Returning to past Olympic cities

Intrigued by the tens of billions of dollars spent on recent Olympics by host cities, a photographer returns to the cities and structures of past Olympic games and documents some of the change:

The result is The Olympic City a book (out tomorrow) and traveling exhibition (opens tomorrow at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Powerhouse Arena) of the photos Hustwit and Pack snapped, from Helsinki, Finland’s 1952 Olympic Stadium to London’s 2012 architectural spread, from Athens’ “completely unused” village to Beijing’s hulking gray structures. “It’s a little bit of an archaeological excursion,” Hustwit says. “We’re trying to find the evidence of the olympics in these places and look at how it’s affected that neighborhood and how people are living in these spaces.”

The pictures are interesting as is seeing how cities are utilizing these venues:

Beijing’s Lao Shan Velodrome is still being used, though the amount of wear (Pack speculates degradation could be accelerated by pollution) makes it look like a building from the ’60s. The giant parking lots are being used for driver training: “When I was there there were people to there learning how to parallel park,” Pack said…

Another shot of Athens’ Olympic Village, which is now totally empty. “The takeaway [of the project] is that the cities that really needed these venues already have done well,” Hustwit said. “But the majority of these cities weren’t really thinking about the long-term benefit for the people who lived there.”…

Despite the fact that Sarajevo’s Olympic infrastructure is totally destroyed, the Olympics remains “a point of pride” and “very much part of the city’s cultural history,” Hustwit said.

Cities tend to vie for Olympics for the prestige they offer but the buildings and money tend not to benefit the average person of the country (unless you count civic and/or national pride). Given the costs of preparing for the Olympics, I wonder if we are nearing a point where no cities will even want to compete for the games. Yet, my urban suspicions suggest there may just be a few cities who might want the power of the Olympics to do some major redevelopment in their cities that would be much harder to accomplish otherwise.

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