Leading up to the Olympics there were enough photos of dilapidated Olympic infrastructure from former host cities that you wouldn’t be wrong to think that East London will quickly turn into a ghost town when the Games come to an end.
But if London and other future host cities don’t want meet the fate of some former host cities, they can look to Barcelona as an example of a city that used the Olympics to transform the infrastructure of the city for the better, according to Deutsche Welle:
In the 1980s this lively and booming city on the Mediterranean was cut off from the sea by a 10-lane highway and railway tracks. Back then, all the sewage water went - unfiltered - straight into the ocean.
“Barcelona had all the stigmas of a negative place that you could think of,” remembered city planner and architect Joan Busquets, who directed the city planning authority ahead of the 1992 Olympics. Opening up the city to the sea was one of the main elements of the building project for the Games. After the events, the Olympic village was turned into a mid-level residential area that became a model for a number of other housing projects along the shore.
Via the small wooden bridges that cross the narrow highway, it now only takes five minutes to get to the beach and the area is well connected, thanks to improved bus and train routes
It was certainly an important investment for the city. But I’m still not convinced that the Olympics are the best option for cities looking to transform their infrastructure. The bid alone can cost as much as $100 million without the guarantee of landing the event.
But there is validity in the argument that the Olympics can jumpstart stagnant city governments into making important infrastructure investments. That’s what happened in London.
“You could describe this project here as simply speeding up the city’s development. The area had already been planned but it probably would have taken some 40 years. The Olympics are the engine driving all that forward,” said Klaus Grewe of the planning committee.
I find it troubling, however, that a 17-day sporting event that, at least for London costs as much as $14.8 billion, is what spurs important projects in cities. Can’t we conjure up some better, cheaper reasons why building a better transit system or a walkable waterfront is important for cities? But if the Olympics is what it takes to make important investments happen, I guess it’s better than the status quo.
What do you think? Are the Olympics a smart investment for cities?