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Reviewed by:
  • Sustainable Olympic Design and Urban Development
  • Robert Trumpbour
Pitts, Adrian and Hanwen Liao. Sustainable Olympic Design and Urban Development. London: Routledge, 2009. Pp. 238. Photographs, illustrations, charts, tables, maps, index, and notes. $165.00 cb; $71.95 pb.

Explaining the trajectory of past and future Olympic planning involves a dramatic level of complexity. The focus on green construction processes and strategies for environmental sustainability presents challenges that may render some sections of Sustainable Olympic Design and Urban Development difficult to digest. However, this book offers a highly thoughtful overview of the complex process of Olympic construction, with a focus solely on the summer games.

Pitts and Liao offer a refreshing level of intellectual honesty in their opening, explaining the paradox of a focus on sustainable design. They state events such as the Olympics require dramatic transportation commitments that have the potential to undermine sustainability goals that might be achieved through careful planning. However, the authors pragmatically conclude that the popularity of the Olympics “is likely to continue for some decades to come” (p. 3), so integration of sustainability strategies might better serve host cities and the world.

The text offers a departure from traditional academic analysis of sports-related construction that tends to look at localized economic growth measures as a yardstick for determining the value of such construction. Before moving to an analysis of present and future games, the authors offer an historical overview of the modern games, with a focus on the urban challenges that emerged from 1896 onward. The groundwork offered in these early chapters would be of value to anyone with an interest in Olympic history.

Perhaps as a forerunner to the concept of sustainability, London in 1908 featured a large stadium intended to house all events, including the swimming competition, while the 1924 Paris games developed what the authors describe as the “first real swimming stadium,” a large facility with a capacity of 10,000 (p. 51). The early games are described with detail, including descriptions of impediments such as trees that made the hammer throw difficult at the 1900 Paris games (p. 55). [End Page 340]

For the most part, new construction served as a cornerstone for Olympic host preparation. The 1984 Los Angeles and the 1996 Atlanta games marked a departure from this trend. Planners in those circumstances made heavier use of preexisting urban infrastructure to achieve their goals, and, as such, invested less into new infrastructure than other cities. Ironically, the authors do not treat this reuse with the same enthusiasm as newer construction. However, such repurposing of existing infrastructure might offer an opportunity to re-evaluate sustainability paradigms in future research.

Once the history is established, the research shifts to an impact analysis of the games on host cities. The authors include evaluation strategies for potential improvement in future Olympics as they bring together a range of assessment tools and then they move to an analysis of the 2012 London games.

Pitts and Liao cover a range of issues that may not be of concern to sports historians but that are nonetheless important to those involved in the construction process. Water use, sewage issues, noise pollution, traffic congestion, urban sprawl, technology integration, and retention of green spaces are among the elements touched upon as important to Olympic infrastructure planning.

The closing focus on the 2012 London games offers a continuation of the evaluative framework offered earlier. Pitts and Liao argue that the objectives and careful planning “taken together have the potential to showcase London as the most sustainable Games thus far” (p. 195). They apply their complex evaluative framework to the 2008 Beijing games and the London games, concluding that “the performance of London’s plan appears to be superior” (p. 214).

The authors explain how some venues will be constructed with the potential to be scaled down after the games are completed to avoid situations in which communities are stuck with vast facilities that might drain community resources. For example, the primary Olympic Stadium was designed to allow for as many as 55,000 seats to be removed with the potential of perhaps recycling these seats for other venues (p. 200).

The text is limited in its focus...


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pp. 340-341
Launched on MUSE
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