How (Not) to Host The Olympics (Part III)

The Olympic Agora, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in Athens. Photo via Flickr User CC John & Mel Kots. . Used under Creative Commons

Welcome back and congratulations for having made it to the final installation of the Olympic City Guide.

So far, in parts I and II, we’ve learned how to design for your post-Games legacy (No White Elephants please) and to revitalize -not demolish- your city’s most deprived “eye-sores” (Don’t Hate, Rejuvenate).

So what’s left? Well, in this post-Recession era of austerity, a huge part of your Olympic Strategy will be justifying the spending – the colossal spending – to your more than skeptical constituents. As I said in the last post, a good starting point is targeting urban renewal and being as transparent as possible, but another big element is how you market the Games – not just to the International Olympics Committee (IOC), but to your own city-dwellers.

So how can you get them both on your side? Simple - Go Green.

DO: Go Green

Shot of Vancouver, site of the Greenest Olympics to date. Photo via Flickr CC User bruce.. Used under Creative Commons

In today’s world, being “Green” is more than just an ecological responsibility, it has cultural (and economic) caché. Conspicuous Conservation sells – hybrid cars, “Not-plastic-bags”, even Olympic Game bids.

One sure-to-please and green improvement which will benefit your Host City for years to come? Public transportation. The 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, which left the city riddled in debt (and some say vulnerable to the economic meltdown they’re currently experiencing), at the very least left a subway and railway system expanded and refurbished – helping to offset Athens’ notoriously gnarly traffic problems.

On the flip-side, the 1996 Games in Atlanta (which used private sponsoring and partnerships to off-set costs) has gone down in history, in the words of Rail expert Christian Wolmar, as “an unmitigated transport disaster” (after Atlanta, the IOC took measures to prevent another Olympics like it).

In fact, from Atlanta on, all Olympic Host Cities have paid special attention to the infrastructure of their transportation systems, and, more than that, on how to make their Games “greener” than the last - from Sydney (who got Greenpeace to grade and guide them on their ecological smartness) to Beijing (who swore to clean up the smog – if temporarily) to Vancouver (who went so far as to LEED certify their Olympic Village).

But few have made so daring a claim as London 2012, the first city to pledge an out-and-out “Sustainable Olympics.

The Sustainable Olympics 

South Plaza Proposal via Olympic Park Legacy Company

London, teaming up with BioRegional and the WWF to craft its “One Planet” vision, made big claims for its 2012 Olympic Games: to cut 100,000 tons of carbon emissions from the construction/materials of venues, to generate Zero Waste, to have a 100% public-transport Games, to rehabilitate and preserve the polluted land that would become the site of the Olympic Park.

So far, London, has a mixed score-card. On the pro side: The Olympic Park, designed by landscape architects James Corner Field Operations, which not only includes 45-hectares of wetlands to aid with rainwater runoff, potential flooding, and biodiversity (providing a home for otters, birds, and 300,000 plants), but a large network of pedestrian and cycling routes, as well as the potential to be retro-fitted (as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park) with about 11,000 new homes.

Also, the Stratford International station (which runs the Javelin, a high-speed train that will ferry spectators from the park) and the improvements made upon the existing Stratford Regional Station have both greatly improved East London’s connectivity.

On the con side: London’s inability to keep up to its renewable energy pledge (from 20% to 12% use), the criticism that the Olympic Village isn’t sustainable enough, Zaha Hadid‘s controversial Aquatic Center (whose sustainability and price tag have been questioned), the choice of corporate sponsors with less than stellar ecological track records, and Londoners’ on-going worry that London’s efforts won’t be enough to counter the Tube’s long-standing infrastructure issues and near-constant delays.

The interior of Zaha Hadid's Aquatic Centre. © Hufton + Crow.

What do all of London’s cons come down to? Knowing when to spend the green to go Green, and when it’s better to pull back. The difficulty of maintaining that tricky balance brings us to our final DON’T…  

DON’T: Scramble to the Finish 

Montreal's 1976 Olympic Stadium, nicknamed 'The Big O' and subsequently 'The Big Owe,' cost Montreal about 1 Billion Dollars due to construction and its ever-breaking retractable roof. Today, it sits empty. Photo by Flickr CC User wallyg. Used under Creative Commons

While using sustainability as your excuse for a little extra spending will take you far, be warned that nothing incurs Olympic wrath and resentment more than extravagant over-spending – just ask Montrealers, who were paying off their city’s Olympic debt for 30 YEARS.

What happened in Montreal was an epic mismanagement of time that led to last-minute splurges and an unfinished Olympic Stadium (plus, global embarrassment). As much as humanly possible, keep on budget and on schedule, because as soon as your constituents’ hard-earned tax dollars are going to waste, you’re in for a whole heap of trouble.

When Vancouver, host of the 2010 Winter Olympics began to run into financial troubles that forced them to rely on public funding, its residents were quick to point out how those dollars could have been put to better use. Resentful residents hosted their own “Poverty Olympics” (with events like “skating around poverty”) in protest.

London is in a similar spot, with the Credit Crisis leading private sponsors to bail (now supporting a measly 2% of Olympic expenditure, explaining the inability to meet the pledge for renewable energy), tax-payers to pick up the slack, and the budget to sky-rocket from the original projection of £2.4bn to about £11 - £13bn. Some angry Londoners have formed a Counter Olympics Network and plan to do their damnedest to disrupt the Games.

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

In this Recession-slow Economy, it all comes down to good financial planning that keeps private sponsors accountable and the expenditure of public tax-dollars in check. To host the Olympics, you have to create a contract of trust with your city-dwellers. “We disrupt your lives for a few months, and, when it’s all over, the city will be a better place than it was before.” Make good on your word.

The Bottom-Line:  Go Green, but Save Green. Be the beacon for responsible Olympic City Hostdom around the world.

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

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