Olympic host cities have a poor track record when it comes to urban regeneration. But the 2012 Games can be different—if we allow for a little DIY alongside the big developersby Rowan Moore / February 24, 2010 / Leave a comment
A CGI rendering of how the £500m Olympic stadium will look, presented to the London 2012 Committee in 2009 Go to most former Olympic sites and you will find the same things: monumental buildings that have rarely been fully used since the Games; a lack of urban intensity, in the worst cases desolation; perhaps illegal activity; and a few initiatives to liven the place up.
This is true, with local variations, of Athens and Sydney, and of older sites like Munich, Tokyo and even Berlin. If you don’t want to travel so far you only have to go to Wembley (1948), a zone of unexpected depression 20 minutes from the west end, to see how little an Olympiad regenerates its hinterland. Even Barcelona (1992) was not the exception it is often said to be: yes, the city was renewed, but much of it as a result of initiatives independent of the Games. And if you go to Montjuic, where the main sports buildings are, you find a desultory atmosphere at odds with the city’s famous vibrancy.
There are reasons for this consistent inability to regenerate. The infrastructure needed for a two-week event, attracting hundreds of thousands of people, is totally different from that needed for a permanent, everyday, piece of city: it is like trying to make your wedding marquee into a lifetime family home. Sports buildings, dark and closed except when they attract sudden floods of people, are usually lousy for city life. Each Olympiad, with its fixed deadline and pressure to perform, demands huge budgets which are not available for the site’s afterlife. Olympics are usually held in places that were underused and the reasons for that underuse tend to persist.
London is determined to be different. The bid made great play of the concept of “legacy”—the idea that, if the International Olympic Committee (IOC) blessed the city, one of the most deprived areas of Britain would be exalted. Which, among other things, would make the IOC look less like the promoter of a vainglorious and unsustainable extravaganza. The bid won and London 2012 continues to see itself as the Legacy Games. Up to 15,000 new homes are imagined, with 10,000 new jobs. It is spoken of as a modern opportunity to create the kind of elegant and successful development that John Nash created around Regent’s Park 200 years ago.
There are reasons why London might…