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London Olympics: How the Games Help Urban Development

2012 London Olympics
The Olympic Park during the opening ceremony. Photo: Official London 2012 website

The Olympic Games have fascinated us for decades. They can move audiences like few other sporting events. They place top athletes from around the world in dramatic and grueling competition to be “faster, higher, and stronger” than the next athlete. The Olympics symbolize unity and friendship: The whole world comes together for the Games, playing by the same rules, honoring the same Olympian spirit of excellence and fair play.

London 2012 Olympics
Olympic Park, July 2012. Photo: Official London 2012 website

But today’s Olympics are notable for another type of collaboration—between the public and private sectors. For an event of this magnitude and cost, inevitably all resources must be drawn upon. The London 2012 Olympics, for example, are funded by a number of sources, according to its official website: the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Limited, a private company with a core budget of over £2 billion, was in charge of the planning, funding, preparation and staging of the London 2012 Games.

From the public sector, the Olympic Delivery Authority—funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Greater London Authority, and the Olympic Lottery Distributor—was charged with developing and building the new infrastructures and venues, as well as their post-Games use. National Lottery funds (£2.2 billion of them) also helped construct facilities hosting the Games.

The UK government is represented through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which manages central government funding of the Games and wider regeneration costs. The Greater London Authority contributes £925 million to the Olympic Delivery Authority for the regeneration, infrastructure and facilities for use by present and future Londoners.

Could two weeks of sporting events, even the Olympics, justify all these costs? These investments are not only intended to host the Olympics successfully, but revitalize sections of host city London. Mega-events like the Olympics have had a long-term impact on host cities. Beyond the prestige associated with hosting the Olympics, building the necessary infrastructure to literally welcome the world during the two weeks of the Games offers the host city a legitimate pretext and catalyst for the transformation of parts the city, in line with the city’s broader urban renewal vision.

To ensure that East London benefits from the legacy of the Olympics, in fact, the East London Business Alliance established the London Legacy 2020. Through various projects focusing on youth and sports, skill training and culture, the London Legacy 2020 program aims to ensure that the 2012 Games makes good on London’s promise during its candidacy—to use the event to help develop areas surrounding the Olympics venues.

London 2012 Olympics
Olympic and Paralympic Village. Photo: Official London 2012 website

The Olympics have begun to transform previously-neglected sections of East London. The grand Olympic Park—to be renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park after the Games—is expected to serve as a new attraction point for the capital, offering world-class sporting venues for the benefit of the local community and athletes. The Olympic and Paralympic Village will also become an integral part of the city—scheduled to be converted into thousands of new homes for sale and rent, half of them being affordable housing. The Village, which will come to be known as East Village, will also be equipped with a new educational campus and a community health center, among other developments, according to the official 2012 Olympics website. East London will indeed see a whole new community. Furthermore, over £7 billion of contracts are reported to have been generated by the 2012 Games.

Olympics Barcelona 1992
The Olympic Stadium at Barcelona, 1992. Photo: Official website of the Olympic Movement

Clearly, London 2012 isn’t alone in integrating preparation for the Games and the city’s wider urban renewal plans. Take, for example, the 1992 Barcelona Olympics—widely considered to be one of the most successful Olympics in terms of lasting legacy for the city. The 1992 Olympics brought Barcelona much-needed new transportation infrastructure and the revival of a declining coastal area.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics also provided momentum for redevelopment to a war-torn country and a chance to present a new face to the international community.

Beijing Olympics 2008
The National Stadium at the Beijing Olympics, 2008. Photo: Official website of the Olympic Movement.

Most recently, the 2008 Beijing Olympics brought a new high-speed train connecting Beijing and neighboring Tianjin, new additions to the city’s subway system, as well as the array of modern sports venues, including the impressive national stadium.

Indeed, the public-private partnerships embedded in the way the London 2012 Olympics have been organized is just one example of how government and the private sector draw on one another’s resources and expertise to tackle the myriad challenges cities and countries face today. Strategic cross-sector partnerships are emerging around concrete events such as the Olympics, and addressing pressing matters such as climate change, global health and economic development. The Olympics have been harnessed to focus on some of these critical issues.

For example, according the Environmental News Service from July 17, the Active Travel program at the 2012 Games integrated energy-efficient technology (renewable sources were to power 20 percent of the energy use) and encouraged walking and cycling by visitors— a pioneering effort to turn Olympics into a “green” event.

The long-term impact of the 2012 Games on London communities and the world will unfold in the coming years. The spirit of collaboration Olympics promote is demonstrated in the various cross-sector partnerships aligned with the Games. Increasingly, local populations will rely on international sporting events to generate opportunity that enhances their lives. The stakes are high at every level for Olympics.  Securing a bid for the Games is traditionally transformative for host cities.

London’s emphasis on long term community benefit in its approach to the Olympics is a tremendous opportunity to raise the bar on how these tremendous events can fuel social and economic benefits for years to come.

David J. Maurrasse is the director of the Program on Strategic Partnerships and Innovation at the Earth Institute. He is the founder and president of Marga Inc., a consulting firm providing advice and research to strengthen philanthropy and innovative cross-sector partnerships to address some of today’s most pressing social concerns. His book, Strategic Public Private Partnerships: Innovation and Development, is due out this fall.

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AJ - Fantastic Travels
11 years ago

Interesting article David, just reading the figures you quoted did my head in. I stop listening a few months back as the Government kept annoucing the increased costs. I hope they keep the Stadium and re-generate the area to benefit the local people as stated, and not build high priced “designer apartments” no-one in the area can afford.

11 years ago

Obsessed with infrastructure, buildings, investments and partnerships, the authour seems to have missed the main point:What happens to the inhabitants of Olympic cities?Forced evictions and demolishments of low income neighbourhoods have become the trend. Nowadays,there are cries from Rio. Citing Beijing as a good example, where mass evictions took place is ignoring human rights totally. Besides, costs never come up as calculated and expected, they are almost 10 times the original figure. Why did Greece go bankrupt right after the Games in Athens:

Iwould recommend the authour to examine the Reports of COHRE:

and the UN-Special Rapporteur on Housing: