olympic city rio- reflections on the way to the airport

Another site we passed on the way to Galeão airport is Olympic City, Rio de Janeiro- or what is to become the location for the 2016 Olympics (growing up in Kenya I only realised that there existed winter Olympics after studying in the US-forgive the non-specification that these are summer Olympics). I probably should have taken a picture with my camera, but I took one with my eyes. A picture of two freestanding lit-up structures that jutted into the piece of water that could have been ocean or lagoon. And the board that promised more to come. A more that seemed to include a transportation scheme to connect the centre to this outer city location perhaps.

We spent some time talking about the impact of large scale (sport) events such as the Olympics and the World Cup on my study abroad programme (again forgive the non-specifics- where I’m from {and for most of the world}, there is only one world cup). Whether the quick almost drug like shot to the veins of a city that is the influx of millions of people for a few weeks can have a lasting effect. Whether and when it is worth it. Who benefits- and who loses… what?

The Olympics are a different animal from the World Cup in my view. Whereas the World Cup is only one sport (distributed in different cities in a country or two), the Olympic games feature 28 sports and some of these broken up into disciplines all occuring in one city. This often involves setting up a lot of new infrastructure to support all the different environments within which these games take place- water sports, track and field, sand arenas, pitches, etc. The investment in infrastructure also has to include space for all the spectators of the games and the transportation to get them to and around the Olympic city. Whether these structures are still usable and used after the masses leave is the question.

In a series of pictures from different Olympic cities after the event, photographers Gary Hustwit and Jon Pack show that this is not often the case. The structures were too big to make financial sense with regard to upkeep or even use or their repurposed use is to turn them  into ‘malls, gyms and prisons’. London’s Olympic city planning for 2012 however, included an element of removability and reducibility that made it possible to take away parts of the spectator stands, for example, and use them as something else and repurpose other structures into usable elements such as housing and stores for the once underdeveloped part of the city.

Even with the useful direction that architecture and planning took in London’s Olympic city, and with all the other benefits that do come from such major events, I’m still conflicted about whether all of this is a necessary burden on any one city- to conjure up within itself a whole other city, meant to serve a transient population.

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