Best of… European Capitals of Culture image archive

Beatriz Garcia curates a selection of favourite moments and images captured at European Capital of Culture hosts over the years. This collection will grow progressively, and it is being shared via our Instagram feed.

We start with a selection of images presenting ECoC brand icons and the many diverse ways they have occupied and become part of their host cities.

Individual ECoC city brands blending in varied environments, as seen in
Linz 2009, Luxembourg 2007, Plovdiv 2019,
Marseille-Provence 2013, Umeå 2014 and Košice 2013

Cultureshock | Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme

As the UK prepares for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, it is worth revisiting this detailed study on Cultureshock, the North West cultural programme for the Machester 2002 Commonwealth Games. This work was the first detailed evaluation of a Commonwealth Games cultural programme and it set precedent for future Games editions, as well as providing Manchester cultural stakeholders with key arguments, data and recommendations that informed the establishment and successful launch of the Manchester International Festival.

This Study was commissioned by the main partners of Cultureshock, including the Arts Council of England and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. The project was undertaken within the Centre for Cultural Policy Research, University of Glasgow. It was directed by Dr Beatriz Garcia (CCPR lead Research Fellow at the time), with contributions from Christine Hamilton (CCPR Director) and Carmen Bota (CCPR researcher).

Access the final report and summary reports here.

The main research strands and final outcomes are outlined below.

Research Framework

The Study involved an evaluation of Cultureshock, the Commonwealth Games North West Cultural Programme as well as the assessment of the eleven individual projects making up the cultural strand of the Spirit of Friendship Festival (SoF).

The main purpose of this project was to inform partners about:

  • appropriate mechanisms for future investment in International Arts and Cultural Programming
  • benefits/pitfalls of hosting a cultural programme across a region/city
  • the value of investment into research and development
  • future templates/models for the other major arts and sports events in this region or elsewhere in the UK

This work was separated in two main areas:

Strand 1: Study of Cultureshock and Spirit of Friendship structures of management and design rationale:

This involved the assessment of the suitability of the programmes’ working agendas (mission statements, programme design and contents) and an assessment of the effectiveness of the structures established to manage and implement them (team work, funding abilities, relationships).

Strand objectives:

  1. To assess the suitability of the programmes’ design format (ie. ‘strengths and weaknesses of the programme itself’ – mission statements and main contents)
  2. To assess the effectiveness of the programmes’ management and promotional structures (ie. ‘strengths and weaknesses of Cultureshock/SoF as a delivery mechanisms for an arts programme’)
  3. To assess the effectiveness of the programme’s community relations structure in relation to social inclusion (ie. ‘ Cultureshock/SoF’s ability to work with the arts as a tool for social inclusion’)

Strand 2: Study of Cultureshock and SoF immediate impacts and potential legacies:

This involved a measurement of how the programmes have affected their environment: from individual audiences to existing partners, the arts community and respective host locations in a broader sense. Here, it is of particular interest to consider the context in which Cultureshock and the Spirit of Friendship festival are located, that is, the celebration of a major international sporting event.

Strand objectives:

  1. To determine the impact of presenting a major arts programme alongside an international sporting event  
    • on event audiences: impacts on experience, perceptions, values
    • on key investors and local hosts: economic impacts
    • on arts groups and institutions: impacts on art form development
  2. To determine whether Cultureshock has changed people’s perceptions of the Commonwealth
  3. To determine the value and sustainability of the programmes’ International Partnerships
  4. To identify other potential legacies in the short, medium and/or long term

Research Outcomes

This study allowed identification of appropriate mechanisms for future investment in International Arts and Cultural Programming by assessing the effectiveness of the programme’s management and promotion structures, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the programme as a delivery mechanisms for the arts.

The benefits/pitfalls of hosting a cultural programme across a region/city emerged from the study of the opportunities and constraints presented to the programme and the measurement of resulting impacts on audiences, investors, the arts community and the host city and region in general. Relevant information also emerged from studying the ability of the programme to utilise the arts as a tool for social inclusion.

