Panel at GE event addresses city changes, legacy of an Olympics

Winning the rights to host the 2016 Olympics is already a game-changer for Rio, according Marcelo Haddad, executive director of Rio Negocios, who Monday spoke on a panel hosted by GE called “Building the Olympic Games of the Future.”

Rio will be the first Olympic city to build what amounts to four Olympic venue sites, and Haddad, whose firm is the international promotion agency for the city, said that the subway being constructed to connect those venues will leave a legacy for local residents that makes investing in the Olympics a success. Use of public transportation is expected to increase from 16 to 62 percent after the Games, largely as a result of the new system.
“In the case of Rio, I can say very candidly to you that sense [that] the city has been able to capitalize [on] the Olympics as … a reason to set up security, to increase education, to provide better integration in the city and almost a million new users of public transportation,” Haddad said. “It’s a win, from now.”

Government and city officials increasingly use the Olympics as a vehicle for redeveloping blighted areas of their city and overhauling infrastructure. In London, the city selected a site in Stratford that had been desolate and unused since World War II. It was largely a toxic waste dump. They’ve cleaned it up, turned it into an Olympic Park and built an athlete’s village that will become housing after the Games.

But all of that work has come with a price. Initially, London organizers expected the Games to cost $14 billion. That price swelled to $22 billion because of added security expenses. The increase has come at a time of austerity in the country and raised questions about whether or not hosting an Olympics is worth it. It’s a question with which future cities will have to wrestle.

“People can become a victim of overpromising,” said Gareth Wynn, program director, London 2012, EDF. “In order to win sometimes, there’s a temptation to promise more than is realistic to do. There’s another element, which is how and what type of schedule you judge a legacy. There’s a real risk to all of us that the day after the cauldron comes down after the closing ceremony there will be a feeding frenzy of: Has the legacy been delivered? Do we have all the jobs? Do we have all the houses? The answer is we won’t because we will not have done everything. We won’t be able to judge it until a few years after we’ve done everything.”

Wynn said that it’s also important to look at the behavioral legacy of an Olympics. In London, will people begin visiting Stratford more? Will they believe it’s closer to central and west London than they did previously, when it was avoided by many Londoners?

“London’s done an incredible job preparing for legacy and it will deliver legacy given enough time,” Wynn said.

Carlo Ratti, director of SENSEable City Lab at MIT, agreed, saying, “In London the legacy started before the Games. That’s the way to look at it: What is the city that could be there after the Olympics?”

The panel took place at GE’s hospitality center adjacent to King’s Cross Station. The company has screens set up throughout the two-story space highlighting its work at the London Games. It was involved in 100 projects in London, from providing 14,000 lights at the Olympic Stadium to “smart meters” that chart energy consumption in the Athletes’ Village.

The company secured more than $100 million in business around the London Games.

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