20 photos which prove that hosting the Olympics is a great way to regenerate a city

Oh. Athens' canoeing and kayaking venue, as of 2014. Image: Getty.

Barcelona is the largest city on the Mediterranean – but until the 1980s, it largely ignored its coastline, a drab industrial zone, cut off from the city by a stretch of urban motorway.

Hosting the 1992 Olympics was a great opportunity to change all that. The city cleaned up the waterfront, installed two miles of beaches, and got Frank Gehry to design this sculpture:

Gehry's "Peix d'Or" sculpture. Image: Till Niermann/Wikimedia Commons.

Today, thanks to the Olympics, Barcelona's waterfront is a key element of the city's appeal to tourists and business travellers alike. The city's Olympic athletics park, halfway up Mont Juic, is still in use today, too:

Bacelona's Olympic Park in 2004. Image: Madalvarez/Wikimedia Commons.


To host the 2012 games, London turned a derelict industrial area into a vast new waterfront park. It’s since turned the athletes village into new residential and commercial area, the East Village. Here’s a new resident moving in in 2013:

The area even got its own postcode, E20 – though some of the street names are a bit on the obnoxious side:


When Berlin hosted the 1936 Olympics, the sports-loving Nazis decided to build the vast new Olympiastadion:

Image: Bundesarchive.

Remarkably, 80 largely uneventul years later, the stadium is still standing:

Image: Wolfgang 26/Wikimedia Commons.


Sarajevo hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics. Here's a photograph of the ski jumping venue, 30 years later:

And here's the bob sleigh run:


Of course, Sarajevo was at the centre of the Bosnian War between 1992 and 1995, so its Olympic Park received unusually heavy bombing. Athens managed to achieve much the same effect without the assistance of a horrific civil war.

The Greek capital spent €9 billion hosting the summer Olympics in 2004. It was all worth it, though: here’s a picture of the aquatic centre, ten years on:

And here’s the beach volleyball stadium:

This is the pool in the athletes village:

And here's a view of the canoe and kayak slalom. There's another at the top of the page:

Not even sure what this one is. Seriously, not a clue.


The 2008 Beijing Olympics had five different Olympic mascots, each a different Olympic colour, each representing one of the traditional Chinese elements, and each reflecting a particular “wish”.

JingJing, for example, was a panda representing the forest. He is black and his wish is happiness.

Nini is a green swallow, representing the sky, while Yingying is a yellow Tibetan antelope, representing the earth. They represent good luck and good health respectively. As you can probably tell:


Beibei is a blue fish, symbolising water and prosperity.


Last but not least, there's Huanhuan, who as you can clearly see represents fire and the passion of sport. He isn't an animal, but the embodiment of the Olympic spirit. Look:



All these mascots were photographed lying face down behind an abandoned, half-constructed mall, which is definitely not a metaphor for anything. Neither is the fact that their pal Fu Niu Lele, the mascot of the 2008 Paralympic games, was lying nearby:



Still, I'm sure everything in Rio will work out just fine.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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Unless specified, all images courtesy of Getty.


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.