The Good Plan

My Love for Olympic Sized Disasters

By February 3, 2014 No Comments

The Olympics are my circus. Like politics to the Daily Show or Justin Bieber to CNN, the months leading up to the biannual exhibition of athletic prowess and city makeover are the zenith of planner porn. Imagine a city somewhere in the world, trying to achieve someone’s dream of hosting nearly every other country in the world, spending millions of dollars to participate in a two-year bid process, only to realize, upon winning, they must spend tens of billions of dollars to build just the right number of hotel rooms, construct venues that will potentially crumble after a two week usage, and expect an increase in infrastructure pressure from tourism, athletes, friends, family, traffic… it is of the Olympics that I am obsessed.

The temporary use of space is something that has always fascinated me. Similar to Burning Man or the annual pilgrimage to the Ganges, cities have forever shouldered the expectation and burden of temporary human influx. Often, the mass hysteria of invasion comes and goes without a lasting scar. Burning Man prides itself on the desert being left as it was found:

It isn’t as easy for the Olympic Games, though, to take down what has been constructed and let it blow away with the dust. Every year I scour articles and anecdotes of planning visions gone awry. The forced removal of homeless people for the Beijing Olympics, the collapse of the new stadium for the World Cup, crumbled Olympic venues, and cities like Lake Placid New York who still hang on with all their marketing might to their Host City days … of 1980.

Just as much fun as the pre and post game speculation of course, is the cleverness and creativity of the world around the Games at a more human scale. For example, the London Games sparked an incredibly creative cabbie, who overcome the hotel shortage by turning his cab into a one bedroom suite.

Hosting The Games is a significant gamble, exposing a nation to the international maelstrom of critique. Russia continues to receive criticism and protest on human rights, gay rights, terrorism, and budgetary outlay on the road to their games. Let us not forget that an inordinate number of individuals have already been SET ON FIRE by the so-called cursed Olympic Torch relay. The Economist, bless their souls, features a triple sow-cowing Vladimir Putin on the cover, skating in circles around a fallen Russian skater. The cover cleverly captures the suspicion that countries will endure for host city notoriety, no matter what the toll on their country may be.

That migrant workers were shipped out of the city or Russia’s atrocious record on gay rights has been exposed is of little consequence to the organizers, unfortunately. The host country will brush past all of this to spend obscene amounts and build architectural wonders in order to capture their two weeks of worldwide visibility. It almost seems like no lessons have been learned from the past, where certain cities haven’t ever truly recovered from hosting the games. Economically, the cost is significant. Politically, the potential impact is great enough to warrant a gold medal worthy attempt. Here’s hoping that exposure on the world stage will have more of a lasting impact on Russia’s values than the mad scramble for the Olympics will have on its landscape.

IMAGE CREDIT. Wikimedia Commons.

Author Lindsey Davis

Lindsey Davis (@TheGoodPlan) fell in love with city planning through long plane rides, where diverse living and working experience sparked a heightened awareness of the relationship between space and community. Initially trained in facilitation and experiential education, she directed her passions of leadership development and place creation to better understand how design affects behavior. Lindsey holds a Masters in Public Administration and Masters of City and Regional Planning from UNC-Chapel Hill and currently works with Ayers Saint Gross.

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