In “How (Not) to Host the Olympics,” I suggest that, when it comes to Olympic Planning, there is one Golden Rule: “The best thing to do if you’re bidding for the Olympics, Is to Not Get the Olympics.”
However, a recent article from The Atlantic Cities’ Emily Badger takes that claim to question.
Badger follows up in Chicago, a city that bid – hard – for the 2016 Olympics (which will take place in Rio de Janeiro). As she puts it: “We often ask what Olympic cities really get in return for all the money, energy, and construction chaos invested in hosting the world’s largest sporting event. But the story of cities that vie for but never win the Games raises a different question.
‘What does putting together a bid that is unsuccessful leave you?’”
In her article, Badger interviews Sean Kinzie, an associate director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill who worked (for three-and-a-half years) on Chicago’s Olympic plans. He points out that, while the city can now use the plans in the future (should they ever decide to), he’s skeptical they’ll ever need such event-specific venues. In the end, Badger suggests that (despite the design of the Olympic Village, which could potentially inspire a dense, mix-used residential development) the city’s efforts were, ultimately, a waste of time.
And of course, this makes intuitive sense: how could something that takes years of people’s time and money to prepare for, and then doesn’t come to fruition, possibly be good for the city?
However, Badger makes an important point in her article, one which, in my opinion, holds the key to whether an Olympic bid becomes worthwhile (successful or not): Chicago was never planning on infrastructure improvement beyond the scope of the event (as the city already had an intact, functional transit and park network).
When planning for the Olympics, it’s key that cities feel the impetus to go forth with their plans – regardless of whether they win or not – because they feel that significant infrastructural/urban improvement is needed (the Olympics is thus seen as a helpful jumpstart to inevitable development). Moreover, it requires a lot of private-public collaboration and cooperation on a long-term plan. Just ask New York, whose Olympic plans, unlike Chicago’s, are mostly still going forward (and without the headache of all the rules, requirements, and scrutiny that comes with the Olympics).
It’s even possible that Chicago’s claim of infrastructural capability may have gone against the city in the eyes of the Olympic Jury. For example, London, who successfully bid for the Olympics in 2012 (beating out New York), emphasized how the Olympic resources could redress the lack of infrastructure in the site where the Olympics would take place (the traditionally poorer East side), and used that as a selling point in their bid. Barcelona, the go-to example for Olympics planning done right, started their urban renewal of their dilapidated docklands two years before their bid was accepted.
The bottom-line of whether an Olympic Bid is worth it (even without a win) is, ironically, what also makes it more likely to win in the first place: the bid doesn’t need the win.
And so I think my claim – ’tis better to not win than win the Olympics – still holds true (assuming it’s done right, of course). What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.