Olympic Cities: City Agendas, Planning, and the World's Games, 1896-2012

By Long, Judith Grant | The Town Planning Review, November 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Olympic Cities: City Agendas, Planning, and the World's Games, 1896-2012


Long, Judith Grant, The Town Planning Review


Olympic Cities: City Agendas, Planning, and the World's Games, 1896-2012, John R. Gold and Margaret M. Gold (eds), London and New York, Routledge, 2007, 348 pages, £25.99 (p/b)

Olympic host cities hope, among other things, to leverage investment in sports infrastructure into a broader legacy of urban regeneration. Yet the planning academy has provided surprisingly little analysis of the nature and magnitude of this kind of Olympic legacy.

Gold and Gold's new edited volume, Olympic Cities: City Agendas, Planning, and the World's Games, 1896-2012, takes a sizeable first step toward filling this gap. Presenting a comparative analysis of 27 different host cities - from Athens 1896 to London 2012 - it examines the 'balance sheet of success and failure' resulting from the symbiotic relationship between the Olympic Games and their host cities.

Strengths of the volume are many, but chief among them is its synthesis of a sparse and uneven literature into a coherent and enjoyable text. This is no small accomplishment for a subject of inquiry routinely stymied by the challenges of gathering and analysing data archived in countries and languages other than one's own. For this reason alone, Olympic Cities is essential reading for urban planning professionals, academics, and students interested in the Olympic legacy.

Pragmatic strengths aside, the most important intellectual contribution of the volume is its intent to reframe the question of what exactly constitutes the Olympic 'legacy' from a host city's perspective. Arguing that a broad set of urban outcomes should be the goal, its essayists use the term 'urban regeneration' to capture and assess economic, political, social, cultural and environmental outcomes, in conjunction with built environment outcomes, and thus reject the limited physical aspirations commonly associated with the term 'urban renewal'.

To this end, Part I is a success, laying the historical foundation necessary to understand the legacy of Olympic cities. The first two essays trace the evolution of host cities and their concomitant urban agendas over time, and classify different periods with labels such as 'revival', 'austerity', and 'towards sustainability' - to describe summer, and winter host cities, respectively. The final two essays give singular treatment to the evolution of the Olympic 'panegyris' or cultural festival, as well as the Paralympic Games. Read together, these four essays provide an excellent introduction to a broad range of Olympic city experiences.

Part II is more ambitious, tackling the volume's central question: have Olympic host cities been successful in creating a favourable urban regeneration legacy? Its four essays focus on important aspects of this question, from games finance, to the bid process (with its attendant traditions and absurdities), the politics of mega-projects, and, finally, urban regeneration. Read separately, these essays make real progress in framing a multi-disciplinary theoretical approach for thinking about urban regeneration in the Olympic context.

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