From A to Zeus: Team BID Goes to Greece

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Where is the Olympic spirit said to thrive? What city prides itself on the most longstanding Olympic legacy? Where is Pierre de Coubertin’s heart located—literally and figuratively?

Olympia, Greece.

While small in size, this city in western Peloponnesus is of large significance as the site of the Ancient Olympic Games. The date of the first Games marked the start of a cultural and athletic phenomenon that has become increasingly large-scale over the past century. When Pierre de Coubertin took on the project of reviving the Olympics in 1896, he turned to Olympia for inspiration and symbolic tradition.

Maintaining a lens on Olympism and urbanism, a member of BID’s author team visited Olympia this summer for a workshop at the International Olympic Academy (IOA). As an interdisciplinary center aimed at studying and promoting Olympism, IOA was a fitting location for BID to consider the many nuances of the Olympics starting from the ages of Antiquity all of the way to Modernity. Over time, urban development and the concrete impacts of hosting the Games have risen in importance to the world’s cities as well as the Olympic Movement.

Through this IOA experience, Team BID had an opportunity to underscore how city planners can learn from past Games to use the bid process as a means of tactical urban development planning. In turn, a positive bidding strategy can play a strong role in maintaining the historic Olympic ideals of “building a better world.”

The origin of urbanism and Olympism can be traced back to Pierre de Coubertin’s vision of a “modern Olympia,” with the Games extending beyond a sporting and cultural event to nourish the city’s environment through venue planning and design.

Since it was so near and dear to his heart, Pierre de Coubertin arranged for Olympia to serve as the final resting place of his heart. Upon his death, this desire was fulfilled with the burial of his heart, located near what is now the IOA campus.

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Pierre de Coubertin: “In these Olympiads, the important thing is not winning but taking part…What counts in life is not the victory but the struggle; the essential thing is not to conquer but to fight well.”

This summer also marked ten years since Athens hosted the modern Olympics and Paralympics. This 10th anniversary presented great timing for BID to analyze both the lessons learned and significant successes experienced by Greece as a result of the 2004 Games. Results from these Games seem as mixed as the opinions related to them. Nonetheless, concrete developments—including a new airport, new ring roads, new tram, and new telecom system—are seen as having created lasting benefits.

During the summer of 2012, Team BID traveled to London for research and involvement in the Olympics and Paralympics. A year later in 2013, a representative of Team BID went to Los Angeles to formally contribute Bidding for Development  to LA84Foundation’s Olympic library.  Now in 2014, the IOA’s Olympic archives officially accepted a copy of the book. What landmark Olympics city should team BID go to next?

DC2024 Goes Live!

DC 2024 launched their new website today. The campaign focuses on unity, cleverly incorporated in the logo below. So, what will it take to be named host of the 2024 games?

DC has survived 16 months of scrutiny from the US Olympic Committee (USOC). USOC CEO Scott Blackmun has said that, “Simplifying the domestic bid process has been a major priority” for USOC. This cycle, American cities were contacted broadly and informally, with the final four named in June. San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston will duke it out with DC to be named the US city in 2015. From there, the lead city will undergo the rigorous bid process, outlined in detail in Chapter 3 of Bidding for Development

The domestic bid process is notoriously un-transparent, but it will be truly fascinating to see how four well established cities craft their bids. Will we see the same emphasis on multi-purpose event space and recyclable materials as in London 2012? What neighborhoods will be targeted for revitalization, if any? Will locals rally around these bids? The competition is only beginning to heat up!

 

The best and worst place to build roads–or host the Olympics?

A Global Road Map is being billed as a “strategic approach for zoning and planning roads” in the hopes of mitigating the environmental impacts and maximizing the economic and social benefits of the huge growth in road and transportation infrastructure anticipated in the 21st century. This growth will largely be concentrated in developing countries facing increasing urbanization. 

An animation of satellite images shows roads and croplands encroaching on the Amazon rainforest in Brazil between 2000 and 2012. (NASA Earth Observatory) via Smithsonian Magazine

Having this kind of global road map to support smart infrastructure choices could help cities hone their transportation and infrastructure plans. The Global Road Map could be incorporated into an Olympic Bid, reiterating the IOC’s increasing interest (or self interest in the opinion of some) in a greener, more sustainable Olympiad. It could be interesting to see tenets from the Global Road Map incorporated into future bids, and to see if they succeed in implementation with or without the Games. 

 

10 Years Later: Athens Development Gains?

Ten years after the close of the Athens Olympics in 2004, their Olympic legacy comes under scrutiny. The Greek Olympic Committee Chair made a powerful statement for the infrastructure changes that the Olympics can bring about:

It saddens me that public opinion has come to believe the Athens Olympic Games were not successful. They were very much so, both from the sports aspect and through projects that gave life to Athens — tourism has increased, there is a modern airport, roads, the metro, phones work properly and when it’s very hot, the power system doesn’t collapse.

