Rio-London: Olympic Cities Symposium

Rio-London: Olympic Cities Symposium held in Rio de Janeiro on 28 and 29 March

On the 28 and 29 March a major event took place in Rio de Janeiro organised by London-Rio: Olympic Cities partnership- University of East London (UEL), the Architectural and Urban Technology Research Nucleus of the University of São Paulo (NUTAU/USP) and Rio’s Gama Filho University (UGF) – under the title “Rio-London: Olympic Cities Symposium   and Inter-Universities and Base Cities for the 2013, 2014 and 2016 Mega Events Base Cities Panel”.  The event attracted 700 registrations from academics in Brazilian universities and from entities involved in the planning process in the base cities of the 2013 World Workers’ Games, 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.  32 Brazilian universities contributed between them 58 papers to the afternoon sessions.  It was webcast and 550 people watched online. In addition, audiences watched the webcast symposium in designated venues situated in 10 of the 12 base cities for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

In the morning sessions of both days the symposium explored the social impacts and legacy of mega events with particular reference for London 2012 and their implications for city building and urban regeneration for both London and Rio.  In the afternoon sessions, the inter-university and mega event base cities panel component of the event addressed the question ‘What should be the contribution of Rio de Janeiro universities to the challenges of knowledge production in relation to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games?’  They focussed in particular on their role the professional training of personnel in response to the job creation potential of mega events.

Member of the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly and Chair of its Special Commission for Studying the Legacy of the 2014 and 2016 mega events, Nilton Salomão, addressing the audience during the opening ceremony of the  Rio-London: Olympic Cities Symposium.  On his left is Professor Lamartine DaCosta (UGF/UEL), coordinator of the Symposium and on his right is Dr. Vitor Lippi, Mayor of the city of Sorocaba in the State of São Paulo, representing the base cities the 2014 and 2016 mega events. 

The event, organised under the coordination of Professor Lamartine DaCosta, director of the Olympic Studies Centre at Gama Filho University and a Visiting Professor in the University of East London, took place at the Downtown campus of Gama Filho University, adjacent to Rio’s 2016 Olympic Park now under construction.  The morning sessions were conducted both in English and Portuguese and facilitated by simultaneous translation between the languages

The symposium was formally opened by Professor Lamartine DaCosta speaking on behalf of UGF’s Rector. This was followed by a video recorded message from Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes welcoming the delegates to the symposium.

The opening presentation, also video recorded, was by Symposium President of Honour  Professor Gavin Poynter  of UEL’s London East Research Institute (LERI) and 2012 International Chair in Olympism at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.  The talk, under the title “What can Olympic Cities learn from each other?”   focussed on the city building aspect of Olympic events and argued in favour of Olympic cities paying particular attention to  importance of social legacies with special reference to helping reduce urban social inequalities. To watch the video, please click here.

Discussion of legacy issues continued in a session chaired by Alvaro de Miranda, Visiting Fellow of LERI/UEL, with contributions from three UEL speakers and one from NUTAU/USP.

In a presentation entitled “Real and imagined legacies, and the implications for evaluation”,   Ralph Ward, formerly Planning & Regeneration Adviser, Thames Gateway & Olympic Team, UK Department of Communities and Local Government, currently Visiting Fellow, LERI/UEL, discussed the legacy “gap” that exists between the grandiose expectations generated by the Olympic bid and the more mundane reality left behind by the games themselves.  Ward argued that legacy will be judged by “the visible long term value the city secures from its Olympic investment, and the contribution it makes to the perceived quality of the city overall.”  In the case of London 2012 the legacy promise was that the games would lead deprived East London to “converge” in terms of social indicators towards the average for London.  However, the economic circumstances are now very adverse for this convergence. Investment in the games themselves has been maintained whilst the budget to deliver their social legacy has been cut. The poor East London boroughs hosting the Olympics have suffered the heaviest cuts in the level of Central Government grant for the delivery of local services such as housing, education and social services.

Evidencing the Impacts and Sustainability of the London 2012 Games Legacy was the theme of the presentation given by Professor Allan Brimicombe, Head of UEL’s Centre for Geo-Information Studies. Professor Brimicombe introduced the wealth of statistical indicators now publicly available under the UK government’s open and e-government initiatives which enabled a quantitative study of the social, economic and environmental impacts of the London 2012 games and their sustainability.  He said that the currently available Olympic Games Impact is for the pre-Games period 2003-2010 and whilst for many dimensions it is too early to see a positive legacy in place, there is evidence of sustainability and emergence of impact. He also argued that the involvement of universities in and other mega-event research should itself be seen as part of the legacy of the events which created added value.

Fernando Telles, a consultant at NUTAU/USP who received an Honorary Doctorate from UEL last year for services to sport and to the community,  took a conceptual approach when reviewing the changing meaning of the term “legacy” in a talk with the title “Evolution of the concepts of legacy and reverse legacy“.  Telles discussed the “hard” and “soft” legacies of mega events and their impacts under the headings of political, economic, social and environmental.  The concept of legacy momentum, defined as the capacity of the regional economic development to continue the onward path after the inevitable decrease of the immediate economic activity when the Games have ended, was examined.  Telles also introduced the novel concepts of retro-legacy and reverse-legacy.  Retro-legacy was said to involve the significant restructuring of the sports, cultural and leisure spaces to fit new needs for post-games use.   Reverse legacy, on the other hand, was said to apply to major venues destined for large scale sports events which, post-Games, cannot remain exclusively dedicated to that sport. They therefore need to be restructured to adapt them also to other uses and guarantee their sustainability.