Evidence of the value of investment in research and development was provided throughout the process to undertake this project. The final report specifies the key benefits and challenges of the study and suggests alternative ways of undertaking research to gather information about aspects that have not been explored in this study

Information and recommendations about future templates/models for major arts and sports events in the North West or elsewhere in the UK were provided by a combination of all findings associated with the programme rationale, management and promotion structures and potential legacies

Paris 2024 Cultural Olympiad

Beatriz Garcia is in Paris responding to a day workshop on the Paris 2024 Cultural Olympiad. She will be talking to key local stakeholders representing la Ville de Paris and the rapidly developing and newly redefined boroughs (établissements public territoriales) surrounding the Olympic Park site in Seine Saint Denis. They are : Plaine Comune, Est Ensemble, Paris Terres d’Envol and Grand Paris Grand Est.

There is plenty to discuss as France gets ready for the Olympic cultural race, with high ambitions for a Cultural Olympiad that may be launched soon after the end of Tokyo 2020 and will be the platform to communicate narratives of ‘Europe’ after three editions of the Olympic Games in Asia, and the follow up summer Olympic Games going back to the USA (Los Angeles 2028).

With forty towns in the Seine Saint Denis area, what are the opportunities to tell stories of place and locality we know little about when thinking of the French capital? How can small places contribute to big global cultural narratives? How can a mega event empower micro festivals and deeply rooted neighbourhood conversations that may inspire the rest of the world?

See also previous story on Paris 2024

European Capitals of Culture Legacies

Final Project Publication

European Capitals of Culture: Success Strategies and Long-Term Effects


The European City/Capital of Culture Programme was launched in 1985  and the ECoC title has been awarded to nearly 60 cities in 30 countries.  The Programme has become a key platform for city positioning and a catalyst for economic and cultural regeneration. Immediate cultural,  social and economic impacts are common and the capacity to secure  long-term effects, though harder to evidence, has grown in key areas  such as urban image change and tourism development.

The latter is  evidence of the stronger commitment towards sustainable legacy  planning and ever more defined and locally sensitive vision statements.  This report documents common approaches and success strategies,  highlights the strongest claims of long-term effect and analyses recurrent challenges that limit the Programme’s ability to reach its full  potential.

Key recommendations are the establishment of a standardised  evaluation framework, greater emphasis on comparative research and  the creation of a formal knowledge transfer programme so that future  hosts can better benefit from the wealth of experience developed in the  last three decades.

Study Background

This study, conducted over a period of seven months in 2013, is a response to the  European Parliament 2012 call for a comprehensive assessment of the long-term effects of  hosting the European Capital of Culture (ECoC) Programme, and the potential organisational and policy implications of these findings.

Research questions

The main aim of the study is to examine and interrogate the wealth of published material produced about respective ECoC host cities, in order to: identify the most common  strategies for success; collate and review evidence of impacts and long-term effects from a cultural, economic, social and policy point of view; and understand the main recurrent  challenges.

The study addresses six main research questions:

  1. How did the “European Capital of Culture” initiative come into being, what changes has it undergone, and what are its constitutive elements?
  2. What trends and common patterns, if any, can be discerned with regard to successful applicant cities since 1985?
  3. What different strategies and concepts have been developed and used to make the ECoC a success for the individual cities both in the short and long term?
  4. What are the discernible long-term effects connected with ECoC status in terms of cultural, economic, social, and political aspects?
  5. What are the main obstacles ECoC hosts faced in the past, and what similarities and differences can be identified?
  6. What recommendations can be given to exploit the potential of the ECoC initiative more efficiently and tackle challenges more effectively, both at the level of programming and organisation?

In addition, the study reflects on a series of more specific questions which point at two of  the most pervasive challenges for ECoC hosts since the inception of the Programme in  1985: the Programme’s capacity to develop a meaningful European Dimension; and the  capacity for hosts to extract lessons from previous experience and maximise knowledge  transfer.

