before it, the palace was marked for “regeneration”.

State events transfer to Kensington Palace, St James’s and Windsor. The Crown Estate is persuaded, as good PR, to sell the land at a nominal fee to City Hall or a housing association. What could we build on roughly 21 hectares of land, within walking distance of transport and green space?

The area’s a conservation zone (Westminster Council’s Royal Parks conservation area, to be exact), so modernist towers are out. Pete Redman, a housing policy and research consultant at TradeRisks, calculates that the site could provide “parks, plazas, offices, cafes and 8,000 new dwellings without overlooking the top floor restaurant of the London Hilton Park Lane”.

Now, the Hilton is 100m tall, and we doubt Westminster’s planning committee would go anywhere near that. To get 8,000 homes, you need a density of 380 u/ha (units per hectare), which is pretty high, but still within the range permitted by City Hall, whose density matrix allows up to 405 u/ha (though they’d be one or two bedroom flats at this density) in an area with good public transport links. We can all agree that Buckingham Palace is excellently connected.

So what could the development look like? Lewisham Gateway is achieving a density of 350u/ha with blocks between eight and 25 storeys. On the other hand, Notting Hill Housing’s Micawber Street development manages the same density with mansion blocks and mews houses, no more than seven storeys high. It’s also a relatively small site, and so doesn’t take into account the impact of streets and public space.

Bermondsey Spa might be a better comparison. That achieves a density of 333u/ha over an area slightly larger than Lewisham Gateway (but still one-tenth of the Buckingham Palace site), with no buildings higher than 10 storeys.

The Buck House project seems perfect for the Create Streets model, which advocates terraced streets over multi-storey buildings. Director Nicholas Boys Smith, while not enthusiastic about bulldozing the palace, cites areas of London with existing high densities that we think of as being idyllic neighbourhoods: Pimlico (about 175u/ha) or Ladbroke Grove (about 230u/ha).


“You can get to very high densities with narrow streets and medium rise buildings,” he says. “Pimlico is four to six storeys, though of course the number of units depends on the size of the homes. The point is to develop a masterplan that sets the parameters of what’s acceptable first – how wide the streets are, types of open space, pedestrian only areas – before you get to the homes.”

Boys Smith goes on to talk about the importance of working collaboratively with the community before embarking on a design. In this scenario, there is no existing community – but it should be possible to identify potential future residents. Remember, in our fantasy the Crown Estate has been guilt-tripped into handing over the land for a song, which means it’s feasible for a housing association to develop the area and keep properties genuinely affordable.

Westminster Council estimates it needs an additional 5,600 social rented homes a year to meet demand. It has a waiting list of 5,500 households in immediate need, and knows of another 20,000 which can’t afford market rents. Even if we accepted a density level similar to Ladbroke Grove, that’s 4,830 homes where Buckingham Palace currently stands. A Bermondsey Spa-style density would generate nearly 7,000 homes.

There’s precedent for affordability, too. To take one example, the Peabody Trust is able to build genuinely affordable homes in part because local authorities give it land. In a Peabody development in Kensington and Chelsea, only 25 per cent of homes were sold on the open market. Similarly, 30 per cent of all L&Q’s new starts in 2016 were for commercial sale.

In other words, this development wouldn’t need to be all luxury flats with a few token affordable homes thrown in.

A kindly soul within City Hall did some rough and ready sums based on the figure of 8,000 homes, and reckoned that perhaps 1,500 would have to be sold to cover demolition and construction costs, which would leave around 80 per cent affordable. And putting the development in the hands of a housing association, financed through sales – at, let’s remember, Mayfair prices – should keep rents based on salaries rather than market rates.

Now, if we can just persuade Historic England to ditch that pesky Grade I listing. After all, the Queen actually prefers Windsor Castle…

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