Durable Growth

Would regional Olympics be a better urbanist solution?

140224001 Olympic RingsThe Olympics closing ceremonies are behind us and the City of Sochi is beginning to ponder what to do with $51 billion of streets and stadiums that were built for a now concluded two-week party.

It won’t be an easy task for Sochi.  A report by a South Carolina television station provides a short summary of the fate of past Olympic host cities.  There are a few bright spots, but the overall picture is bleak.

I’ve often suggested that a rotation of Olympic sites might be a reasonable way to control costs and to minimize the civic disruptions of massive Olympic construction.  (The British Open uses a similar “rota” of golf courses and has been an admirable success for more than 150 years.)  Perhaps the four most recent Summer and Winter Olympic host cities, with one site added for geographical balance, could be the start of a conversation.  The quadrennial Olympics would return to each host city every twenty years.

But even that concept seems troublesome.  Perhaps sufficient uses can be found for the athletic venues in the twenty years between Olympics, but what about the other Olympic necessities?  How does one build an Olympic Village that can sit idle for two decades without becoming a wound in the civic fabric?  If the Olympic Villages are converted to housing, how does the host city evict the tenants for two weeks during the Olympics?  Or must new Olympic Villages be built every twenty years, stretching the urban area?

Writing in Next City, Will Doig suggests a possible solution, allowing Olympics to become more regional.

Olympics have always been somewhat regional, particularly the Winter Games.  The alpine venues for the Sochi Olympics were about an hour from Sochi.  The same hour of travel applied to Vancouver.

But the Summer Games can also have a geographical spread.  I attended the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.  The first event I watched was a soccer game at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto.  The next was rowing on Lake Casitas in Ventura County.  I was well into my Olympic experience before I even reached the Los Angeles Basin.  And once there, I watch water polo in Malibu and basketball in Inglewood.  The only Olympic sport I watched in the City of Los Angeles was baseball at Dodger Stadium.

But Doig takes the concept to a higher level.  Among other ideas, he suggests a possible Ohio Olympics that would include events in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland.

I find great merit in the concept.  The disruption to each of the partial host cities would be reduced.  It would be a shame to lose the concept of the single “Olympic Plaza” in the host city where all can mingle, but sacrificing that element to the long-term health of our cities seems a reasonable tradeoff.

So, what might a Northern California regional Olympics look like?  And could the North Bay participate?

To begin, I would expect to have major pods of activities in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento.

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies could be at the new stadium in Santa Clara.

The last time San Francisco looked at an Olympic bid, the proposed rowing venue was Lake Natomas on the far side of Sacramento.  Perhaps gymnastics could be put in whatever basketball arena eventually results in Sacramento.

San Jose was a long-time site of a professional tennis tournament.  It could presumably host the tennis competition.

And so on throughout Northern California.

And what about the North Bay?  Could we fill a gap?  If memory serves, the Olympics include road racing and velodrome racing for bicycles.  I suspect that a fine road course could be found through the vineyards of Napa and Sonoma Counties.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if Napa could also make good use of a velodrome, perhaps complementing the wine and food attractions of the region.

And I would certain hope that a marathon course could begin in southern Marin County before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.

A regional Olympics isn’t going to happen for awhile yet, probably not in my lifetime.  The current model still has too many potential host cities happy to willfully harm themselves for two weeks of glory.  But the regional model makes a lot of sense as fiscal and urbanist realities become more evident.  And it’s always good to have a new model to replace a failed model.

Meanwhile, it’s onward to Rio 2016.  Today is the official start of the “Will Rio be ready?”and “Can Brazil financially survive the Olympics?” worry fest.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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