11 Oct 2011

The RSA recently hosted it's annual President's Luncheon. This year the venue was Forman's Fish Island, directly opposite the Olympic Stadium. Below is the brilliant view from our lunch table. Looking out across the Games site made us realise just how huge of a regeneration project this is. 

The costs of the Games are massive, while no final numbers are in estimates peg it around £9 billion, a sharp rise from the original budget of £4 billion when the Games were first awarded. This is nothing new however, as a 2007 study by Bergen demonstrated, virtually all Summer Olympic Games after Los Angeles in 1984 have exceeded their original budget. 

More importantly however, is whether the money spent is worthwhile. Undertaking a cost-benefit analysis of the Olympics is not an easy task, however a few studies have suggested that host cities derive an average net economic impact in the range of US$4-5 billion. Concerns, however, are raised about the long-term legacy of such massive investments in such an often concentrated space and their on-going maintenance. Many point to the 1976 Montreal Games as the ultimate white elephant, with the city taking 30 years to pay off the debt owed on the stadium (leading locals to refer to the stadium as the Big-Owe).

The hope is that things are different for London and regeneration efforts bring long lasting results. The borough of Newham where the Olympic Park is located has the city’s lowest employment rate and significant problems of urban blight. Apart from the physical regeneration, social issues are also being prioritised with local residents being trained and hired to work on the Olympic Games. Regeneration is already underway in the form of the 87-acre Westfield Stratford City mall. The mall alone is estimated to employ 8,500 people, eventually increasing to as many as 18,000 when all the phases are complete.

The hope is that the benefit of the Games extends far beyond two weeks in the summer of 2012, but only time will tell if regeneration efforts have been successful. 

For a good academic article about the Summer Olympics check out Short, John R. (2008) 'Globalization, cities and the Summer Olympics', City, 12:3, 321 - 340.