Professor Keith Gilbert, Director of UEL’s Centre for Sport, Disability & Health, ended the morning session with a presentation entitled What are the legacies of the Paralympic Games?”  Professor Gilbert used the legacies and leverage frameworks to analyse the thus far under-research topic of the legacies of the Paralympic Games.  He pointed to the reality that the International Paralympic Committee has thus far been a secondary player in the Games bidding process largely due to the fact that the Paralympic Games have not been seen by the city, the state, the sponsors, the media and the public as an attractive marketable commodity in its own right.  As a result, the specific legacy of the Paralympic Games has also been largely overlooked in the legacy planning process.  However, it may be that this situation is about to change. There have been recent reports that the IOC is wishing to take control for itself of the Paralympic Games as it now sees these Games as a marketable commodity in their own right.  There has been only one specific study on the legacy of the Paralympic Games and that refers to the Sydney Games of 2000.  Recent work on developing awareness of Paralympic Games legacy has focussed essentially on social outcomes. In particular, the broad area of improving disability awareness amongst the community has received most attention.  This would require those involved in planning the event to consciously set this as an objective and then operationalise and evaluate it.

Due to shortage of time, discussion between the audience and the speakers was postponed until a special session starting later in the day, at 7 pm.  Seventy delegates reconvened then and conducted a lively discussion with the members of the speakers’ panel until nearly 9 pm.

The second morning of the symposium, chaired by Professor Bruno Padovano, Scientific Coordinator of NUTAU/USP, was dedicated to the urban regeneration and transformation of Rio de Janeiro as a result of hosting mega events. Roberto Ainbinder, Project Director for the Municipal Olympic Enterprise, delivered the keynote lecture on this theme and described the projected changes that Rio was due to undergo. This was followed by a presentation by João Pedro Bachkeuser, a partner in the architectural practice BLAC (Bachkeuser and Leonído Arquitetura e Cidade), entitled   ‘Project and urban legacy of the winning bid for the Olympic Port- Media and Referees’ Village’.   This presentation described and discussed the regeneration of the brownfield site Porto Maravilha, a derelict dockland area of Rio which is due to become the media and judges’ centre for the Rio 2016 Games.  This project has greater similarity in terms of its legacy with the London 2012 Olympic Park, also built on a brownfield site. The Barra da Tijuca Olympic Park for Rio 2016 is being built largely on a greenfield site.

The session was completed by three presentations on the impacts of the 2016 Olympic Games on Rio de Janeiro. First, Professor Lamartine DaCosta (UGF and UEL) discussed ‘The Megalopolis S. Paulo-Rio as the basis for the sustainability of the urban legacy of the 2016 Olympic Games’.  Professor DaCosta analysed the development of the urban corridor joining the major Brazilian cities of Rio de Janeiro and S. Paulo and examined the opportunities that mega events provide for helping the planning of this process.  Carla Rocha (UGF), in a presentation entitled “Research into the impacts and sustainability of the 2016 Olympic Games: Conceptual Approaches”, analysed critically the promises made by the IOC that the Olympic Games would help build a better world through sport. She argued that although there were no universal solutions, certain authors such as William Kapp, Ignacy Sachs, José Eli Veiga and Viriato Soromenho-Marques pointed in the right direction.  Finally, Cristiano Belém (UGF) introduced a project for the quantitative analysis of the impacts of the building of the 2016 Olympic Park on the Barra da Tijuca district of Rio de Janeiro.

In the afternoons of both days, in parallel sessions, the main issue under discussion was the role of Brazilian universities in the professional training and development of the personnel required to fill the large number of jobs that the mega events are expected to generate. The 2016 Rio Games are expected to give rise to 100,000 direct new jobs and 80,000 volunteer opportunities in the city, and all the mega events taken together are predicted to create around 3.5 million work opportunities in Brazil.

In the closing session of the event, Professor Bruno Padovano (NUTAU/USP), from the chair, stressed that the symposium itself could be seen as part of the legacy of mega events. The intellectual production would be placed in a web repository and this would constitute a tangible outcome. The collaboration with the British universities constituted an important added value. Following Professor Padovano’s  closing remarks, the main participants and organizers summarized their view of the outcomes and achievements of the symposium. Tribute was paid to the remarkable contribution of Professor Lamartine DaCosta as coordinator in achieving the success of the event.

Leading contributors to the Rio-London: Olympic Cities Symposium on stage during the closing ceremony.

(From L to R.: Fernando Telles of NUTAU/USP, holder of an Honorary Doctorate from UEL; Ralph Ward, Visiting Fellow,  LERI/UEL;  Geiza Rocha, General Secretary of the Permanent Forum for the Development of Rio de Janeiro, one of the event sponsors; Alvaro de Miranda, LERI/UEL;  Bruno Padovano, Scientific Coordinator,  NUTAU/USP; Lamartine DaCosta, symposium coordinator, UGF/UEL; Georgios Hatzidakis,  Confef- Brazilian National Confederation for Physical Education, another of the event’s sponsors; Allan Brimicombe, Head of UEL’s Centre for Geo-Information Studies;  Keith Gilbert, Director of UEL’s Centre for Sport, Disability & Health; Valeria Bitencourt, UGF.)

All the contributions to the event will be made available to the public in an online repository which is expected to go live sometime in May.

Please click here for photos of the event.

The considerable success of this event gave a substantial impetus to the organizers’ desire to continue to develop common activities and research. The plan to hold a major international research conference on the theme of  Cities: The Legacy and Impacts of Mega-Events (CLIME) at the University of East London, July 16-18 2013 was announced at the symposium. The partners also agreed the basis for a common research agenda to be pursued over the next few years.

For more information about the CLIME conference, please click here.


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