~Spyros Capralos, Greek Olympic Committee Chair

These infrastructure changes would have been made eventually, but the question is whether hosting the Olympics helped Athens accelerate that development. The Chair points to core urban planning results as the core of their legacy, arguably the most concrete definition of success possible. Could Athens have made that progress without bearing the cost of white elephants like the volleyball stadium below?

 

An auxiliary pitch at an abandoned stadium, which hosted the beach volleyball competition during the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, is seen at the Faliro complex south of Athens.(REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis)

Sports Spotlight: Mega-Event Press Reel!

Photo credit: Pat Collins

Photo credit: Pat Collins

With every passing day, global attention to mega-events like the World Cup and Olympics & Paralympics seems to escalate. The upward trend of interest in these increasingly significant international competitions are certainly linked to urban development.

Predictions, outcomes, and opinions on sporting events and their urban legacies are wildly different. The perspectives in the press–both negative and positive, pessimistic and optimistic–present a diverse spectrum of important topics for us to consider. As of late, we’ve seen most of the media traffic around the following: Brazil 2016, the 2024 Games, and games from the past two decades.

As this track record of rising interest parallels the volume and intensity of media pieces on the topic, we wanted to highlight those articles that pertain most to our book topic: Bidding for Development: How the Olympic Bid Process Can Accelerate Transportation Development .

Please check out our press collection and let us know what you think!

Brazil for the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics

Chicago Tribune on Brazil – Woes and realities for 2016

UK Reuters on Brazil Realities and challenges to address, but cautious optimism for 2016

Bloomberg on Brazil 2016 Failure to meet bid book promises

Cities in the Running for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics

CBS on L.A. for 2024 1984 L.A. as it applies to current 2024 running

Biz Journals on Boston Boston 2024 as a catalyst for development on pre-existent/pre-planned projects in the city

WAMU NPR DC Radio on D.C. 2024 Washington 2024 bid pros and cons

Inside the Games on Istanbul  Is it an urban legend or will Istanbul bid for a 6th time for 2024?

New York Times on 2024 Bidders Comprehensive recap!

Past Games

CBS on Montreal 1976 Olympics “boondoggle” stadium, where cigarette taxes finally covered debt after 30 years

Houston Culture Map on Munich Munich 1972 urban development successes

Global Atlanta on Atlanta 1996 and Istanbul Dr. Tamer Cavusgil–one of our very own book resource experts–on mega-events!

Sports Illustrated on a range of past stadia “What Happens…After the Games?”

Other News on Global Games

Fox Sports on 2022 Winter Games bidders…finalists are down to three…

India Times on Tokyo 2020 Critiques on urban preparation

Sport Better Cities Excellent platform and convener on “all things mega-event”

International Olympic Committee IOC has recently reformed the bid book-with revamped guidelines related to urban development!

Making way for the Olympics: Is the displacement of people ever justified?

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Photo courtesy of the AP

Every Olympics is unique–part of the fun is seeing how each host city makes it its own from the opening ceremonies to the type of legacy it hopes to leave behind. Still, there are quite a few common links. From budget overruns to behind schedule projects, in the lead up to every Olympic Games it becomes clear that no matter the steps they take to avoid them, host cities seem to get caught up in the same headlines, making the same choices, and in many cases the same mistakes of hosts before them. One such headline are the billions of dollars spent in development projects that rarely equate to benefits for local citizens.

Why is this the case? Failure to consult local citizens for one and planning that caters more to the needs of Olympic visitors rather than to those of the locals who will be left with this infrastructure for years to come. The most troubling explanation however is the fact that thousands of the local population simply won’t be there to enjoy it. The displacement of locals to make way for Olympic projects has been an ugly reality of far too many Olympic Games. The Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) has identified the 1988 Games in Seoul and the 2008 Games in Beijing as having been noteworthy in this regard displacing  720,000 and 1.25 million people respectively. COHRE estimates that among mega-events the Olympic Games alone have displaced over 2 million people over the past 20 years. Most recently, an estimated 2,000 people were displaced to make way for the infrastructure of the Sochi Olympics, and already 3,000 have been displaced in Rio de Janeiro in preparation for the 2016 Games.

The ironic or perhaps convenient truth about displacing families to make way for Olympic development is that it is often times done with the best interest of those families in mind. Case in point, authorities in Brazil claim that families removed from their homes and placed in government housing are living in conditions superior to the favelas. CEO of Rio’s Olympic Organizing Committee, Leonardo Gryner, justifies forced evictions as part of the greater good and that new roads and bus lines which have resulted will allow everyone better access to transportation and services. He says that “one of the main reasons that people live in favelas in Rio is because of transportation” and that “when you offer them a new means of transportation, that will help…people to move to new areas farther from the city, living in better conditions…” Those evicted families take issue with this perspective. They no longer own their homes and government complexes are miles from the doctors, schools, and jobs that they had access to in their old neighborhoods. They also complain that the transportation infrastructure is inadequate and far from what would make living in a suburb of Rio realistic.