The Study has considered evidence available for the three first decades of the ECoC  Programme, as articulated by published material on 48 host cities between 1985 and 2013,  and the proposals of 10 upcoming hosts between 2014 and 2019. This has been complemented by selected expert reflections across the Programme.

Access full report here

Access summary powerpoint presentation  here

Access appendices here

Tokyo 2020 Cultural Olympiad visit

As the first appointed Culture Advisor to the International Olympic Committee, I am delighted to have started work with the Tokyo 2020 team on their Olympic and Paralympic cultural programme developments.

I spent some days in Tokyo assessing progress and observing the wealth of cultural activities taking place and being planned in the lead to and during 2020.

The main Tokyo 2020 cultural programme strands to date, that have also been publicly announced, include:

  • A four year Cultural Olympiad participation programme, involving grassroots proposals from around Japan.
  • The Nippon Festival, as the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad and the main Olympic and Paralympic cultural programme taking place in the lead to – and during – the Tokyo 2020 Games
  • The Tokyo Tokyo Festival, led by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government so as to showcase ‘power of art’ in the Games host city
  • Beyond 2020, a legacy oriented programme involving an open call for proposals across Japan, led by the Cultural Affairs Agency, with the aim of presenting Japanese culture to the world.

There is additional activity and programming being planned, for public announcement at a later date. Discussions between core stakeholders will focus on best approaches to coordinated branding and communications and I will be my pleasure to assist in this discussion, building on the experience of previous Summer and Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games hosts.

PyeongChang 2018 Culture Highlights

Two days into the Winter Olympic Games, our director, Beatriz Garcia, shares her Cultural Olympiad hightlights:

  • Dual cultural programming: Cultural Olympiad / Culture 2018 Plus
  • Dedicated transport: Cultural Olympiad Shuttle
  • Dedicated colours: Hot pink branding for culture
  • Korean fun: K-Pop Festa
  • Art + Sport links at Games info points

Find additional stories on PyeongChang 2018 published via the Culture @ the Olympics magazine.

Cultural Olympiad / Culture 2018 Plus

  • Cultural Olympiad information is distributed through two interrelated channels:
    • the official Games (Cultural Olympiad) website, managed by the Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, focusing on activity happening within the Olympic Park and Olympic Plaza
    • the website, which operates in parallel and focuses on activity happening outside the Olympic venues. This is the programme with highest visibility in Gangneung, the main city/urban environment at these Games

Cultural Olympiad Shuttle

  • The main Culture 2018 venues can be accessed through a dedicated shuttle, that has proved very popular with locals and Olympic tourists alike. It takes you to the beach areas, where two nightly shows take place (one dedicated to fire, another to the moon), as well as to the main site of the area’s contemporary Biennale (dedicated to exploring a ‘Dictionary of Evil’, quite an interesting choice, at Games time!). The shuttle also takes audiences to a selection of theatre spaces, where one of the top highlights takes place, what organisers name Korea’s response to ‘Cirque du Soleil’, including performances by the troupes who presented work at the Opening Ceremony.

Hot Pink branding

  • Pyeongchang 2018 is following on the steps of London 2012 by choosing hot pink as the colour of choice for its Cultural Olympiad. This is combined with a striking emblem, based on the Korean alphabet (‘hangeul’) which is representative of Korean cultural heritage.

K-Pop Festa

K-Pop Festa #Kpop
  • Alongside a wide range of traditional craft displays and presentations of Korean heritage, the cultural programme makes an emphasis on fun and K-Pop is a top highlight throughout. K-Pop acts are present nightly at the Medals Plaza, following on the presentation of medals to the athletes. Beyond this, a special ‘Festa’, bringing the most popular bands of the moment, was also put together on the first night of the Games. The event was a memorable open air stravaganza, fit to combat the staggeringly freezing temperatures at these Games


Art+Sport links

Visibility of the cultural offer throughout official Games info points

  • Every edition of the Games brings along a cultural programme. However, the cultural programme tends to be promoted outside the main sporting venues, focusing on traditional arts audiences & media as opposed to Games fans and sport journalists.
  • In Pyeongchang, we have observed a clear committment to including Cultural Olympiad highlight brochures within the majority of sporting venues information points.

