How (Not) To Host the Olympics (Part II)

How (Not) To Host the Olympics (Part II)
'We Will Not Leave' Words painted on a wall in a neighborhood slated for demolition. Despite some protests, Beijing citizens were powerless to stop the demolition of their homes in the name of the Olympics. Photo via Flickr CC User theroadisthegoal. Used under Creative Commons

If you remember nothing else from Part I of our Olympic City Guide, Your Very Own Guide to Successfully Hosting the Olympic Games, make it the GOLDEN RULE: “The best thing to do if you’re bidding for the Olympics, Is to Not Get the Olympics.”

As we explained in Part I, this take-it-or-leave-it mentality is key to Olympic success. See the Olympics as the Games, and, come autumn, you’ll find your city littered with resource-guzzling, empty stadiums. See the Olympics as an excuse to get your plans for Urban Renewal into hyper-drive, and you’ll get the gold: a publicity-hogging, urban makeover that will continue to make you profit years after the Olympic circus has packed up and gone home.

But Olympic legacy doesn’t just come down to dollars and cents. It often means making a very real socio-cultural impact. Which leads us to our second set of Dos and Donts, starting with DON’T: Be Shady. And yes, we’re looking at you Beijing…

Keep reading for the Dos and Donts of Olympic Hostdom, after the break…

DON’T: Be Shady

A destroyed Hutong in Beijing, China. Photo via Wikimedia Commons user Boris van Hoytema.

Generally, a good way to keep your population happy during the Olympic Games, is to not evict them and subsequently demolish their homes. Unfortunately, that hasn’t stopped many a profit-minded Olympic City from doing just that. Case in point: Beijing.

To catch up to developed nations and assert itself as a major player on the modern stage, China (whose construction had been limited to almost nothing under the strict Communist ruling of Mao Zedong) has undergone a massive construction boom of near unfathomable quantity and speed (think: skyscrapers constructed in just 2 weeks).

In the lead-up to the 2008 Olympics, this sprint exploded in what the BBC described as “an orgy of construction” – and demolition. A UNESCO statistic estimates that about 88% of Beijing’s old residential quarters – neighborhoods that weren’t even slated for Olympic Development, but considered “eyesores” for their close proximity to the City center - was razed in the years preceding the Olympics.

But more damaging than the material and cultural loss of these neighborhoods, was the human cost. With politicians in cahoots with developers and corruption left unchecked, residents were barely informed of impending demolition, compensated meagerly for their homes (according to some estimates, given about an eighth of actual property value), and forced to relocate to the peripheries of the city.

Unfortunately, Rio de Janeiro, future host of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, is heading down a startlingly similar path.

When you look at the downright sexy video outlining Rio’s Olympic game plan (above), which takes very seriously the idea of Olympic legacy, you would never know the giant “obstacle” complicating its execution – mainly, the 170,000 people who may have to be evicted from the favelas, “slums,” for it to occur.

As CatComm Director Theresa Williamson explains it, Rio’s response has been two-pronged: (1) to relocate favela residents to public housing in Cosmos, two hours away from the city center; or (2) to heighten police presence and formalize local businesses in the favelas. While the second sounds promising, the policy has jacked up land-value (and rents) and pushed low-income residents to the urban fringe. With the Olympics as their excuse, Rio has essentially facilitated “a fast-paced process of gentrification.”

And as in Beijing, corruption and private-interest have merely accelerated in the race to the Olympic finish line (see: the corruption scandal surrounding Brasil’s Sports Minister). But, unlike in Beijing, Brazil has an open media – all the difference in forcing transparency. Favela residents have been harnessing the power of the internet, blogging and tweeting, and recruiting local news sources to draw attention to their situation. And they won’t be going down without a fight.

Santa Marta Favela in Rio de Janeiro. Photo via Flickr CC User alobos flickr. Used under Creative Commons

Of course, you could avoid all this trouble by being transparent in the first place. In fact, you could go one step further: instead of using the Olympics as a cover for your shady dealings, use your Olympic resources to revitalize and integrate low-income neighborhoods into the city, and revitalize your city as a whole.

DO: Spread the Word, Spread the Wealth

Torre Calatrava, designed by Santiago Calatrava, is a symbol of the Barcelona Olympics - one of the few modern Olympics that was economically beneficial to its host city. Photo via CC Flickr User Vaidas M. Used under Creative Commons

Whenever people mention Olympic planning done right, they inevitably bring up Barcelona. And there’s good reason. By using the Olympic Games to target Urban renewal, Barcelona rejuvenated its city, pulled off a stellar publicity stunt, and transformed itself into a major European contender.

But few mention the social and political conditions that set the stage for its success. A little over a decade before the Olympics, Barcelona underwent a political shift towards socialist policies that made public participation and the prioritization of urban living conditions, especially for workers in low-income neighborhoods, priorities.

A socially-conscious Olympic plan then organically followed: distribute the Olympic “clusters” (and wealth) throughout the city, place the athletic housing complex in the derelict docklands, and connect them all by expanding the roads and Metro. The city solidified the plan and started building two years before their bid was even accepted – because, as architect Josep Acebillo explained to London Evening Standard, the goal was to plan their city’s transformation – not the Games themselves.

In the end, Barcelona’s dockland was regenerated as a marina popular with tourists and city-dwellers alike (the housing complex has a waiting list for each of its 2,000 apartments). And the publicity, coupled with the rise of budget airlines, put Barcelona on “the world map.”

South Plaza Proposal via Olympic Park Legacy Company

When it comes to the Olympics today, Barcelona is the shining beacon (or torch, I suppose would be the more apt metaphor). The 2012 bids revealed many cities taking the Barcelona approach – from New York, which hoped to use the Games as the “catalyst” to redevelop neglected areas (many of these plans are still going forward) to the winner, London, who hired Barcelona’s chief architect to help them balance the city and revitalize London’s historically marginalized East End.

While some have complained that London’s efforts won’t be enough to integrate East and West (and indeed certain signs of gentrification are already cropping up), London has at least placed Urban rejuvenation as the Olympic priority. And, unlike Beijing or Brazil, they’re doing so openly, incurring the debate and disagreement necessary for a city to decide what kind of post-Olympic city it wants to become.

The Bottom Line? Don’t use the Olympics to weed out your city’s rough patches, use the Games to help them grow.

Ready for Part III of our Olympic City Guide? Click here.

Missed Part I? Click here.

About this author
Cite: Vanessa Quirk. "How (Not) To Host the Olympics (Part II)" 20 Jul 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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