The afterlife of Olympic villages
Among the lasting legacies for Olympic host cities are the villages constructed to house athletes and officials. After the final medals are awarded, how do cities capitalize on these massive remnants of their games?
The Athens Olympic Village of 2004 was the largest housing development ever constructed in the Greek real-estate market and the largest social housing project. // © Olympic Village 2004 S.A.
For the 2010 Winter Olympics, about 3,000 of the world’s best athletes (and officials) took over a corner of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia — not to mention the little city that skiers and bobsledders created 70 miles north, in Whistler. Such Olympic villages can be billion-dollar creations that are in the world’s spotlight for just a few weeks.
So what happens to these glamorous villages when the athletes pack up their medals, memories and dirty laundry to fly home?
If the planners have done their homework and everybody keeps their promises, the villages are in for a long and productive post-games life. But that’s not always how it works out. Here’s our look at the afterlife of several villages from the past few decades.
Vancouver: The best (and costliest) village ever?
With its Olympic Village, Vancouver is certainly gunning for one of the most dramatic transformations of a site — and it looks like it may succeed.
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What the athletes may not know, as they enjoy the spectacular views across False Creek toward the Vancouver skyline and the North Shore Mountains beyond, is that city planners have hoped to transform this land since the 1970s. The Southeast False Creek area was the last remaining piece of undeveloped waterfront in downtown Vancouver. Most recently, its big tenant was the city’s public works yard.
That all changed with the Olympic Village — 18 midrise buildings with enough apartments to accommodate 2,730 athletes and officials during the Olympics, and an additional 350 during the Paralympics in March. (Take a tour of Vancouver’s village in this slide show.)
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After the games, the ultragreen village (rechristened Millennium Water) will become the centerpiece of the larger Southeast False Creek neighborhood. The village’s 1,100 units will include 730 market-rate condos, 120 market rental apartments and 250 affordable rental apartments. (Many of the condos already have sold, for about $950 per square foot.)
Homeowners won’t be able to move in as soon as the games end, however. Once the village is handed back to the developer this spring, the buildings need to be touched up and retooled: Kitchens that were boarded up for the games so athletes couldn’t use them must be completed. Nice wood flooring must be installed (often right atop the carpeting in place for the athletes, which will be used as padding).
The apartments aren’t the only thing that will need to be altered: A 45,000-square-foot community center on the waterfront, which is now serving as the village mayor’s office during the games, among other uses, will be refitted with a day-care center, a restaurant, a nonmotorized boating center and a gym.
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The goal is to create a complete community with all the things it needs, where none existed before. By 2020, city planners expect the Southeast False Creek neighborhood to be home to 16,000 people living in more than 5,000 apartments and condos. They’ll be able to enjoy 26 acres of parkland, including a new waterfront promenade, a public plaza and a community garden.
Sound good? It should. The Vancouver press has reported that the $1 billion project is $130 million over budget to date.
Sydney: Transforming a suburb
In building an Olympic Village to house athletes for the 2000 Summer Olympics, Sydney officials transformed a small suburb called Newington Village just five miles from Sydney’s downtown.
Nearly 900 permanent townhouses and 700 apartments were built on 222 acres, along with nearly 300 modular homes, says Matthew Hamilton of Newington Village Real Estate.
But to squeeze everyone in, the developers had to get creative: Garages, dining rooms and living rooms were used as bedrooms for the athletes. Temporary rooms were even built in the backyards of the homes. After the games, the temporary rooms had to be dismantled and temporary walls inside the homes removed, to convert the homes back for their new owners.
Still more homes and apartments were built after the games; today Newington is complete and fully occupied, with about 5,000 residents living in 930 apartments and 1,100 houses.
Atop every home are solar panels to take advantage of Sydney’s abundant sunshine. The community also has a dual water system that cleans water from showers and drains, filters it through an adjacent wetland and allows it to be reused in the community.
Athens: A Greek tragedy
Athens was the sentimental favorite to host the 2004 Summer Olympics, after losing its bid to host the games in 1996, the 100th anniversary of the modern Olympics. But there were many concerns about the country’s ability to build and maintain such costly projects as the Olympic Village — fears that have proved well-founded. In 2008, the British newspaper The Daily Mail reported that 21 of 22 venues from the games were closed, most of them derelict and covered in graffiti.
Athens’ Olympic Village has continued to struggle. Greece built the new community of 2,292 midsized apartments on 306 acres at the foot of Mount Parnes, a few miles outside of downtown Athens. At the time, the Olympic Village was the largest housing development ever constructed in the Greek real-estate market, and the largest social housing project, according to a 2008 report. (The entire complex was built to house lower-income residents after the games.)
But the project’s problems "continue to be numerous and difficult to solve," N.M. Georgakopoulos, a civil engineer and head of a local planning department, wrote in a 2008 report. The 10,000 residents feared that the village’s isolation from other communities had transformed it into a "ghetto." In addition, "Meeting points and social services which accompany a city, such as … a center for the elderly citizens, a shopping center, a cinema, a library, cafeterias, banks, post offices, etc., were expected, yet never created," Georgakopoulos wrote. Even the public landscaping hasn’t been tended to, he reported. Pictures show a weedy, neglected community.