Rio 2016 Legacy

Published in collaboration with Culture @ the Olympics, Aberje and the University of São Paulo

Dr Beatriz Garcia and her collaborators at the University of Sâo Paulo and Aberje are in Rio this week presenting the results of our one year UK-Brazil research collaboration to explore the immediate legacy of hosting the Rio 2016 Games on the reputations of Rio and Brazil as cultural and creative centres.

Screen Shot 2017-08-16 at 10.53.53

We have received much media interest in Brazil around our core finding: that the most dominant narratives about Rio’s image post Games have been of a negative nature. However, our research covers wider issues about how narratives of ‘success’ or ‘failure’ after any Olympic edition get fixed in the popular imagination – and how national and international opinion leaders play a crucial role at the key points in time of any Olympic Games news cycle.

We are ‘one year on’ after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Rio and Brazil went throught a dramatic narrative roller coaster since they were awarded the Games in 2009 – from award euphoria, to pre-Games despair and a sense of ‘relief’, pride and satisfaction during the two weeks of Olympic competition. We argue that the vaccumm in coverage inmediately post-Games has resulted in a loss of some of the most meaningful (and positive) symbolic narratives that emerged at Games-time. As such, by 2017, Olympic legacy reporting is dominated by negative stories.

Will the Rio 2016 Games be fixed in the national and international imagination as a failure?

We are debating this at our final conference tomorrow, at one of Rio’s most defining cultural legacies, the Museum do Amanhã.


More information and updates on this research can be found here.

Building bridges between Olympic cities and the Olympic Movement

OneYearToGo - 62 of 77

We have been awarded one of only six Advanced Olympic Research Grants by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), for a research project titled ‘The value of global cultural policy-making: Building bridges between Olympic cities and the Olympic Movement through transnational cultural narratives’.

The project will document the testing and implementation of the first IOC Cultural Action Plan during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and its development in the lead up to Pyeongchang 2018 and Tokyo 2020.

Dr Garcia has been accredited by the IOC in my capacity as academic observer and international cultural policy expert with 17 years experience documenting the Olympic Games. During her time in Rio, she will contribute to shaping the first dedicated Olympic cultural observers programme and will offer recommendations for its handover to Pyeongchang, host of the 2018 Winter Games and Tokyo, host of the 2020 Summer Games.

The research aims to answer the following questions:

  • In which ways can a global IOC Cultural Action Plan contribute to the Olympic Games cultural narrative?
  • In which ways does this Action Plan portray the International Olympic Committee’s contemporary cultural vision?
  • What can the Olympic Games enable culturally that is not possible through other types of cultural policy interventions?

This will be achieved by meeting the following objectives: 

  • To assess the impact of the new IOC Cultural Action plan on the cultural narrative of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games
  • To assess the capacity for the IOC Action Plan (as projected in Rio and promoted through IOC Culture & Heritage Foundation activities) to inform the cultural strategy and evolving narrative of the Pyongchang 2018 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
  • To assess the effect of a unifying Olympic cultural framework and Games-time cultural narrative on public perceptions of the IOC as a transnational cultural actor.

Tokyo 2020 Cultural Olympiad

Youth, heritage, empowerment and nationwide celebration

Article originally published by Beatriz Garcia via Net TAM in 2018 (In English | In Japanese)

The Cultural Olympiad has been an essential component of every edition of the Olympic Games since 1912. Despite its long history, the Olympic cultural programme is one of the least well known dimensions of the Olympic Games. This is in part due to the varied ways in which the programme has been delivered and named over the years (from Olympic Art Competitions, to Olympic Art Festivals and, since Barcelona 1992, Cultural Olympiad).

