Rebirth and regeneration, or just a Trojan horse for gentrification?

Mark Panton, researcher in the Department of Management, is currently investigating sport as a key agent for urban regeneration. Here, he considers the issues in the context of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as developments closer to home.

“It’s just a Trojan horse for gentrification” is a phrase I have heard frequently during my PhD research into stadium-led regeneration in Tottenham. With the Olympic Games as a “catalyst”, rebirth and regeneration was the message behind the Opening Ceremony that heralded the start of the Rio 2016 Olympics.  Where does the balance lie?

The estimated total Olympic spend in Rio is US$ 9.75 Billion[1] according to the Plan of Public Policies – Legacy report presented at the 2016 Play the Game international conference. Undoubtedly sporting facilities can have longevity and value – as can improvements in transport infrastructure tied to Olympic projects. However, they are costly and there is growing concern about “Cathedrals in the desert”; abandoned facilities that deliver little value after the event.

Transportation infrastructure is emphasised by Rio as the most substantial Olympic legacy.  Projects have included construction of two substantial museums, revamping of several public spaces and incentivized building construction. There has been urban renewal around the Maracanã stadium, but this has led to communities being evicted from surrounding areas and a public athletics centre closed without warning in 2013. None of the major environmental projects linked to the Olympics were completed before the Games and Mario Moscatelli, a biologist, who has campaigned for decades to clean-up Rio’s water, says he “only sees things getting worse”.

There is also recognition that in property terms, hosting the games creates winners and losers.  With Rio’s Games closely following the Brazil World Cup in 2014 there have been many losers. It is estimated that all over Brazil, families in their several tens of thousands have been moved.  This process has been described as “social cleansing rationalised as instrument of ‘slash and burn’ planning,” (Lawrence & Wishart Blog, 2016). For many who remain in areas of Olympic-linked reconstruction there is the fear of the effects of gentrification such as the displacement of lower-income families and small businesses – as there is in the stadium-led regeneration of Tottenham.

However, there has been an unplanned but similar legacy from these developments in Rio and Tottenham. This is the growth in community networks that have been mobilised, aided by increased access to new technologies. As RioOnWatch points out, this may be scant consolation for many of those whose lives have been harmed by the Olympic dream (or demolitions in Tottenham), but these connections may represent the real regeneration for communities wanting to influence future policy decisions.

[1] This figure used an undervalued exchange rate of US$1 = R$ 4.00.  If the exchange rate used in the dossier of the application of US$ 1.00 = R$ 2.00 had been maintained, the total cost would be US$ 19.5 billion.

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *