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2018 RTPI Convention: Is the Olympic legacy all it’s cracked up to be?

Olympic Park

We often accept the idea that mega-events such as Olympics and Commonwealth Games are automatically stimulants for regeneration and urban renewal. But the reality is rather more complex, says Emmanuel de la Masselière

Since the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, mega events have often been presented by their organisers and hosts as opportunities for development.

But 30 years of analysis of their urban impacts presents a complex picture. It’s a truism, but mega events are whatever the host cities make of them. The events themselves are not the cause of urban development. But they can contribute to it.

London 2012 left the wealthy neighbourhood of Stratford; Barcelona 1992 had the waterfront; and Paris 2024 will create two new neighbourhoods. But Athens 2004 left no memorable space, and Rio 2016 is a clear failure in this regard.

    "Mega events reflect the assets and culture of the cities and nations that host them"

    You can also see the legacy at a metropolitan scale in the modification of a city’s urban organisation. For example, Paris will transform the Seine into a major axis of its urban planning. And mega events can also have an impact on key city themes:

    1. Architectural and urban innovation. But innovative cities like Boston or Mumbai have never hosted them!
    2. Social cohesion. There are big mobilisations of volunteers; perceptions of people with disabilities or strangers may change.
    3. Rising property prices and neighbourhood gentrification.
    4. The economy benefits: On the other hand, the cost of major events is always underestimated.
    5. The environmental impact is high: But Tokyo 2020 and Paris 2024 have made ambitious environmental commitments.
    6. Improved governance: although this benefit is not systematic.
    7. The appeal of the city increases. But do Lyon, Vienna, Amsterdam, Venice, Brussels, who have not hosted a mega event, shine less than Barcelona and Athens?

    Mega events reflect the assets and culture of the cities and nations that host them. Corruption is said to be a cause of the poor legacy of Rio 2016, for example.

    They are seen now as a support to the marketing of a nation or, with countries and cities promoting their expertise in areas far removed from the event itself: London in engineering and construction, Tokyo in technology, and Paris in urban planning.

    Olympic Games therefore represent a political choice to devote limited resources to the benefit of certain neighbourhoods and populations to the detriment of others. The questions they pose are: do we want an Olympic pool for athletes or pools accessible to schoolchildren and locals? Do we want to invest in a priority neighbourhood or spread this investment across the city?

    Emmanuel de la Masselière is founder of Paris-based urban development consultancy e.CoEmmanuel will be speaking about planning for key sporting events at this year's RTPI Planning Convention on 21 June.

    Convention 2018: Resilient planning for our future

    This year's RTPI Planning Convention will take place in London on 21 June. Topics under the microscope will include housing, land value capture and devolution deals, with speakers that include Lord Kerslake, Richard Bacon MP and Adele Maher.

    Photo | iStock



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