The Greek Olympics cost about $11bn. 8 years later, more than half of Athens' Olympic sites are barely used or empty. The long list of mothballed facilities includes a baseball diamond, a massive man-made canoe and kayak course, and arenas purpose-built for unglamorous sports such as table tennis, field hockey and judo. Deals to convert several venues into recreation sites -- such as turning the canoe-kayak venue into a water park -- have been stalled by legal challenges from residents' groups and planning regulations. In southern Athens, a 2 kilometer seafront promenade linking three stadiums used for the games has become a dumping ground for rubble and trash.
Some say it contributed to the financial collapse of the country. There is no doubt that the $11bn cost had a hand (though small) in the ~$400bn national debt. While I highly doubt that the cost of running the Olympics was THE factor which put Greece over the tipping point, it's important to keep in mind that many countries which host the Olympics face the same dilemma: what do you do with the Olympic infrastructure after the games are over?
(above gallery showing Greece's dilapidated Olympic facilities)
Greece is not the only country faced with the problem. China's glamorous Bird's Nest stadium goes unused and the Olympic Village which hosted thousands of athletes is in shambles after plans to convert it into apartment complexes fell short. In Montreal, their Olympic stadium called "The Big O" is now commonly called the "Big Owe" as the stadium is no longer used. All other countries which have hosted the Olympics have some sort of infrastructure which was built exclusively for the Olympics but is now in disuse. So, is it a bad idea to host the Olympics?
Not if planned correctly. London, is probably the first Olympic where the planning committee actively tried to solve this issue from the very beginning. Their plans were ingenious!
First, the Olympic Park & venues were all built on what used to be brownfields. After winning the bid to host the Games back in 2005, work began on clearing the brownfield site full of derelict land and dilapidated buildings -- more than 200 were demolished to make way for the Olympic Park. This way, what was unused or unsightly real estate was rejuvenated to become an economic and cultural powerhouse for the city.
Next, all of the buildings were built using sustainable and recycled material. Demolished materials recovered from the brownfields were kept on site to be used in the construction of the Olympic park. Buildings from the brownfields were knocked down, and all that rubble was crushed up and used as the fillings of these gabions for the new bridges in the park. This not only increased sustainability of the Olympics, but also helped keep costs low as less raw materials were needed to be bought and transported in the construction of the park. Additionally, used or recycled material from all over the country were sourced as well. Old pipelines were used to build the skeleton and scaffolds of numerous stadiums. The polluted area was also thoroughly cleaned and converted into a wildlife estuary with over 300,000 wetland plants, 4000 trees and 130,000 native plants and bulbs.
But, the most amazing thing is that the majority of the stadiums and complexes are temporary structures, in that they will be taken apart after the games to either be relocated or the materials sold back.
For example, the waterpolo stadium (on the left) is 100% able to be disassembled and either relocated or materials resold. The basketball stadium (seen at the very top) is the same in that the materials will be resold to recoup the cost.
The aquatic center (seen on the left below) will be downsized as the building was built using modular construction; the wings of the building which are the seating areas, will be taken off and materials resold. Even the main London Olympic stadium (seen on the right below) was built using modular construction and will be downsized after the games.
What's astonishing is that even though many of the buildings are temporary structures, they don't lack in grandeur or design. The shooting range (seen on the right) is a sight to behold as it's designed with state-of-the-art technology. Each of the three galleries were made in a bright white double curved membrane exterior. From the outside, the galleries’ PVC facades are covered in bright spots that looks like they belong on the tentacles of an octopus, that function to draw ventilation into each of the venues, while also creating tension nodes for the steel structure beneath its white exterior. The spots that meet the ground become the entrances to the galleries, and the semitransparent facades on two of the three ranges reduce the need for artificial lighting.
One of the reason why London was chosen to host the Olympics is because the city promised that this Olympic would be the first truly sustainable event. And so far they have delivered on the promise. From the very beginning, they were mindful of the longterm impact of the event, the city, the people, and the country. They've taken additional steps with their corporate sponsor to make sure that these events are sustainable (additional posts to come regarding this matter). With Brazil gearing up for their first Olympics and Worldcup, we can only hope that they have kept a close eye on how London has overcome many of the challenges of hosting the games.
While we won't be sure of the long-term impact of the London Olympics and whether they were able to mitigate all of the issues, there is no doubt that the 2012 London Olympics is one that will be remembered for a long time to draw lessons of sustainability from.