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An Olympic planner on how cities can benefit from the games

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Bill Hanway of AECOM on Rio's unfolding legacy and the right way for a city to approach the Olympics.

Kengo Kuma's design for the new Tokyo Olympic Stadium, which will be a centerpiece for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Kengo Kuma's design for the new Tokyo Olympic Stadium, which will be a centerpiece for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

While the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio Janeiro are a little more than halfway over, and the ultimate impact of the games on the city will take years to unfold, Bill Hanway is already thinking about what’s next. The Executive Vice President and Global Sports Lead of AECOM, Hanway has spent the past five years overseeing the master plan for the Rio Games, as he did for the London 2012 Olympics. He’ll also play a role in the shaping some of the plans for the 2020 Games in Tokyo which he's already worked on for the last few years, as well as Los Angeles’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics. He may end up with an Olympic career as long as that of Michael Phelps.

The prolific planner has also witnessed how the Olympics and IOC have attempted to evolve over the last decade, as questions about the impact and value of hosting this massive athletic competition have made cities and planners focus on a more sustainable, equitable, and long-term future for new Olympic infrastructure. Hanway believes, despite some of the fallout around Rio’s facilities and the lead up to the games, that the Olympics will leave a positive legacy in Brazil, and can elsewhere, if cities take the right approach. Curbed spoke to Hanway, who was visiting Rio, earlier this week to discuss his planning philosophy and how the strategy around arranging future Olympic sites will change and evolve.

rio master plan
An image from the Rio 2016 Masterplan

How is the idea of sustainable design for an Olympic site evolving?

"We used that type of methodology for design and planning in London, which was based on the city’s master plan, and at the same time, designed both a transition master plan and legacy master plan. That helped ensure that the investment in future infrastructure and other elements was put in place before the games were over. Looking back at the site now, four years later, I can see that things are already being built there, that Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will be an anchor for the neighborhood, and the residential infrastructure is being put in place in East London. It’s very rewarding, though the development did take advantage of some of the good tailwinds in the London economy. We had the crash in 2008, and now the economy seems to be stabilized and doing well. (we’ll see what Brexit does). Here in Rio, we have very strong legacy plans in place, but the economy and political uncertainty are going to have an impact. We’ve had a perfect storm."

How do you feel Rio may set the stage or influence planning for Tokyo 2020?

"It will in a couple of ways. One, Rio, is definitely a South American and Brazilian games. The Mayor of Rio, Eduardo da Costa Paes, said at the outset that we’re not London, we’re not Beijing, we’re not going to be able to afford to do certain things at the Rio Games. We’re going to be as privately financed as possible, and he’s lived up to that."

"Now, in terms of policy, the IOC is now going to take chances and go to developing countries and deliver the games. But that comes with distinct challenges. We’re seeing Tokyo is fully embracing Agenda 2020, which the IOC has adopted, which redefines the financial responsibilities of the games. Two or three Olympics ago, they would have said you need to build new facilities, but especially after seeing what happened at Athens, they’re asking to build temporary facilities, or utilize your existing assets. Tokyo has venues outside the central core of the city, and the IOC is advocating for them to use those [instead of building brand new ones]. You’ll see Tokyo and future Olympic development continue along those lines."

You see a much lighter footprint in Tokyo. In addition to rebuilding the main stadium, we’ll see a much greater focus on reusable stadiums and sustainability.

"There will be additional stadiums, but there’s a much greater emphasis on temporary venues. There is going to be investment in public transport because of the games. A lot of it will be down by the Tokyo Bay area, where the heart of the games was initially set to take place."

Will the idea of equally distributing the spoils of the games, and spreading development to different neighborhoods, be part of the Tokyo plan?

"There is a difference, because you don’t have the economic and social inequities in Tokyo and Japan that you do in Rio. There are definitely different parts of the city and area around Tokyo that want to have a part in the story, but it won’t be the same as making sure distribution of development crosses into different socio-economic sectors."

How do you define success for the Rio games?

