With the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics now firmly in the rearview mirror, the controversy surrounding the Games is also slowly fading from memory. Yet commentators are divided on quite what the Rio Olympics’ legacy will actually be, and how its much-delayed Olympic Village will be used in the long run (and I don’t mean the 10,000 metres).
The Games’ organisers have big plans for the Olympic infrastructure, but as we saw after London’s 2012 Olympics, best made plans are sometimes abandoned by dishonest and portmanteau-loving politicians, and considering the scandal-ridden Brazilian government at the moment, it isn’t hard to see them leaving the Olympic Village empty and their pockets full.
As well as this, some have pointed to Brazil’s faltering economy as a sign that the new developments will be left to ruin. So will Rio 2016’s legacy be as controversial as the Games themselves?
What are Rio’s post-Olympic plans?
As Wired points out, the materials used to build the new stadiums were designed to be reused, Lego-style, and could provide a structural basis for an entirely different set of buildings. Despite these mega blocks giving architects the opportunity to build any kind of weird and wonderful structure, the designs they have come up with are fairly sober.
The aquatics centre, for example, is to be turned into two public swimming pools. Slightly more creatively, the handball venue Future Arena will be broken down and turned into five schools around the city, each to serve 500 students who may find school a more exciting if they know they are learning inside a giant Lego brick that was once part of an Olympic arena. Even if it was just the handball arena.
All of this sounds promising. But when we come to the plans for the Olympic Village, things get worse. The complex is set to be transformed into an upscale neighbourhood, with apartments selling for up to US$2,000,000. You’d be forgiven for thinking the government only gave this plan the go ahead so they could move into the area themselves with their bribe money. The former Olympic Village will drive low income residents out of the area, and in light of this social cleansing it has a terrifying name: Pure Island.
One of the Island’s developers hopes to make US$1bn from his Pure Island property, creating what he calls ‘a city of the elite’. This raises many of the key issues around urban development. Firstly, you’ve got to get thousands of them cut for all of the new locks. Secondly, who is all of this urban development really benefiting? If the Olympic Games are supposed to benefit a country, shouldn’t the people come before the property?
Did London do it better?
London’s post-Olympic Village did not exactly turn out the way it was supposed to. The original plan, according to the Games’ organisers, was for the 2012 Olympics to spark “the regeneration of an entire community for the direct benefit of everyone who lives there.” The promise of new housing went down well in the East London district of Stratford where the Village was based.
Initially, 50% of the former Olympic Village (now East Village) was to be turned into affordable housing. This target was revised down to a 20% minimum, 31% maximum in 2013. Four years on from the London Games it is impossible for low income families to live in East Village housing. Instead, the properties are being sold off to buy-to-let landlords who raise the rent to unaffordable levels. East Village is not quite a Pure Island-level home for the super-rich, but it is a lot closer to that than its original post-Games intention.
Can a sporting event ever bring positive development for all?
Considering the nakedly pro-rich policies of Pure Island, and the tacitly similar priorities of the East Village, it is worth asking if there has ever been a sports-based urban development that has helped everyone in a community.
The regenerated area around Wembley Stadium may be a good example of this. The Tipi London rental accommodation offers all-inclusive high living standards to its residents, alongside easy access to the nation’s foremost sporting venue. Similarly, spurred on by Queens Park Rangers FC, the Old Oak development is on track to provide hundreds of affordable homes.
These examples show how sports-driven urban development can benefit the whole community, but only if the officials and developers have good intentions. The problem is, most of the parties involved in post-Olympic development are primarily motivated by financial gain.
With enough public pressure, they may just have a change of heart. If fans gave developers the same encouragement they give to athletes, we could see more universally beneficial developments. So come on, Rio’s Pure Island planning committee, go for gold and lower those house prices! You can do it!