Tokyo is committed to delivering a Cultural Olympiad and launched it in 2016, just after the end of the previous Games in Rio 2016. The promise was that of a four year journey (an ‘Olympiad’) in order to ensure a strong cultural foundation for the Games.


The World Forum on Sport and Culture in October 2016
contributed to launching the Cultural Olympiad
© Beatriz Garcia

I have been observing the positioning and development of Tokyo’s cultural programme and the following are my highlights and expectations for the future.

Explaining Japan to the Japanese

A noticeable aspiration of the Tokyo Cultural Olympiad is its emphasis on reaching out to today’s Japanese youth in order to help them reconnect with Japanese culture. In my discussions with organisers during 2016 and 2017, I was struck by their aspiration to explain Japan to the Japanese first, before going out to explain it to the rest of the world.

During an interview with the team at the organising committee (TOCOG) in 2016, one representative noted that:

“Japanese students don’t experience much Japanese traditional culture. 2020 will feature and involve Japanese students – so that they can experience their own culture.”


I believe this is a fantastic aspiration and I have already noticed some important steps forward, such as the contributions by kyogen actor Ippei Shigeyama to the World Sport and Culture Forum. Shigeyama, a young actor, was able to explain the ancient traditions of kyogen in a language and style that was attractive to the younger generations and explained how through the Cultural Olympiad and other international initiatives he is working on renewing the genre, combining it with contemporary forms and even inviting international interpretations and collaborations.

Advancing the disability arts movement

Tokyo has been looking into London 2012 as its key referent for the Cultural Olympiad. Representatives from London 2012 have been invited numerous times to give talks and share the learning out of what counts as one of the largest Olympic cultural programmes in recent history. An important aspect of London 2012 was the high profile billing offered to its disability arts programme – Unlimited – which bridged across the Olympic and Paralympic Games and made it apparent the sophisticated and wide ranging approach taken by disability artists across the UK – their work was long established in Britain, but the Games helped reach out to the mainstream and be noticed internationally in ways that had not been possible before.

For Japan, exploring and showcasing the work of disabled artists comes as an important step forward, as there is not as much tradition in supporting and promoting the work of artists with disabilities as was the case in the UK pre-Games. From discussion into how to improve accessibility to existing theatres, to discussion about the diversity of artistic expression regardless of physical ability, this is an important dimension of Tokyo’s Olympic programme that the Cultural Olympiad aims to spearhead across the country. The leading programme in this area is titled Turn and it started with pioneering collaborations taking place between London 2012, Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 disabled artists.


Turn is one of the flagship programmes for Tokyo Cultural Olympiad,
involving support and collaboration with disabled artists from London 2012 and Rio 2016.
© Beatriz Garcia

Nationwide programming

Another aspiration of Tokyo’s Cultural Olympiad that has been inspired by London 2012 is the commitment to make the programme nationwide, well beyond Tokyo as the principal host city. This has been broadly welcome by cities and regions across the country, keen to show to the world that Japan is much more than Tokyo and Kyoto, and that Japanese culture flourishes in every region. I am keen to observe how the Cultural Olympiad builds on the extensive work of existing Japanese cultural networks, from the network of Japanese creative cities to the growing positioning of Japan’s cities of culture.

From Tokyo 1964 to Tokyo 2020

But it is clear that Tokyo 2020 does not need to learn everything from London 2012. Tokyo has in fact a rich tradition to look back to, thanks to its hosting of the Olympic Games in 1964, a significant time for national re-building post World War II. Tokyo 1964 was a Games edition that left a noticeable cultural mark, particularly in terms of its world-leading approach to graphic design. I believe that re-telling and re-connecting with the cultural legacy of 1964 offers a great – and relevant – opportunity for positioning and demonstrating what is unique to Tokyo 2020 from a creative as well as Olympic heritage point of view. I would hope the Cultural Olympiad can contribute to telling this story.


Copyright © International Olympic Committee (IOC) – All rights reserved. Reproduced under licence from the IOC

An Asian era for the Olympics

Finally, I am keen to see how the relationship between South Korea, Japan and China is explored through the Cultural Olympiad. Having three subsequent editions of the Games in such prominent Asian nations with such rich and complex cultural relationships brings a remarkable opportunity to engage in cultural diplomacy and making a significant contribution to cultural narratives of Asia, well beyond the Games. PyeongChang in 2018 ensured there was a strand of Korea-Japan-China programming within its Cultural Olympiad.

I recommend Tokyo 2020 follows on these foundations and uses the Cultural Olympiad as a platform for this internationally significant dialogue. A possible point of referent for this is the well-established East Asian Cities of Culture network, which is a collaboration and exchange between these three Olympic hosting nations.

Related links

How have the Olympics changed Rio?

A reflection from Beatriz Garcia, originally published in 2017

As academics, we have no choice but to jump onto the sound bite bandwagon if we want to remain relevant in the era of the 140 character statement. Punchy headlines and short articles (“800 words max, please”) have become important vehicles for scholars to shape the debate about important – and indeed complex – issues that one might feel are best left to the informed nuance of refereed journals and monographs. (Who has the time and will to read those, in small screens, on the go?).

On the morning after the Rio 2016 Closing Ceremony (Monday 7am – Brazil time) I decided to put forward a piece on the immediate to medium term cultural legacies of post Olympic Rio. I had been asked for 800 words, of course, but I delivered 1,600. The subsequent edits were dramatic. From headline to bottomline. A sharper piece. An easier to read piece. Probably, as well, an easier to misjudge piece. But I agreed to these changes. And a noticeable bunch of email, direct commentary and tweet reactions later, I have experienced the consequences.

The piece ran “Don’t believe the doom mongers”. In its edited form, it argues in favour of the many existing examples of positive urban change for Rio in the wake of the Olympics. It makes a point about the need to acknowledge that there are positive changes. The reason for such emphasis is not based on evidence (nor belief) that everything is rosy and wonderful in Rio – nor that the Games have been exclusively a force for good. It is rather an attempt to counter balance the dominant (academic and journalistic) narrative around everything that is wrong about Rio as an Olympic city – a call for some ‘white’ in the otherwise consistently ‘black’ take around the urban dimensions and consequences of these Games.

International commentators on the Rio Olympics have generally focused their attention on two areas: on the one hand, the staged events (ceremonies) and sport competitions, which, in line with tradition, have mainly been presented with the euphoria of the committed sports fan; on the other hand, commentary around organisational scandals and abuses against local communities. The latter is an important (and well documentend) side of the story that is common to all mega-event media narrative cycles – see reporting on Athens, Beijing and London – but that, in Rio, has been accentuated due to Brazil’s chaotic political climate and, understandably, due to the extreme urban tensions and unequal conditions in the city.

I have chosen to highlight what has gone right in Rio because we are witnessing some truly important opportunities for ‘transformation’ (the ‘go-to’ word in the official Games narrative). Transformation in Rio has been made possible despite the apparent chaos and deeply embedded tensions thanks to some (yes, some) good institutional planning and a lot of dedicated entrepreneurial – as well as socially conscious – individual initiative.


My own observations of Rio during the Games have convinced me that the Boulevard Olimpico is a major coup for the Olympic city that has changed (and will continue to change) the way residents relate to each other and their city. Rio’s ‘Centro’ has now an actual centre that reflects the best learning in public realm management. It has been immediately appropriated by the city at large thanks to the impetus provided by a ‘big party’ everyone wanted to be part of – after much scepticism and doubting. Now, of course the latter sentence is ‘journalistic’ rather than academic. Did absolutely ‘everyone’ want to be part of the party? Probably not (though four million – or even three, if you doubt the official line – is not a bad start). However, my claim that this area is a major cultural legacy of the Games and one of the best examples of sustainable transformation for Rio is not just a catch-phrase: detailed academic papers could (and will) be written about this and prove the elements that evidence good planning – and good timing.

After seventeen-years directly observing and documenting experiences in nine Olympic cities (plus the legacy in my hometown, Barcelona) I am totally confident about this observation and the significance for Rio to have achieved this: creating a new, shared space where very diverse communities (in a continuously divided city) feel safe, welcome and happy to spend their leisure time.


The commentary I offer on the benefits to favela life is not as deeply informed. I have not spent years in Rio’s favelas and I am not an expert in slum-living conditions, so of course I must exercise caution and have taken reactions to my piece seriously. Rio has been the first Olympic city where I have dedicated time and thinking to the particularities of such communities so as to understand whether Games-related legacies can trickle down beyond ‘formal’ (census-captured) neighbourhoods. I accept that I have had mixed views throughout my documentation process: the organisers told me that the Olympic education programme, Transforma, included all schools in Rio (favela schools too); that Games workforce opportunities were passed on to favela residents and special training programmes put in place to encourage applications; further, projects like Fight for Peace have targetted favelas especifically using the Games as an inspiration for community engagement. At the same time, it is apparent that there were many misunderstandings, that people felt excluded and not sufficiently visible in the Games’ central narrative. The cancellation of a large part of the official cultural programme (Celebra) also contributed to curtailing opportunities for direct participation and symbolic representation.

Despite all this, it is simply not true that the Games have only had negative effects on favela life. Forced evictions and the dark side of rushed pacification processes are important issues that have been extensively discussed. This discussion is the dominant background to favela-related Olympic city stories and includes well-informed and reflective pieces, as well as sensationalistic takes – with the latter particularly prominent in social media environments but also present in and amplified by many mainstream media. I have not found many pieces that embrace a discussion of both the negative and positive angles. It looks like we must take sides: black or white.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 11.40.16

Google search results to the request : “Rio 2016” “favelas” (29 August, 2016)

I have chosen to highlight the positive. And, one week on, with a bit of perspective, I accept that my angle may not have been precise enough. I accepted the catchy headline and the possibility to stir debate. But I was not clear enough on my actual purpose and concern: to bring a bit of ‘white’ to this ‘black’-dominated narrative so as to ensure we engage with less clearly-cut angles; and more than anything, to make a strong point about Rio as a complex and evolving city that has not just been a disaster zone ‘ravaged’ by the Olympic machinery. It is a city that, like Barcelona before it, was in need of a push to reconnect with its port spaces, needed to improve its public transport routes and needed to reclaim and rediscover public spaces, beyond the beach.

Porto Maravilhas, Parque Madureira and the fast-developing range of new arts community driven projects, new public transport links and extended facilities in a growing number of favelas are examples of improvement across Rio. The initiatives I mention in my article were pushed forward (and completed) thanks to the imperative for  ‘joint thinking’ that was imposed by the mega-event hosting process. Of course, there have also been many important fails (do I need to repeat that referring to achievements, completed and in development, does not deny that other projects have gone wrong?)


If we are happy to look at Barcelona 1992 as a good – or at least, decent – reference model for urban change, we need to embrace the possibility that Rio has done ‘some’ things right and that ‘some’ positive urban legacies will emerge and grow in the years to come. Barcelona also excluded some communities from its Games hosting process and its Vila Olimpica was riddled with problems. It had no favelas but it had La Mina. It was not all rosy in 1992. But (particularly, mainstream) commentators have been keen to focus on what worked well and Barcelona is hailed as one of the top examples of post-Olympic “success”. Why do we want to stereotype Rio as a failure?

Olympic-driven urban change poses challenges and opens opportunities. We seem to want ‘perfect’ examples of Olympic city success or failure. Rio is being targeted as an example of everything that is wrong. But I have seen a lot that is right – and as an academic, as well as a commentator, I believe it is essential to raise the debate and recognise both the black and white dimensions in this rapidly evolving post-Olympic city narrative.


My edited story is published here

The extended version of the original is here

Other stories about my research on Rio 2016 are here