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)

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What happens to the ruins?

With a decided focus on the bid process, we tend to ask, “What happens to a city that bids to host the Olympics, but is not selected to host?” Over at The Olympic Story,  Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit ask, “What happens to a city after the Olympics are gone?”

Yes…after the events are over, the medals have been handed out, and the torch is extinguished…what is the tangible “footprint” on the city’s landscape? Many times—as evidenced by this photo chronicle—cities are not left with structures of use. Some of the photos capture quite haunting images of “ghost towns” and “white elephants.”

Again, vivid depictions like these reiterate the importance of proper infrastructure planning during the bid process and preparation phases.

Train station built for 1972 Olympics, Munich, courtesy of The Society Pages

The pictures are currently on exhibit in New York.

Stewards of London’s Legacy

Founded in February 2012, the London Legacy Development Corporation was created to manage the Olympics and its large “footprint” after the Games take place. This newly formed corporation’s purpose is to:

“To promote and deliver physical, social, economic and environmental regeneration in the Olympic Park and surrounding area…by securing high-quality sustainable development and investment, ensuring the long-term success of the facilities and assets within its direct control and supporting and promoting the aim of convergence”

Accountable to the citizens of London through the Mayor, the corporation seeks to leverage public funds through private partnerships. The organization will do so in collaboration with the Olympic boroughs and local communities, among other stakeholders.

London is not the first Olympic host to create a longstanding entity with the intention of positively “managing” the impact of the Games. The LA 84 Foundation promotes youth sports participation and also maintains a sports library.

In Barcelona, a company called “Barcelona Promocio” was established to manage four Olympics venues and sustain the benefits of Olympic sporting structures built for the 1992 Summer Games. In 1994 alone, the company held 346 events for 1,514,328 people and created over 450 jobs.

These organizations were created to ensure that hosting the Olympics will be of long-term benefit to the residents. Cities considering a bid to host the Games should look to strategies as such before starting the bid process.

BID focuses on the bid process and thinks that cities participating in the bid process should be strongly encouraged keep their “eye on the prize” of the potential Games. But, city planners MUST bear in mind the most important aspect…the legacy.