In our final segment of Thinking Past Day 17 – our series examining the larger implications of hosting the Olympic Games – we conclude with ideas for the future host cities that involve dividing the Games across 7 permanent sites, complete with reusable architecture and a focus on sustainability at the urban level.
The effects of urban displacement coupled with post-Games housing concerns for the Athletes’ Village in Olympic Park – which we addressed in Part II - will definitely test the future viability of the Olympic Committee’s planning strategies. It is interesting to note that in relation to the entirety of the Olympic map, the area designated for the Village represents only a minuscule portion of the land that must be reintegrated post-Olympics. So, if we zoom out from the Athletes’ Village, what will become of the vast expanses of land currently supporting the major sporting facilities?
In keeping with London’s sustainable legacy, the Olympic sports facilities are intended to be recycled and reused. As one of the boldest moves we have seen in the reuse of buildings, the basketball arena will be dismantled and sold to Brazil for their 2016 Games. Other venues, such as the cycling velodrome, will be utilized by the Eastway Cycling Club under the Lee Valley Park Authority. The handball courts will function as a concert arena, and Hadid’s Aquatic Center will be operated by Greenwich Leisure Limited and, with a membership, be open for the local community.
London’s Olympic bid also included the commitment to ensure that the Olympic Stadium would be retained for the British public to visit and use. The flexible design of the 80,000 seat stadium, designed by American stadium architecture firm Populous and British architect Peter Cook, was intended to shrink to a facility of 25,000 seats after the Games. “But how it would be funded and kept going after the Games was never really sorted out. The stadium officially will cost £500 million, which in terms of cost per seat makes it the most expensive stadium in the world. However someone has to pay the rent so now the Olympic Park Legacy Company has turned to soccer as its savior,” explained Treehugger.
The Games’ mission focuses on unity, as it boasts of encouraging and supporting the development of sports for all. Yet, the irony of the Olympic venues is that in the aftermath of the Games, they will not function as public facilities for the general enjoyment of Londoners (who have provided financial support for such projects), but rather as structures used by elite athletes, club members, and tickets holders.
Taking into consideration the financial implications, social disturbances, and uncertainty of use after the Games, would it be more feasible to come up with a completely new alternative for hosting the Olympics? What if each host city was allowed to design an iconic celebration structure for opening and closing ceremonies but the other facilities had to be recycled from the previous Games (much like the idea of London selling Brazil its basketball arena)?
If this system was implemented, host cities would dramatically cut the costs of construction, but the issue of space is still in the picture. So, what if we agreed upon 7 permanent sites – 1 site on each continent decided by vote – and the Games rotated among them. Yes, those sites would be disturbed, but the disturbance would be contained to only the selected seven areas, severely lessening our environmental impact.
For instance, no matter how “green” future Games will aspire to be (noting that London has been doing quite well on its quest to be the greenest host, as two million tons of contaminated soil have been cleaned, the wood on the Velodrome track is 100 percent sustainable timber, and Olympic Park marks Europe’s largest urban parkland in more than 150 years), the creation of the infrastructure necessary to host the Olympics will obviously never allow the environmental footprint to be zero. In fact, for all the green steps London has taken, there are still major environmental downfalls. Take the increased infrastructure network needed to link all these new developments and magnificent venues. While they may allow the millions of visitors to navigate through the sprawling areas more easily, what will become of them after the games, as they will fill the air with more pollution, and the roads with more congestion?
But, if we were accustomed to simply improving upon the seven sites as opposed to re-designing, building and displacing thousands of people every four years, we would cut our spending and lesson our footprint. If we look to our 7 Olympic-Game-cycle, the host cities could use the income generated by tourism for city projects such as affordable housing and educational projects without the added debt of making new athletic facilities. The Games would bring a betterment to society, and a lasting effect for years to come, truly shaping a sustainable community. In this sense, the Olympics would be part of the city, and citizens would look to the Games with anticipation, not anxiety.
“What is missing from a discussion of legacy is most often any acknowledgement of ‘people’ or the impact on them post event…This is borne out by the observation that Olympics organizers tend to assume benefits to the local population as a result of improvements to infrastructure, while research shows that those who need the changes most rarely benefit from them,” explained Dr Mary Smith in her report from the London East Research Institute.
We hope this three part series has offered a new perspective on the implications of hosting the Games. While cheering on the sprinters of the 100 meter dash, or 200 meter freestyle; while watching the gymnasts, the rowers and the soccer players, we hope to see beyond the pageantry of the ceremonies and the glitz of the arenas to truly think past the scope of the 17 days. By seriously examining the recycling and reuse of the structures and sites, the Olympics could strengthen their founding principles by bringing entertainment, positivity and excitement for everyone.