With decades of case studies at their disposal and an entire portion of the IOC dedicated to knowledge management, we must question how host cities find themselves facing the exact same problems as hosts in prior Olympic Games. In Bidding for Development, we trace this occurrence back to the very inception of a city’s Olympic bid where bid champions and bid committees can choose to take a series of steps that will help position them to reap benefits from the Games no matter the outcome. Chief among these is the decision to engage local citizens in the planning process to ensure that development for the Games will be responsive to local needs.

Unfortunately, the guidepost for Olympic planning is not the fact that after two weeks time the grand stadiums, arenas, and transportation infrastructure of the Games will be left in the hands of local residents. It will either be useful for them and improve their everyday lives or it won’t–more often than not the latter holds true. The Olympic City Project has spent the past few years documenting what remains of Olympic infrastructure in host cities and how it has impacted the lives of the people whose neighborhoods have been transformed by Olympic development. It’s a bleak picture which often reveals misguided planning and communities that are more burdened than blessed by the changes their community saw.

The nature of the Olympics and scale of development required to handle the influx of people who will participate in the Games means that the relocation of people will likely always be a harsh reality for host cities. There is no better scenario than allowing people to stay in their homes and close to the network of family and institutions they count on to survive, but there has to be a middle ground before forcibly relocating people to suburban government housing that puts low income residents already living on the fringe at high risk. So, how do we find this?

A start would to be engaging citizens in a conversation about their future–a step that seems to have been avoided altogether in Rio. And yes, as alluded to above, this step is one which should be taken from from the inception of a bid. Its possible that knowing the risks involved in hosting the Olympics, specifically the need for relocating communities, organizing committees may not be able to gain the buy-in of local communities. But if this is the case, it should be a clear sign to bid champions that something is very wrong with their vision and plans for the Games, and as we recommend in our book, bid leadership should be ready to drop out of the bid process. The bottom line is that legacy matters when you are sending a signal as big as the Olympics to the world and although the short duration of the Games itself plays a large part in shaping that legacy, so too does the usefulness of Olympic infrastructure long after the Games are over. The real opportunity here is the fact that despite the differing interests of the IOC, Policymakers, and citizens, concerns about transportation development  can unite all of these groups. To have that development be meaningful, bidding cities must realize from the outset that public input is vital.

Mega Events Equal Mega Problems?

The 2014 Sochi Winter Games dominate the dialogue surrounding mega sporting events right now. As runner up, Brazil’s 2014 World Cup Games and 2016 Summer Olympics & Paralympics. In what appears to be in third place for garnering attention is the 2022 World Cup, currently set to take place in Qatar.

But, it is only a matter of time when the spotlight will rotate to highlight the intriguing background of Doha’s bid and preparation for the 2022 games in Qatar. Since its selection in 2010, most media focused on Qatar as the host nation of the 2022 FIFA World Cup™  has cast a very negative light.

FIFA disclosed that Qatar was primarily selected because European nations have huge interests—political and economic—in the tiny, oil-rich world power. Despite these investments and interests in positive relations with Qatar, holding the World Cup in the country presents a host of problems from start to finish. In addition to the prior alleged acts of bribery during the bid process—also considered by us as the most important phase of a sporting mega-event—critiques have been made about human rights violations taking place during the construction phases.

Other troubles range from soccer games in the extreme heat of the desert-locked country to the major lack of pre-existent infrastructure necessary for a successful mega-event. However, none are as alarming as the Guardian investigation that revealed the abuse of migrant workers hired for the 2022 games. The United Nations and Amnesty International followed suit to condemn Qatar for the mistreatment of these laborers from other countries.

Since these accusations, the organizing committee has pledged to provide standard wages and to conduct inspections aimed at improving the welfare of workers. However, this accountability will only apply to stadiums, without including the wider infrastructure projects. Keeping in line with our work and recently released publication, most mega sporting events call for a great deal of costly road and building projects.

Since we place emphasis on the importance of the bid process and infrastructure development, these problems reveal a flawed approach to the bid. And in the wake of this news, the recent call for reform to the FIFA bid process seems very justified. Interestingly, when FIFA addressed Qatar’s human rights record at a European Parliament session, the insiders in the bid process appeared taken by surprise on the news.  Whether they knew or not…a slate of questions come to mind…

  • Did Doha fail to outline strategies for infrastructure development—transportation and sporting—during the bid process?
  • How comprehensive was the committee’s strategy on construction, labor, and resources in the bid?
  • What do you think about all of the controversy surrounding Qatar 2022?
  • Should FIFA find a new location for the 2022 World Cup?
  • Should FIFA reform its bid process?

Regardless of the answers, sporting mega-events sometimes seem to cause more mega problems than benefits.

Photo compliments of Reuters.

Photo compliments of Reuters.

Photo compliments of FIFA

Photo compliments of FIFA