It is a tradition that has its roots as far back as the ancient Greeks – the Olympics. Every two years, millions of spectators turn their attention to the summer or winter Olympic games and the athletes competing in them. Competitors focus years of training on their event in an attempt to claim the title “best in the world.”
The attention is so heavily set on the games and the athletes competing in them that many overlook their settings. Specifically, what is going to happen to the Olympic host cities when the games are done? With billions of dollars invested in building brand-new Olympic parks, venues and lodging, what use will these sites have when the games have moved on?
In order to have an all-around successful game, the host not only needs to be ready before the opening ceremonies, but also needs a follow-up plan for the site and its venues after the torch is passed to the next host. If planned properly, the Olympic park will have a seamless adaptability to post- Olympic uses. If the host city does not look to the future, disaster can follow in the wake of these celebrated events.
Hosting the Olympic games is no small task. Years of planning and work go into the preparation for the games. Building the arenas and housing for competition is a costly and time-consuming project. Preparing the host city for the influx of visitors – athletes, officials, journalists and spectators – involves upgrades of transportation and hospitality services as well.
Cities such as Athens, Beijing, and current host, Sochi, were not fully prepared for the magnitude of the Olympic events and the effects of that would follow.
In Athens, host of the 2004 Summer Olympics, the Olympic Village was built in separation from the city to give the athletes a secluded place to rest. When trying to adapt the development for public use after the games, however, the idea backfired. The isolation from the city of Athens caused the Olympic Village to decompose into a ghetto state. Some blame the failed planning of the development for the current woeful financial state of Greece.
The same results are now being seen in Beijing, the host of the 2008 Summer Olympics. According to TIME Magazine, after only four years, many of the Olympic venues have been deserted or are falling apart. Other facilities such as the baseball complex, which was intended for future use, have been demolished. Beijing received a large bill for its celebrated efforts and is receiving little gain in the aftermath.
Sochi has had its share of woes with the current winter Olympics, too. Several journalists have reported poor living conditions in the city. Many hotels remained unfinished even after the opening ceremony. Stacy St. Clair, reporter for the Chicago Tribune, tweeted about the problems with water in her hotel. She relayed what management had told her about not putting the water out of the faucet on her face because it contains “something dangerous.”
Streets were being paved just days before the opening ceremony. There have also been reports that not all manholes in the streets have covers on them. Stray animals have also been a problem within the city. These animals were scheduled to be caught and euthanized days before the games.
Only time will tell if the poor management and preparation of Sochi will lead to problems in the future similar to those of Athens and Beijing.
In the near future Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Pyeongchang, South Korea will soon be hosting the Olympics. Rio de Janeiro will be hosting the summer games in 2016 and Pyeongchang will be hosting the winter games in 2018. To avoid ending up like their poorly prepared predecessors, both Rio de Janeiro and Pyeongchang need to have practical use plans for the arenas and housing developments for long after the games have finished.
Planning a realistic program for reuse will help avoid any negative effects that have fallen on host countries in the past. Cities can look to the examples set by the cities of Barcelona – host of the 1992 summer games – and London – host of the 2012 summer games. These sites were planned not only to host an impressive and successful Olympic event, but to contribute to their urban context long after the games had moved on.
Specific examples include the use of existing facilities, rather than building new venues. In London, the O2 arena was used for gymnastics, Wimbledon was used for tennis and the many soccer stadiums that dot the city were put to use. A number of stadiums were also made to be temporary. The beach volleyball venue and the dressage arena were two such sites.
Further, each stadium that had to be newly constructed had a planned re-use before the games even began. The main Olympic Stadium where the track and field events were held is now the home of London’s West Ham soccer team. Finally, the athlete housing in the Olympic Village will be re-purposed as low-income housing for people living in London’s East Side.
Hosting the Olympic games should be an economic opportunity and a great honor for a city. If the economic risk of hosting the games continues to rise, fewer and fewer cities are going to bid for hosting rights. As Olympic cities look into the future, they should be developing innovative new ways to incorporate the games rather than simply striving for extravagance.
Looking closer to home, a petition and website was formed to try and get the Olympic games to come to Minneapolis. The site and petition have acquired a substantial following, but it does not look like the games will be hitting the Twin Cities any time soon.
According to MinnPost, former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak said that Minneapolis wouldn’t bid for Olympics 2024 Summer Olympics Games. They, instead, would like to pursue more practical and smaller events such as the Democratic National Convention and possibly the Super Bowl.
The preventative problem with hosting the Olympic games comes down to a space and financial issue. Also Minneapolis’ transit system would not be effective due to its relative small size on a scale that large. Also Olympic regulations require 40,000 hotel rooms within 30 mile. Given the size of the city currently, spectators would have to go to St. Cloud or Rochester to meet the 40,000 rooms requirement.
Hopefully Rio de Janeiro and Peyongchang can rise to the challenge and not duplicate the mistakes of Athens and Beijing. The coming years will show the effects the Olympic games had on Sochi-for better or for worse.