Sustaining Olympic Cities

As the next Olympics are being prepared for in Rio in 2016, it started my wondering about sustainability issues faced by Olympics organisers as they bid for and prepare for hosting the Olympics if their bid is successful. In 2012, as part of the mission statement of the “Commission for a Sustainable London 2012,” they stated the Commission “provides assurance to the Olympic Board and the public on how the bodies delivering the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games and legacy are meeting their sustainability commitments.” (http://www.cslondon.org/about) In fact, the London 2012 Olympics has been touted as the most sustainable Olympic Games ever held. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-20334658 Yet sustainability has grown over the many years of the Olympics. In 2010, Canada had established a “high standard for environmentally friendly Olympics with sustainability initiatives launched in conjunction with the Winter Games.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/london-olympics-2012-sustainable-games_n_1343099.html. But the “London 2012 – From Vision to Reality” report on the 2012 Olympic games focused on sustainability objectives, targets, and aspirations, showing broadened considerations. There were many of these including “meeting 20 percent of games-time energy use in Olympic Park through local renewables sources and cutting carbon emissions 20 percent through reducing games-time energy use,” a commitment to “sending zero waste directly to landfills during the 77-day games period,” an aim to “treat all waste as a potential resource and ensure at least 70 percent of games-time waste will be reused, recycled or composted.” Although there was criticism for prohibiting outside food from being brought into the games, transportation and logistics were commended for using alternative fueled vehicles. http://www.environmentalleader.com/2012/11/15/london-olympics-met-broad-sustainability-targets-report-says/ Whilst London reportedly did well in meeting sustainability objectives, aims, and goals during the Olympics, it is unclear how continued sustainability is seen. After the Olympics are over and leave the host city, there appears to be a lack of assurance that the facilities will be sustainable. Clearly, there is an understanding that the Olympics host cities and their associated venues will continue to be used in a sustainable manner after the Olympics end; however, not all past Olympic cities remain sustainable in this regard. For example, in the Olympics held in Montreal 1976, this was a huge economic deficit for Canada, which took until 2006 for Quebec to pay off, so there was an issue of economic sustainability. http://www.treehugger.com/urban-design/abandoned-olympic-sites.html. As another example, only six (6) months from the end of the Winter Olympics, Sochi became a ghost city. http://www.businessinsider.com/sochi-olympics-ghost-city-2014-8. Furthermore, Olympic cities can continue to struggle with their huge investments in hosting the Olympics. http://gizmodo.com/do-the-olympics-ever-break-even-1529295819. Further examples include Athens and Sarajevo which have facilities that have become abandoned and fallen into disuse and waste. (http://myfox8.com/2014/02/22/eerie-photos-of-abandoned-winter-olympics-venues/, http://www.businessinsider.com/2004-athens-olympics-venues-abandoned-today-photos-2012-8?op=1, http://news.distractify.com/culture/sports/haunting-images-of-abandoned-olympic-venues/). Yet while there are certain commitments to sustainability and to reuse the facilities, once the Olympics are over, there appears to be little assurance that these facilities/resources will continue to be used. It brings to question what consequences are there to embrace continued sustainability for the city once the region has already reaped the benefits of being an Olympics host city. Without the enforcement of any consequences, countries can bid for hosting the Olympics, yet may not continue to maintain and grow the region in the spirit of sustainability. As noted earlier, Montreal may have reaped the prestige and travel to Canada during the 1976 Olympics, but the city continued to pay for that honour for 30 years afterwards. Of course, there are also various cities which have benefited from hosting the Olympics.  However, without a great investment of time for careful planning for a sustainable future, it seems like these cities may suffer more than benefit from this honour in the long run.  Perhaps this phenomenon may be seen more in Winter Olympics than in Summaer Olympics, but regardless, long-term use and enforcement needs to be considered.

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2 Responses to Sustaining Olympic Cities

  1. skatewest says:

    A great read. I found this really interesting – both from an environmental (all that embedded energy in the infrastructure which isn’t sustainable if it doesn’t get used) and social (ghost facilities rather than communities) point of view.
    I know the Sydney Games when they were held were touted as being the Green Games with sustainability supposedly being a key part of the winning bid. Homebush Bay where the main stadium and facilities are were on the grounds of an early abattoir and tannery so significant remediation work was required. I would say Sydney’s legacy was overall positive though some aspects have taken a while to get there – after the games, it too was deserted a lot of the time until till they built restaurants, hotels and hold events such as concerts, football games and the Royal Easter Show . Newington – the suburb where the athletes stayed had solar power installed on all the homes making it the largest solar suburb in the world at this time.
    I think the key is although the Olympic games is a primary focus, the long term use of the Olympic site needs to be taken into consideration and I would say is almost more important in the long run for the community and broader nation given the costs and sustainability considerations.

    • hotelchocam says:

      Very insightful! Yes, I agree it is the long-term use that’s what sustainability should also be all about. But I guess another interesting question is how long is long enough? Until I read your posting, I hadn’t really thought about relative longevity. Sometimes, we are focused on building things that will serve an immediate purpose and we say that it will continue to serve a purpose. Yet is permanence something that is always desirable in all cases? When it comes to certain products, we want them to be biodegradable so they don’t endanger the community. We see and hear of many abandoned ruins of buildings which have fallen into disrepair because they were initially built very sturdily with the intent to to be used forever. Yes, there needs to be a plan to keep them in use, else they will become more and more difficult to reclaim. Otherwise, would biodegradable buildings be an option if a reasonable long-term sustainability plan does not accompany the proposal? For example, there is a carbon-negative housing development in the UK (http://inhabitat.com/residents-move-into-sinclair-meadows-the-uks-first-carbon-negative-street/), wherein the houses are made of “materials are largely recyclable or biodegradable if and when the buildings are not in use.” It seems the default mindset is to invest in constructing buildings that should last forever. Yet it seems like a preliminary impact assessment would need to be done to determine whether the buildings will indeed continue to be used, else perhaps a more biodegradable approach should be considered to determine how “long-term” the long-term use truly will be.

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