Professor Ingrid Nappi-Choulet, Head of the Real Estate and Sustainable Development Chair at ESSEC Business School, discusses the pitfalls to avoid when hosting mega-events and French plans for ensuring that the 2024 Paris Olympic Games go green.  

Over the past 20 years, France and Paris have hosted, or have positioned themselves to host, four separate mega-events: the Football World Cup, 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 of repeating the mistakes of Rio or Athens is worth the limited reward? Or could these pitfalls of past Games be avoided? Moreover, 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 the Seine-Saint-Denis area, a popular, industrial suburb to the north west of Paris. The plan is to rejuvenate the area with the building of the Athletes’ Village and media center which will include green buildings and rooftop gardens. Indeed, unlike London 2012 where event premises were built almost ex-nihilo, Paris will rely to a large extent on already existing structures. 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: these will bring new real estate options to residents and help promote social diversity in the Seine-Saint-Denis area. In addition, residents will be surrounded by new infrastructure following the example of the Paris 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 short, all these developments will help promote social diversity by bringing the suburbs and the capital closer together.

A lasting legacy

To avoid making the same mistakes as previous Olympic hosts, Paris 2024 will need excellent infrastructure management to avoid the risk of creating “white elephants” – major infrastructure that goes unused after the event. This will in part be covered by the fact that 95% of planned of sports infrastructures will be located on existing sites, partly by the presence of strong governance bodies with an objective to ensure the smooth running of work sites and respecting the project deadlines. And further still by relying on temporary infrastructure. Deconstructed materials will then be reused later on for other occasions or events. Finally, the Athletes’ Village will be designed in such 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 2024 Olympic Games – contributes to fulfilling these needs and desires.

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