ONE YEAR ON: London has its Olympic legacy in the bag

London has created an Olympic legacy to be proud of and Rio would do well to take note, argues Andrew Jones

by Andrew Jones
Last Updated: 06 Sep 2013
Heard the one about the Athens 2004 Olympic baseball, softball and hockey stadiums?

Costing €107m, they are now barely used, costly to maintain, and stand as a totem to an Olympic Games where legacy was given barely a second thought.

So a year on from the London Olympics, what are we learning about legacy here in the UK? What can be translated into the Rio Olympic Games in 2016? And with a decision due on the next Games in 2020 on September 6, what location will leave the best legacy from that extravaganza for years to come?

These are all important questions, the London Games have taught us key lessons on how cities and governments operate, the financing of large infrastructure projects and different leisure habits around the world.
I see three key lessons from what is now generally acknowledged as the most successful modern Olympic Games.

First, London was a success because different levels of government were completely aligned.

Central Government oversaw the whole process, with the Olympic Delivery Authority charged with creating the infrastructure for the Games; The London Organising Committee for the Games (LOCOG) ran the event itself; and the London Legacy Development Corporation was created in 2009 to ensure that legacy was addressed from early on.

Viewers of BAFTA-winning sitcom `2012’ may have been amused by this structure, but it worked. Believe it or not, during many other Olympic Games responsibility for transport, land purchase and stadiums is thrashed out once construction is already under way.

Secondly, London had legacy at the very heart of its bid. Previously legacy has been seen as a secondary benefit behind enhancing sport in a host nation or putting a country on the global map.

Thirdly, London had a strong business case for all the venues for the Games.

Future uses for all of the permanent venues have been secured – from West Ham United moving into the Stadium, to BT Sport occupying the Press and Broadcast Centre to new uses for the Aquatics Centre, Velodrome, Olympic Village and Multi-Use Arena.

Contrast this with Athens, where millions were spent on arenas to be used for two weeks, and where the baseball and softball arenas are now awkwardly used for five-a-side football.

For London, it was crucial to know which facilities were permanent and which would need to be taken away.

London was also realistic in addressing legacy as Games planning went on. Lord’s Cricket Ground, Greenwich Park and Horse Guards Parade were always key elements of the `Bid Book’, with iconic venues always intended to give an amazing backdrop to the Games. Other events were moved into the ExCel exhibition centre, the 02 Arena and the Earls Court Exhibition Centre after the Games were won.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though: the projected cost of hosting the London Olympics rose from £2.4bn to a final cost of £9.3bn – but the original bid only estimated the cost of `hosting’ the Games without factoring in land assembly and added infrastructure costs.

The Olympic facilities broadly cost what was anticipated – but within days of winning the bid, on July 7 2005, security costs rocketed after the London terrorist attacks.

The legacy master plan, which was a the heart of the ‘bid book’ was also adapted to account for changing housing needs and as the market for London apartments fell away during the 2008-2009 property crash.  Whilst keeping the principles of the legacy master plan, it was reworked to include more family homes. And I fully expect the master plan to be revisited again over the two decades it will take to build-out.

So how will Rio be different?

While swimming pools are a key feature of London life, in Rio no one goes to the pool. Why would you, when you can trip down to Copacabana for the day?

So the Rio pool will be a temporary facility rather than a permanent structure that could be an embarrassment for years to come.

While London’s Olympic Park will be celebrated as a green, wide open space with rivers running through it, Rio is better known for its shady, smaller open spaces with the real focus being on leisure time at the beach.
So the key focus in Rio won’t be on an expansive park – it will be on an elite training facility for Brazil and wider South America which doesn’t replicate investment already going into new exhibition facilities and the upgrading for the World Cup of the Maracana.

The financial model is different in Rio as well: in London the Games were publicly-funded and the sites sold on; Rio is being created in partnership with a private sector consortium, so securing a strong legacy is vital early on.

And in terms of legacy, what would be the best location for the 2020 Games? I’m going for Istanbul: it would bridge Europe and Asia, bring the Games to a vibrant Islamic country for the first time and most importantly provide a catalyst for regeneration in a city where two thirds of the housing needs to be rebuilt. Istanbul’s main rivals, Madrid and Tokyo, just can’t compete with that.
Andrew Jones is master planner at AECOM

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime