The Power of Events
The London Olympics were magnificent and I don’t think there is any question that they demonstrated the positive effect a major Event has on a city. London in July/August was magical; the city was alive, people were optimistic, happy and energised. On a personal note, London was a special privilege. I had the opportunity, with a small group of people who had all been involved in the design and delivery of Olympic Park, to line the tunnel as British Olympian Steve Redgrave ran through and into the stadium holding the torch during the Opening Ceremony. I often thought back during the following weeks about how far it had all come from the earliest planning years, when we were such a small team working on the initial masterplanning studies in the Canary Wharf offices. What I liked best about the stadium during the Olympics were the crowd –the anticipation and excitement on people’s faces – it felt honest and hopeful and good.
Events are a very powerful tool for a city. Major Events such as a National Games, an Asian Games or a major business forum provide a tremendous opportunity for a city to position itself on a global stage. Take China for example. The growth of smaller second, third and even fourth tier cities in China seems set to continue as millions of people move from the country into cities each year, in a trend expected to continue for a decade. Each city will need infrastructure to support the development of an urban community. A stadium and a convention centre are important parts of the development of a civic centre. The London Olympics and Paralympics are demonstrating just how significant major pieces of sporting infrastructure can be during such high profile Events.
Incheon in South Korea is good example of a growing city developing strategic events as part of a long term plan to establish an international reputation. Incheon is one of Asia’s fastest growing cities, 30 minutes from Seoul, and the third largest city in Korea. In 2001 a state of the art international airport opened at Incheon, setting up the city as a logistics centre of Northeast Asia, and it has become a major transit spot for business and holiday travelers from the US and Europe. In 2007, the city bid for and won 17th Asian games, and in 2009 staged the Asia Pacific Cities Summit, a gathering of Mayors and business leaders from across Asia. Incheon’s civic leaders saw both sport as well as business as a chance to make a global impact. Today, the new multipurpose stadium for the Asian Games is well under construction. It is located between the airport and Seoul and will be the first significant building people see when travelling to the South Korean capital.
The 60,000 seat athletics stadium took its inspiration from the London Olympic stadium. It embraces the temporary, as London did, and will reduce down to 30,000 seat football stadium after the Asian games. But this time, rather than reduce down the stadium size, we turned the idea on its head and the permanent build is a 30,000 seat one sided stadium with 30,000 temporary seats added on, to the East, North and South.
This approach has provided multiple advantages. Firstly, the obvious financial ones – reducing the building by two thirds means there are substantial savings in operational and maintenance costs. Secondly, the permanent seats could be sited in the optimal position for these sports, in this case forming the Western Stand. But perhaps the biggest advantage of designing this way is the freedom it has provided in terms of legacy, putting it at the forefront from the outset. So our plans have always been based on the community park that, post-Games, will replace the main temporary stand, forming a traditional stadium hill, with plazas at the north and south ends. This will mean atmospheric spectator viewing while a match is being played, and a green space for the public to enjoy at all other times.
Incheon wants its stadium makes a good impression when it is beamed out to the world during the 17 days of the 2014 Asian games. The stadium is often the first real image people have of a city, during a major event. But the real success of Incheon stadium will be in its long term usefulness for its community. That will be the true legacy for the 2.5 million people who make up Korea’s fastest growing city, and part of the real success of Incheon’s strategic approach to hosting major Events.