As an athlete myself, competing since the age of ten and representing my county and for many years, I have always taken great interest in the Olympics and any major sports event for that matter. However, with the 2012 Olympics in London had really fuelled my thought for this essay. The Olympics has held much controversy since the very beginning, but it is the sites in which the huge structures are now beginning to grow and form on the sky line that have really allowed me to think of the ways in which such spaces are altering and really have changed so dramatically, and this is only the start. To think of how in 2012 the once subordinate areas of London have been completely regenerated and are playing host to one of the world's largest events is something quite spectacular yet raises many key sociological arguments regarding urban life. We are witnessing as a nation a major city renovation as we advance with social change and acknowledge the importance of urban space in recent sociological thought.
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A journal in Urban Studies named 'Sport and economic regeneration in cities' portrays how investment in sporting infrastructure in cities over the past 20 years was not primarily aimed at getting the local community involved in sport, but was instead aimed at attracting tourists, encouraging inward investment and changing the image of the city. 'The first example of this new strategy was seen in Sheffield with the investment of pound147 million in sporting facilities to host the World Student Games of 1991. More recently, Manchester spent over pound200 million on sporting venues in order to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games, with a further pound470 million expenditure on other non-sport infrastructure investment in Sportcity in east Manchester. In the British context, most of the cities following this strategy of using sport for economic regeneration have been industrial cities, not normally known as major tourist destinations. The drivers of such policies were the need for a new image and new employment opportunities caused by the loss of their conventional industrial base.' (Gratton, p985) This article therefore analyses effectively the justification for such investments in sport in cities and assesses the evidence of its success.
This image below displays The Lower Lea Valley area of east London, showing it as a large expanse of disused industrial space and rows of council houses. This is the proposed site, one where all four boroughs meet for a major overhaul as London prepares for the Games. The Olympic Games can therefore be seen as the important catalyst for urban regeneration and economic development for the London boroughs of East London; 'the 2012 Olympic Games are focussed upon East London and are designed to achieve a programme of urban regeneration, especially in Stratford and the borough of Newham. Newham like its neighbours Hackney and Tower Hamlets has significant area of social deprivation and Brownfield sites that were once the scene of traditional manufacturing industries, docks and railroad yards.' (Imrie, p135) This essay will continue to provide insight into the gradual but momentous alterations of the area.
The 2012 Olympic Games has created an exclusive opening for the regeneration and redevelopment of an entire urban district in London. The Olympics meant that a great amount of land in Lower Lea valley area was bought for redevelopment rather more rapidly than might otherwise have been the case; 'compulsory purchase order powers were granted to the London Development Agency to acquire the 306 hectare site. The vast majority of residents and businesses were moved through negotiation, but a hardcore of individuals resisted. The last of these, two groups of Gypsies and Irish travellers who had been long term residents lost their appeal against compulsory purchase order in May 2007.' (Jones, p137) The image illustrates the vast difference and alterations that have taken place on many aspects of urban life and spaces in comparison to the image above. The stadiums and surrounding networks are really starting to take place, and The Lower Lea Valley is unrecognisable. However it does illustrate the commotion and upheaval residents have been faced with, emphasising the effect the drastic altering of an urban space can have on people's identities in contemporary society. http://www.aecom.com/deployedfiles/Internet/Capabilities/Design%20and%20Planning/images/DP_London_Olympic_Park_mainimg.jpg
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An article in City mayor Sport Report; '2012 London Olympics to regenerate one of the poorest areas of the capital' By Andrew Stevens stated 'after its election, the Labour Government commissioned consultants Arup to undertake a feasibility study into a potential British bid for the 2012 Games, identifying the Lea Valley, an undeveloped area of East London, as the primary location for the Olympic Village and main facilities, with other events taking place elsewhere in the capital. Arup's study projected major regeneration gains for East London, with over 3,000 jobs created, £70m added economic growth and between £280-507m additional expenditure from tourism. The study also identified additional benefits such as future use of sporting facilities, cultural diversity and the promotion of sport among younger people.' (City mayor sport) This article poses the positives of urban restoration including the mention of employment, ultimately emphasising the growth of the city as a whole.
It is crucial to research key sociological thinkers to provide understanding and theory behind urban regeneration such as The London Olympics; it also provides an insight into how such thinkers have had an influence on policies and views on urban life today. Spanish social theorist Manuel Castells proposed the concept of a network society, encompassing economic, political, social and cultural factors. His work promotes the idea that networks have become the foundation of contemporary society. He believes 'that advances in information technology and especially the rise of the internet are fundamentally transforming the core structure of networks in our own time.' (Elliott, p273) His groundbreaking work has categorised human life. In his massively influential three volume study, 'The Network Society' (2004) Castells charts the rise of global informational networks and a network economy. (Elliott,p273) The sociologist's views on the rise in technology can be closely linked to the urban regeneration and mass sporting events due to the sheer impact such technologies have had on the growth of cities. This can therefore be linked to the impact globalisation has had on the growth and alterations of major cities also.
In continuation, Castells early work he referred to 'urban space as a '"regime of meaning" but now in the network society this seems to change. The urban is somehow disembodied from the symbolic and re-inscribed in the real.' (Lash, p216) Lash argues how 'first generation theories of information (Touraine 1969, Bell 1973) spoke simply of an information society, presumably primarily on a national level. Contemporary second generation theorists (e.g. Castells) speak of information and globalisation as one and the same thing.' (Lash, 2002, p204) Lash advances on Castells work, fortifying the fact that it is communication that connects these two rudiments of social life. Castell constantly tries to portray how communication is the central power in contemporary society, and this concept is well represented in social structures that are in place today.
Castells examination of space is fundamental to his work; he believed that 'society is constructed around flows: flows of capital, flows of information, flows of technology, flows of organisational interaction, flows of images, sounds and symbols. Flows are not just an element of the social organisation; they are expressions of processes dominating our economic, political and social life.' (Castells, p442) This quote by the theorist reinforces his idea that it is not just technology, but economic, cultural and political factors that all contribute into the construction of a network society. The flows that intertwine religion, political organisations and cultural upbringing all aid in shaping the network society we are all a part of today. The way in which such resources flow can be referred to as being connected by a set of nodes. In modern terms one can link this to the ways in which transnational businesses are organised, in particular the product of the Olympic Games as a business; 'networked corporations rely on high speed transportation links through land, sea and air.' (Elliott, p276)
Castells outlines how urban space and manufacturing during the mid 70s shifted from what he has classically been called the Fordist concentres to post-fordist multicentres. In economic terms this meant the ability of capital, investment and the new service economy to connect in ways which no longer 'depend on the characteristics of any locale for the fulfilment of their fundamental goals.' (Castells 1989, p348) in (Graham, p69) Therefore this can be thought of in relation to the regeneration of East London and how as an urban space its original characteristics have been disregarded as it makes way for regeneration and drastic change. Castells theory allow one to think of the changes that have been made to urban spaces around us, in particular the ones that had a set locale but are now completely transformed. The sociologist continues; 'rather these new forms of wealth generation require merely the 'dynamics of information generating units, while connecting their different functions to disparate spaces assigned to each task to be performed.' (Castells, 1989, p349) in (Graham, p69).
The drastic change of space can also be related to Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) and his work can therefore be thought of in relation to the radical alterations of East London to modify the urban space into the Olympic stadiums and buildings. Lefebvre, however, criticises Castell's views stating that he didn't understand space; 'he sets aside space.' (Merrifield, p102). Instead, Lefebvre's key urban text has a president subtext whereby it identifies the structural collapse of industrialism and state managerialism wherein urban revolution symbolises a 'post-industrial revolution, a society no longer organised by planners but specialised by entrepreneurs, a society we know to be our own.' (Merrifield, p80) Furthermore, the sociologist urges; 'we must speak of urban society, of a society born of industrialisation, a society shattered the internal intimacy of the traditional city that gave rise to the giant industrial city. Engels documented, yet has itself been suppressed, been killed off by its own progeny.' (Merrifield, p81) Therefore it is implying that the future is one of continual urban growth.
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Two of the most significant writers to link a sociological analysis of urban experiences have been Georg Simmel (1858-1918) and Walter Benjamin (1892-1940). I believe that their work can relate to the construction of the Olympic Games as the changing space becomes an experience and they predicted that the nature of modern life would be a new mode of experience and therefore the Olympic games in London epitomises the thinkers views on 'the modern city.' 'Their writings on the city in early twentieth century emphasise the constant sensory engagements that structure the individuals experience of modern urban life.' (Degen, p.38) Both thinkers share the view on the impact urban life has on the individual and how physical structures can embody social relationships; 'according to Benjamin, it was through the jostling crowds of the city, and the decaying fabric of its buildings as they pass into obsolescence that one could understand modernity.' (Degen, p.38) Thus implying how transformations and regeneration schemes, such as the area of East London are an important way in which social groups and place identities get shifted and controlled. This can directly be linked to the movement of communities due to the regeneration program and the changing of identities in contemporary society. Ultimately portraying the sheer impact a project can have on an urban space and its society.
Furthermore, thinking sociologically, 'the term 'urban fabric' used by sociologists doesn't narrowly define the built environments of cities, but all manifestations of the dominance of the city over the countryside. In this sense, a vacation home, a highway, and a rural supermarket are all part of the urban tissue.' (Merrifield, p81) Therefore; 'performance mega-events are typified in the twentieth century by the Olympics and represent a popularist cultural expression of the achievements of the host city or nation. The organisers attempt to project to the world an image of the city or nation that seeks to affirm or catalyse its economic, cultural and social development or renewal,' (Imrie, p133) and are all a part of the urban tissue.
Additionally, 'the achievement of a 'successful' Games appears to rest upon the capacity to sustain the public rhetoric of partnership while the national increasingly dominates local interests. Inevitably, such an outcome defies the regeneration legacy. Weal local or civic voices may well result in a local legacy that primarily favours commercial viability rather than addressing the deep seated and long term social, housing, employment and education issues facing East London.' (Imrie, p139) Sociologically thinking this can thus be related to class issues as such an outcome is likely to further consolidate London as a divided knowledge capital with a significant proportion of the working population to the east providing an unskilled workforce primarily for the services sector.
However, the regeneration of East London is not always seen as a positive. Michael Young and Peter Willmotts classic study of family and kinship in East London found 'positive networks in a London slum and far less community in new housing estates built for the relocated slum dwellers.' (LeGates, p14) Therefore demonstrating that the nature of community is just one strand in the large growing urban studies of literature on suburbia. In addition, after reading an article in the Telegraph newspaper titled; 'London 2012 Olympics: vice girls hope to strike gold' by Jacquelin Magnay the Olympics Editor portrays how the London 2012 Games could become a lure for prostitutes trafficked from Eastern Europe by unlawful gangs suggesting that 'the number of prostitutes working near the main Olympic site in Stratford has reportedly doubled already since work began on the stadium.' In addition 'police and council staff in the five London boroughs surrounding the main Olympic site, where 10,000 construction workers are based, have reported a sharp rise in the number of prostitutes on the streets, from around 125 to more than 250.'
The experience of previous Olympics and other international sporting events is that the level of prostitution more than doubles during the Games, but human trafficking data has been mixed. Figures from the time of the 2004 Athens Olympics show an increase of 95 per cent in prostitution, with the number of trafficked women increasing from 93 to 181.' The statistics demonstrate that although the urban space of East London is being regenerated it does also pose some difficulties. (2010 Telegraph article) Reviewing up to date press articles in a good way of assessing the progress of the regeneration and thus the positives and negatives the renovation in having on this urban space and surrounding communities.
The Games allows municipal authorities to undertake long-term activities designed to boost or alter the image of their cities. Yet, changing a city's image in the outside world is far more difficult than, the rebranding of a commercial product. The image depicts how the Olympic stadium will look in 2012, a far cry away from the disused industrial estates and poor housing estates. Although, there have already been many setbacks, the Olympic bid has set out to refurbish and regenerate a well known urban space. Thinking back to the work of Castells, we are now living in n ever changing and growing environments where urban spaces have many personas. Furthermore, the work of Lefebvre closely ties in, with the different understandings of space and how a space can open up many possibilities and become 'differential spaces'. Urban life will have changed dramatically with the onset of construction for many citizens and will cause a momentous social change for London city as a whole and perhaps modernity represents a new mode of experience and living within a large city. Ultimately the Olympic Games has become an important catalyst in urban regeneration and economic development for the capital city. London 2012: EU ruling leaves Britons facing battle for tickets