For host cities, organising the major sport event means welcoming hundreds of thousands visitors and around 10 thousand athletes in only one month. This influx of people in a short period requires a quick adaptation of urban areas and infrastructures that will host the Games.
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Another concern refers to the importance of planning the urban regeneration allowed by Olympic Games with a long-term vision. This long-term orientation, if determined since the planning phase of the games can offer various benefits for the different stakeholders involved.
What to take in consideration to build a match a sustainable infrastructure legacy for host cities and match a long term and responsible vision ?
Based on examples of passed editions, this article will explore key issues related to efficient and sustainable infrastructures planning.
Construction costs reduction
The construction of completely new infrastructures often represents the most important costs. For instance, the London Olympic stadium that hosted the opening and closing ceremonies and athleticism competition in 2012 costed $767 million; which made it the most expensive stadium built for the Olympic Games until 2012.
With regard to better efficiency, adaptation of already existing infrastructures can be considered to considerably reduce construction costs and environmental impact. To welcome more spectators than usually, rows of seats can be added in stadiums instead of building new ones. Already in 1984, the city of Los Angeles saved a huge amount of money because a major part of infrastructures required to host the Olympics already existed.
Cost of maintenance reduction
Another important problem of building huge infrastructures able to welcome tens of thousands spectators only for the Olympics is their difficulty to be used for other events. Indeed, this kind of stadiums are energy consuming and require a costly frequent maintenance. As an example, after the 2016 Rio’s edition, the electricity provider cut off power of the Maracanã because of the unpaid invoice. Moreover, the Montreal Velodrome build for the 1976’s Olympics finally closed because its maintenance costs were too high compared to its frequentation for other competition.
Thanks to an efficient long-term planning and the use of temporary and reversible architecture, these issues may be avoided. The London Olympic stadium has seen its seats reduced from 80 000 to 60 000 seats and is now welcoming soccer and rugby competitions and also concerts. The stadium reversibility was initially planed by the organisation thanks to a revolutionary infrastructure design; which allowed give an efficient infrastructure legacy for inhabitants.
Environmental harm reduction
Real consideration for the environment and the ecological impact of the games has often been the forgotten piece of the Olympics planification. Several previous editions neglected the environment at the expense of biodiversity. In addition to be the most expensive Winter Olympics edition until 2014, Sochi’s Games has among other things required the destruction of entire forests to build roads and infrastructures.
This kind of practice won’t be accepted anymore by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as in 2017, a first Sustainability Plan has been published to frame the coming Olympics. Among the various expectations of this plan, the host cities and organisation committees now must contribute to the SDGs and more precisely related to the environment to prevent climate change, ensure an efficient and sustainable resources management and protect nature and the biodiversity. Tokyo 2021 has thus the willingness to honour these expectations and to organise the “first SDGs Olympic Games”.
The coming Olympic Games’ organisation committees such as Paris are already forecasting in their planning phase to give more importance to environmental issues and reduce carbon footprint of the event.
Long-term Economic growth: tourists’ attraction
Since Barcelona edition in 1992, welcoming the Olympics is mostly used to realize a long-term urban transformation in order to attract tourism. This worldwide competition represents a real opportunity to bring the spotlight on the host city and also to attract investment to completely transform and renovate some neighbourhoods.
Planning an efficient transportation plan on the long-term is an amazing opportunity to make displacements more fluid during the competition to cater for the massive influx of spectators and also on the long-term to better the urban mobility. This is the case of Rio 2016: the efficient transportation renovation plan for the Olympics now allows to connect the center of Rio with neighbourhoods which had remained unserved prior the games.
Infrastructures itself built for the Olympics can also be transformed into cultural or touristic places. The Montreal Velodrome that welcomed 1976’s edition cycling competitions got transformed into a biodome gathering four of Americas’ ecosystems and reopened in 1992. This touristic activity that is described as a must-see in Montreal has welcomed more that 22 million visitors since its opening. The transformation of this former stadium represents a perfect example of a sustainable legacy for the city.
Finally, an efficient long-term infrastructural planning must contribute at the social level. Indeed, the host cities’ inhabitants have to benefit from infrastructures built for the Olympics. An example of sustainable integration of an infrastructure built for the Olympics is, once again, the Olympic Stadium of London which currently hosts the West Ham Football Team and other events such as national rugby team games and concerts. As a counter-example, the Rio 2016 Olympic Park has been implanted in a disadvantaged neighbourhood called Barra de Tijuca. After the Olympics, it was planned by the organisation committee due to private funders pressure, to turn the Park into a closed rich community. This situation created a negative feeling of segregation from the inhabitants of the neighbourhood who couldn’t take advantage of the infrastructures.
In previous Olympics Games editions, we find many examples of failures from which lessons must be learned and successes that must be reproduced. Paris 2024 seems to be on its way to build a sustainable model of Olympics edition.
Paris 2024, a future reference of efficient infrastructure planning edition ?
Paris 2024 seems to cross all the cases previously mentioned to organise the edition that will make up the Olympics with a sustainable infrastructural legacy for the city and its stakeholders. To do so, the organisation committee first bet on infrastructures use over the long-term. Indeed, 95% of the venues needed for the event already exist and are planned to be renovated to welcome more spectator capacity or will be built for temporary use; such as the temporary stadium that is planned to be set up in Place de la Concorde in Paris. An exception is the Aquatic Center that will be built in Saine Saint-Denis, a department close to Paris responding to a lack of sports equipment in this department
Betting on already existing infrastructures adaptation and on reversible architecture considerably reduces construction costs and also costs of maintenance that have sometimes been very difficult to honour after previous editions. This strategy also contributes to inhabitants because venues are often renovated to welcome the athletes; which increases users comfort and practicing quality.
The organisation committee decided to emphasise on significantly reducing the carbon footprint of the 2024s’ edition.
The city of Marseille, which is going to host some competitions, is considering to build the facilities of the Olympic village thanks to recycled containers. After the Olympics, these infrastructures are planned to welcome inhabitants in need of emergency accommodation such as victims of violence, refugees and homeless people doing winter season.
This is an excellent example of efficient infrastructure planning combining responses to social and environmental challenges: using already existing material to build infrastructures that will be used for social contribution after its initial use.
Also, more that 80% of infrastructures will be located within a 10km circle. This efficient infrastructure planning will allow to massively reduce athletes and spectators’ displacements from a venue to another and thus decrease CO2 emissions during the period. Moreover, in order to encourage spectators to take the public transport system instead of a private vehicles, transport tickets will be paired with spectator tickets.
Previous Olympic Games editions show that a long-term and early infrastructural planning is a preponderant issue to ensure a sustainable legacy for all stakeholders.
Paris 2024 organisation committee, claims to make from this edition an unprecedented edition that will contribute to the environmental transition and also to social concerns. Only time will tell us if 2024 edition will keep its promises and set an example.