Over the past 20 years, France and Paris have hosted, or positioned themselves to host, four separate mega-events: France has hosted the Football World Cup and the European Football Cup, and has several times bid to host the Olympics and the World Expo.
Today, organizing these types of events evokes contradictory emotions: on the one hand, the rationale is that the economic benefits of hosting more than cover the public spending incurred. On the other hand, citizens are increasingly skeptical about the long-term benefits of such events.
Since Paris is already such an emblematic city, one might ask whether the risk repeating the mistakes of Rio or Athens is worth the limited reward? Or could these pitfalls of Games past be avoided? What can be done to ensure a positive legacy in terms of urban development, real estate and social well-being?
Paris 2024: the first Eco Games
Following the example set by the COP 21 climate commitments, the Paris 2024 Olympic Games are set to make sustainability a serious priority.
For example, the Games present a wonderful opportunity to “green” aging urban and industrial spaces in Seine-Saint-Denis. This is where the Athletes' Village and media center will include green buildings and rooftop gardens to rejuvenate this Paris suburb. Indeed, unlike London 2012 where event locals were built almost ex-nihilo, Paris will rely, to a large extent, on already existing structures. And when needed, temporary infrastructure will be built using recycled and reusable materials.
Energy savings and intelligent installations will also have a prominent place at the Paris Games. This will include autonomous transport systems for the athletes' village, as well as intelligent lighting and buildings allowing for optimal resource management and reduced costs. Best of all, an eco-friendly, rejuvenated city will improve the wellbeing of local residents for years to come.
A mega-event to meet the needs of local residents
First, the prospect of hosting the Olympic Games in 2024 will push construction of the Greater Paris Express into high-gear. Since new service lines and stations will need to be ready in time for the event, the project will need to be completed six years ahead of schedule.
Second, more than 4,000 new and innovative homes will be built within the Athletes’ Village. These homes will help respond to future socioeconomic challenges: they’ll bring new real estate options to residents and help promote social diversity in the Seine-Saint-Denis area.
Residents will be furthermore be surrounded by new infrastructure, following the example of the Aquatic Center (Aquaboulevard). Facilities like these not only respond to the needs of local residents, they act as an economic lever for the entire territory.
In brief, all these developments will help promote social diversity by bringing the suburbs and the capital closer together, so to speak.
A lasting legacy
To avoid making the same mistakes as previous Olympic hosts, Paris 2024 will need excellent infrastructure management to avoid “white elephants” - major infrastructure that goes unused after the event.
As mentioned above, 95% of sports infrastructures will be located on existing sites. Moreover, the presence of strong governance bodies will considerably reduce the risk of white elephants, in particular by ensuring the smooth running of work sites and respecting the project deadlines.
“White elephants” will also be avoided by relying in part on temporary infrastructure. Deconstructed materials will then be reused later on for other occasions or events.
Finally, the Athletes’ Village will be designed in a way so that buildings can easily be converted into residential units available for sale and/or rental at the end of the Games.
Ultimately, to ensure a lasting legacy, organizers must identify the needs of local residents and the challenges they face. The objective must be to determine how the mega-event - in this case the Olympic Games - contribute to fulfilling these needs and desires.