"You’re already seeing some of those measures of success. There’s been a huge investment in the public transport network. The metro is open from downtown Rio through to the western expansion zone of Baja where the Olympics is taking place. They built three BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit, lines that are functioning now, and that will be left as a legacy. That alone, making movement across the entire city easier, is something we see as a great legacy. Another aspect is cultural investments. If you have a chance to come down here, you’ll see that the Porto Maravilha has really been transformed into a cultural destination with an arts museum. Helping the city’s cultural capital, not just its public transportation, is a big thing. Then there are the standard measurements of development, such as the addition of affordable housing and residential and commercial buildings. The economy is going to be stagnant for at least a couple of years, so the real development trend in Rio after the games can’t be measured for awhile."

Bill Hanway
Bill Hanway

How do you think the measure and definition of success will be different for Tokyo?

"How you hold a major public event in city that already is considered modernized, and make sure that it can serve as a re-introduction of Tokyo onto the world stage? Japan was an economic powerhouse for years, and it’s been in a very stagnant economy for decades. This may be a moment where Tokyo comes back and says we’re still here, we have products, manufacturing and innovation that are world-class. I have all the confidence that will be done."

Are Olympic Games worth it for these cities?  What advice would you give a city looking to make a bid?

"The simple reaction would be, of course not, Rio shouldn’t be hosting the games, they should focus entirely on the major socio-economic issues that are challenging them now. I look at it differently. The situation has changed, but when you win the games, you have to deliver the games, and in that context, there’s a lot of positive good that can be done. I think that’s what the focus is now. It’s not a question of whether you should never do it. Once you’re awarded the games, you have to manage it and leverage the investment in a positive way."

"You have to remember the economy was growing and the games had never been held in South America; that’s the state where the games were submitted and won. The mayor had a very clear idea about what he wanted to do and why he wanted to have the games here and celebrate Rio."

Should we make the games more flexible? There has been a idea floating around about hosting the events in different cities to lessen the impact.

"There are two sides to that. One, splitting it up into different zones removes one of the things the athletes love, being surrounded by all the different events, and being able to go to other events to watch their teammates compete. That’s one of the amazing parts of the Olympics that can’t be lost. Otherwise, it’s a normal world championship. It’s also a totally different scale of interest. That kind of fix misses the spirit and power of the Olympics."

London 2012 Plans
London Masterplan for 2012 Olympics

Are we expecting too much out of the Olympics and these master plans? Is it fair to pin so much hope for revitalization on one event? Does it become something like the Bilbao effect?

"Bilbao was a pretty unique occurrence. But if you think of a cultural facility changing the future prospect of a city, it’s an idea that’s can be reasonably applied to the Olympic Games. Once again, it’s about how you best take advantage of the games. I love doing what I do, looking at not just the athletics but the long-term legacy of the Olympics. People complained about London. There was a lot of negative press about why we’re building this park. But post-games, there’s a path. A process is embedded in everything that remains flexible and can adapt to the changing context."

"When a city comes and says they’re thinking about placing a bid, the first thing we ask is what their long-term goals and expectation are for after the games. If they have a clear idea and we can structure a solution around it, that works. If the idea is to just host the games and celebrate the city, that’s not good enough."

How do you evaluate a city during your first pass, before you start planning? What are you looking for?

"Two processes go on simultaneously. There’s a socio-economic analysis of the city itself. In London, we looked at areas of social deprivation, and came up with a rationale of why we would want to invest in certain areas. We did that in Rio, though there were already decisions made around the physical site availability. Then in a place like Tokyo and Rio, there’s also an asset assessment, looking at existing public transit and stadiums, and see how you can turn that into a key part of the plan."

What are your favorite stadiums or sporting arenas?

"I’m a New Yorker originally, and I’ve lived in London for 20 years. A place with history, like Madison Square Garden, where you can feel the greats that have passed through, that type of environment, is very powerful. But on the flip side, a new venue such as the Arsenal Football stadium in North London, it’s incredible to see a venue that’s crafted around a sport, and crafted around the way a team plays."