Friday, August 17, 2012

Olympics Hangover – Part 3

For a final look at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, I have a couple of stories with surprise twists.  Urban successes that resulted from unsuccessful Olympic bids.  I’ll conclude with a story again illustrating the difficulty of mounting an Olympic Games in a democracy.  And I’ll add a final “North Bay Lesson”.

In Stockholm, a bid for the 2004 Summer Olympics was unsuccessful, but the momentum begun with the bid resulted in the redevelopment of Hammarby Sjostad, sited at a derelict industrial site in desperate need of reuse.   The Stockholm government set high sustainability standards for the development and generally met the standards, working in partnership with numerous private developers.

As reported in Future Communities, when the city began to develop a plan in the aftermath of the failed Olympic bid, they expected that the primary market to be seniors who had moved to the suburbs in the 1970s and were now eager to return to the city.  Instead, young families made up most of the new residents, requiring more schools to be added to the plan.

Another late adjustment was vertical mixed use, with shops added to many of the residential buildings.  The retail spaces were easily rented.  It should be surprising to many American urbanists that the mixed-use was a late addition.  In much of the U.S., mixed use is usually a primary requirement for an urban project.

The Stockholm government established a goal of 0.5 cars per home for Hammarby Sjostad.  The goal wasn’t met, but 80 percent of all trips are nonetheless being made by foot, bicycle, or transit.  It is a remarkably sustainable development, perhaps more so than might have resulted if the Olympics bid had been successful.

In New York City, the American Planning Association reports on the Hudson Yards project that was energized by a bid for the 2012 Olympics and then moved ahead when the bid was unsuccessful.

Although Hudson Yards has made good progress, hurdles remain.  Opponents claim that it will result in a Hong Kong-like density and are looking for reduced density.

Mayor Bloomberg likens the project to Canary Wharf which, considering the concern of many East Londoners that Canary Wharf is a pocket of gentrification surrounded by continuing blight, was perhaps not the best way to advocate for the project.

I don’t know enough to judge whether Hudson Yards is truly a good urban fit for New York City.  I suspect that it’s sized more to the need for office space than to the support of urban life.  But I also suspect that it’s a better project than would have resulted if the Olympic bid had been successful.

North Bay Lesson: Even when an initial urban scheme fails to come to fruition, look to harness any enthusiasm and momentum in support of another vision.  The region might be better off with the fallback solution. 

And finally, to underscore the difficulties into which a New York City Olympics would have run, the New York Times reports on the donation of a proposed velodrome for Brooklyn Bridge Park, an acclaimed public place that is still under development.  Neighbors are questioning the traffic impacts, the size of the structure, and the accommodation for what they consider an elitist sport.  They may be right, but what does their opposition tell us about what would have happened had there been a need to build a velodrome for the Olympics?

Next time, I promise to leave the Olympics behind, at least until the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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