Mega events, space and the city: Looking to Glasgow 2014
In this post I want to look back before looking forward on a thread of work that I’ve been involved in for a number of years. As we approach Glasgow’s 2014 Commonwealth Games, the issues I want to talk about are coming more to the fore. Anyway, let’s go back first.
Over recent months I’ve been trying to finalise an article for publication that builds on the work that Matt Frew and I, with the assistance of Jennifer Jones and others, undertook during the London 2012 Olympics. This work focused on the territorialisation (in a Deleuze and Guattari sense) of public space and considered to what extent major (or mega) events increasingly enable areas of civic space (parks, squares, walkways) to be removed from use by the general public in order to permit venues to be created which event sponsors can then dress in their colourful livery and sell to a captive audience. We’ve been interested in the creation of (apparently) temporary venues since we visited the 2006 World Cup in Germany and experienced the extremely successful Fan Park concept – intended as a means of containing ticketless visiting football fans and creating festival-like environments within which to watch the games. The Olympic version of the Fan Park is the Live Site, although both have many similarities. These include: they both require the erection of temporary venue infrastructure to enable management of audiences to take place; this temporary infrastructure has not always remained temporary – some parks used for these purposes have never returned to their previous use; event sponsors view these ‘temporary’ spaces as valuable real estate through which to promote their products and services; the local state (in agreement with the national host) facilitates the commodification of these public spaces by providing the resources to secure the space and zoning off areas where previously permissible trading practices are deemed illegal.
Not only is urban civic space given over to the vagaries of capital in the form of sponsors but, during the pre-event jamboree of the Torch Relay (or equivalent) a whole country is expected to step aside to ensure that global brands have the opportunity to be escorted through cities, towns and villages promoting their products. I’ve written about this in the article downloadable here. I’m not the only one interested in these issues. It’s worth having a look at the blog of Professor Guy Osborn to access a legal perspective on the ‘creep’ of exceptional legislation into cities through the vehicle of mega events. His Westminster colleague Andrew Smith has also recently published on the theme of ‘borrowing public space’ to stage major events. Since London 2012, the focus has turned to Brazil and its hosting of two mega events in 2014 (World Cup) and 2016 (Olympic Games). For discussion of the changes to the urban fabric, legislation and the recent public unrest, Christopher Gaffney’s blog is well worth a read.
Now I want to look forward – or, at least, focus on the present. Glasgow is hosting the largest sporting event we’re ever likely to see in Scotland and I’m involved in a research project that will consider how a range of different temporary spaces are being created around the city at Games time, what purpose (s) they serve, what regulatory environment is being put in place to govern these and what will happen after the event is over. Glasgow will have Live Zones across the city in the build up to and during the Games but there are a wider set of event zones enshrined within legislation governing the city during the event that impact of permissible advertising and trading practices. The city is mapped, with event zones meaning:
any place within the shaded area bounded by a green line on a relevant map together with any pavement on each side of any road within that area, including the airspace above or below any place within the event zone.
We are interested in the extent to which within these zones (including Live Zones) will restrict activities that would otherwise be permitted within public spaces and how these assets are facilitating the creep of commerce into spaces that were designed with a wider public good or common good in mind. We’ll be in the city during the Games, speaking to those responsible for the Games delivery and for pre-post activity and we’ll also be tracking online activity that introduces another spatial dimension to this debate. To follow our work, we’ll be continue to use a #livesites tag on Twitter and a bespoke web platform to encourage contributions from a wider public – emphasising our commitment to co-creative practices in the research process.