It’s 8 a.m. Any city. Any country. Any season. It’s time to go to work, an event, or school. How do you do this? By car? Train? Bus? Bike? Regardless of the geography, commuting defines the lives of most urban dwellers every day. Transportation infrastructure is the backbone of a city, making or breaking the everyday pulse of a metropolitan area for visitors and residents alike.
While the Olympics and Paralympics Games are not an everyday phenomenon, the success of the world’s most significant mega-event—lasting only a few weeks—relies on a city’s capacity to move a great deal of people efficiently. Visitors come in concentrated masses and their ability to travel from sporting venues to hotels to tourist destinations is an imperative. All the while, residents of a city must stay on the course too.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognizes the importance of a highly-effective transportation system during the Games, as well as the value of a city’s strong transportation infrastructure in the long run. In an effort to promote positive transportation legacies called for by the principles of The Olympic Movement, the IOC has placed a greater emphasis on a city’s urban projects related to the Games. What’s more, the IOC has taken into consideration the infrastructure development plans for any city impacted by the Olympics…including those cities that bid for the Games, but may not ultimately be selected as host.
In the 1990’s, the IOC created environmental protection criteria that have since applied to all cities engaged in the bidding process. The Olympic Agenda21 “green clause” marks one of the IOC’s first pushes to adopt sustainable development objectives under the greater Olympic Movement. According to this charter, “In order to reduce such impact while at the same time encouraging the mobility which is an important element in development, the Olympic Movement intends to promote schemes.” Not only does this charter require Olympic host cities to develop eco-friendly transport systems for the Games and beyond, the IOC encourages that any cities submitting a bid prove their strategy to meet these stricter environmental terms.
For those cities that actually hosted the Games, the direct influence of the IOC’s bid guidelines—especially those pertaining to sustainable urban development—are more easily measured. The 2000 Summer Games in Sydney are often cited for best practices toward a green legacy. The city’s transport-related initiatives included a ban on private vehicle parking at the venues and an “Olympic bus fleet” powered by low sulfur fuel. According to a report on the long-term effects in Sydney, Richard Cashman of the Australian Centre for Olympic Studies affirms that Sydney set a benchmark in “green” development. His analysis of the Games showed that Sydney went beyond the standard promised in the bid books, and served as an “active agent of change.” Sydney’s experience prompted the IOC to deepen its commitment to raising the environment as a key factor in the bid process.
For those cities that bid but did not ultimately “win” the Games, an assessment of the bid process’ impact on sustainable development is less easily identifiable. Nonetheless, many cities galvanized the positive efforts that were made to meet the IOC bid criteria and have experienced progressive change without hosting the Games. The IOC has highlighted several “failed bid“ success stories in the area of urban development, but separate analysis on the impact of the bid process in itself is less widespread or conclusive.
Regardless, the IOC makes it clear that ensuring sustainable transportation legacies is a priority the bid process. IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge stresses that “Legacy is our raison d’être . It ensures that the Olympic Games are more than metres and medals. The Games leave behind a host of social, economic and environmental benefits.” If the urban development initiatives that come about from an Olympic bid help the residents of a city bustle off to their offices, schools, and other destinations in an efficient and eco-friendly manner…then a positive legacy in the transport arena just may have prevailed.
Photo compliments of GreenWala.