From green park to theme park? Evolving legacy visions for London's Olympic Park

Smith, A. 2014. From green park to theme park? Evolving legacy visions for London's Olympic Park. Architectural Research Quarterly . 18 (14), pp. 315-323. doi:10.1017/S1359135515000056

TitleFrom green park to theme park? Evolving legacy visions for London's Olympic Park
TypeJournal article
AuthorsSmith, A.
Abstract

The long time frames and complexity of urban mega-projects mean that plans inevitably change over time. Analysing the evolution of these projects allows the key factors that influence contemporary urban development to be identified; including the influence of shifting political and economic contexts. This paper examines the evolving conception of London’s Olympic Park: it identifies and accounts for key changes in the direction of this project. Although plans for the Park remained remarkably consistent between 2004 (when the bid was submitted) and 2014 (when the Park opened to the public), there were also subtle changes to the vision for and design of the Park. The research undertaken here identifies and explains one key shift - away from the original promise of large parklands and a blueprint for sustainability, towards a more bombastic, iconic landscape that is organised and promoted as a destination. This shift is partly explained by the evolving governance of the project, but it is also explained by the different priorities evident at different stages. In the early years (2004-7), the priorities were to impress the International Olympic Committee and to get a sceptical public onside. Hence, the initial emphasis on parklands and environmental sustainability. Later (2008-2012), the key priorities were securing income streams and financial sustainability. These issues are explored here using key ideas from geographical and architectural literature: including Sorkin’s notion of theme park urbanism, but also territorialisation and brandscaping. Through the detailed analysis of the London case study, the paper makes some important observations about the problems encountered when mega-events are used to lead urban development. The paper also highlights the challenges faced by designers and managers of urban parks; in particular the requirement for parks to be self-financing. Finally, the case explores - and helps explain - the contemporary obsession with iconic landscapes.

KeywordsOlympic, sustainable, mega-event, regeneration, tourism, destination
JournalArchitectural Research Quarterly
Journal citation18 (14), pp. 315-323
ISSN1474-0516
Year2014
PublisherCambridge University Press
Accepted author manuscriptARQ paper for repository.docx
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)doi:10.1017/S1359135515000056
Publication dates
Published in printDec 2014
Published online19 Feb 2015

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