London 2012 and Rio 2016: Olympic Cities

Social Legacies of Mega-Events

(L-R) John Lock, Director of UEL's 2012 Office; Professor Lamartine da Costa of Rio's Gama Filho University, and Richard Brown of the Olympic Park Legacy Company. Photo: Carla Araujo 2011

The Social Legacies of Mega Events

A two day symposium examining the potential for sustainable social legacies of sports mega events
List of attendees

LERI Chair, Professor Gavin Poynter presenting on the second day. Photo: Carla Araujo 2011

LERI Chair, Professor Gavin Poynter presenting on the second day. Photo: Carla Araujo 2011

The event, organised by the University of East London 2012 Office, in collaboration with UEL’s London East Research Institute (LERI) and Institute for Health and Human Development, took place on the 10 and 11 March. It brought together leading academics from the UK and Brazil and sought to share, analyse and improve our understanding of urban development and place-shaping when linked to hosting a global mega event.

Professor Patrick McGhee, Vice-Chancellor of the University of East London, opened the symposium in the historical setting of London’s Toynbee Hall, welcoming the participants, in particular the distinguished visitors from Brazil.

Professor Gavin Poynter, Chair of LERI, introduced the main themes of the symposium, stressing the significant challenges created by the fast rate of growth of the world’s urban population and the creation of mega cities. Whilst London’s rate was significantly lower than that of many cities in the emerging nations, it was still predicted to achieve significant growth likely to be concentrated to the East of the city, where the 2012 Olympic Games were due to take place. It was important to establish whether the large amount of public funds invested in the construction of the 2012 Olympic Park and in the delivery of the games would produce a lasting social legacy contributing to the development of a balanced city with reduced social inequalities and benefit the local inhabitants as promised by the original bid to stage the games.

Professor Raquel Rolnik, Professor in the University of São Paulo’s School of Architecture and Urbanism, and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, in a keynote intervention, questioned the neoliberal model which was behind recent urban regeneration policies as a result of which the rights of the dispossessed were ignored. She pointed out that in previous Olympic Games large numbers of poor inhabitants were forced against their will out the areas where the Olympic facilities were being built without being appropriately re-housed and argued that a new social mobilisation was required to promote a new socio-environmental reality in which the basic needs of people were given priority.

Read Professor Rolnik’s UN report on adequate housing standards.

Richard Brown, Director of Strategy at the Olympic Park Legacy Company, addressed the challenges of place shaping in a global city through the planning process of the 2012 Olympic Games. He stressed the aim of rebalancing London, reconnecting its separate parts and reducing the differences between a relatively affluent West and a relatively deprived East of the city. Central to London 2012 planning had been the concept of “growing new neighbourhoods” with the creation of new mixed housing around the Olympic Park combining a variety of market and affordable units. He also stressed the aim of adopting a human scale, environmentally sustainable solutions which would improve the quality of life and the standard of living of the local population.

Professor Angela Harden, of UEL’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, discussed the relation between megaevents, regeneration and public health, using both previous experience and her own empirical research carried out in East London in relation to London 2012. She concluded that there was little evidence that mega events had much influence on the levels of public health and argued for more collaborative research to be carried out along the lines of the Cochrane Collaboration and of the Campbell Collaboration.

Professor Lamartine DaCosta of the Olympic Studies Group, Gama Filho University, Rio de Janeiro, discussed Rio’s plans for the 2016 Olympic Games and argued that comparisons with London were problematic given the very different contexts in the two cities. Rio planned to distribute the games over various areas of the city- Barra da Tijuca, Copacabana, Maracanã and Deodoro. The main Olympic area, in Barra da Tijuca, was a greenfield site whilst London 2012 would take place in a brownfield site as part of a regeneration project. He argued that the recent floods in the state of Rio brought home the fact that climate change had to be placed at the centre of the environmental concerns, whilst London 2012 was mainly directed at ecoefficiency. He introduced the concept of reverse legacy as complementary to the concept of legacy momentum which LERI had pioneered.

The first day of the symposium concluded with a round table discussion of the themes raised during the day. Participating in the discussion were London Assembly member John Biggs, Paul Brickell, Newham Councillor and Executive Member for Olympic and Public Affairs, Lamartine DaCosta and Bruno Padovano, Professor in the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at the University of São Paulo (USP) and Scientific Coordinator of the Architectural and Urban Technology Research Nucleus (NUTAU/USP). Professor Raquel Rolnik rounded off the day’s discussion, stressing the differences that existed between London and Rio and deploring the lack of transparency in the decision making process with regards to the planning of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.

The second day, held in UEL’s Docklands Campus, opened with LERI Chair, Professor Gavin Poynter, summarising the main themes of the previous day and setting out the main aim of the day as identifying future research directions.

Dr. Iain MacRury, Director of LERI and Associate Dean of UEL’s School of Social Sciences and Humanities, outlined a methodology for conceptualising the legacy of mega events. He introduced the concept of “Games in the City” as complex object involving tangible and intangible components. The tangible include stadia, equipment and housing, and the intangible entail socio-economic and sports legacy. The emergence of a sustainable legacy momentum will depend on the stability of socially rooted institutions and flexible structures adequate to support large scale social development.

Bruno Padovano analysed the planning framework in Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympic Games, characterising the decision making process as a “black box”, a process lacking in transparency in which the Brazilian people were unable to participate. Such a process can lead to excessive costs as happened in the case of the 2009 Pan-American Games in Rio. A prime example of this in the area of architecture and urban planning was the absence of public competition for the building of the 2014 stadia even when these were being paid for by public funds. The situation was somewhat better in the case of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games where the Media Village was the subject of a public bidding process in which his own architectural practice had participated.

Professor Lamartine DaCosta introduced the SAMRIO Project, a framework for understanding and planning the urban development tending to create a megalopolis including São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro. He stressed the importance of creating adequate coordinated planning mechanisms involving the various regional authorities which would enable the challenges posed by climate change, particularly affecting the most deprived sectors of the population of the region, to be faced.

The remaining of the day was dedicated to various researchers setting out the current research agendas and to identifying possible areas of future cooperation.

A similar event to take place in Rio in the early part of 2012 is planned by the LERI-NUTAU/USP partnership.

Bruno Padovano
Scientific Coordinator, NUTAU/USP

Please see the attached document for the full list of attendees: The Social Legacies of Mega Events Attendence List

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