Washington, D.C., mayor Vincent Gray says that there's no way the nation's capital alone could handle hosting the Olympic Games. After all, a previous effort to bring the 2012 Olympics to D.C. failed, putting the rings out of reach for at least a decade. Plus, D.C. would need help from other cities, right? But Dan Knise, past president and CEO of the local Olympics-nominating body the Washington-Baltimore 2012 Regional Coalition, told The Daily Record of Baltimore in July that he may give Washington another shot and vie for the 2024 games.
Gray is bearish on the prospect of a 2024 Washington Olympics: He thinks it can't be held in the city alone. Surely, Gray says, such an effort would need to rope in the partipation of what Washingtonians call Greater Washington: Northern Virginia, Southern Maryland, and well beyond. "I think you'd have to go as far away as Philadelphia," the mayor told Washington-area radio station WTOP. "I think you'd have to go as far south as Richmond to do this effectively." (And in fact, Knise would also see the Olympics spread across the Mid-Atlantic region.)
Beyond the usual doubts over the costs, transportation, and politics, Gray's central concern is that all the built architecture goes to waste after the games. Doubts about D.C. corruption and WMATA (Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority) notwithstanding, Gray's concern about stadium architecture falls flat after what we're seeing in London this summer. In fact, bringing portable and temporary stadiums to D.C. could be a boon to the city's finances and infrastructure.
Jeff Keas, Populous principal, and project lead of the 2012 Olympics, says that one of the reasons for building within London's existing infrastructure and city grid was to advertise the city for potential tourists. "One of the reasons a city bids for games is for tourism for years, if not decades, afterwards. That happened in Barcelona, Athens, and Beijing," he says. It's hard to see how a city could go wrong by having 9.2 million captive TV audience members for over two weeks. This year, NBC has constantly cut to shots of the temporary and permanent Olympics structures on the London skyline in between game coverage and athlete interviews. I confess: Even though I was just in England in March, I find myself subject to the propaganda and wanting to go back soon and spend my tourist myself.
Infrastructure-wise, the Metro could benefit from the repairs and updates necessary for a worldwide event. Washingtonians complain about the annual summer influx of tourists that crowd the subway, but daily commuters could probably all agree to withstand unprecedented tourist levels if they get a better Metro out of the deal. And the region's electric service provider, Pepco, has recently come under attack after a summer storm caused a week-long blackout—its infrastructure would also have to be updated to prevent such outages in the middle of Olympics broadcasting, and would help guard against the same outages for residents.
But then there's the waste. Gray says that he went to Beijing for the Olympics in 2008 and saw all of the magnificent architectural works, but knows that they are falling into disrepair now, WTOP reported. "The stadia that are build [sic], the indoor arenas, the pool and all of those and then what happens to them in the aftermath," Gray said.
His criticism about Beijing is warranted. Herzog & de Meuron's Bird's Nest has hardly been used since 2008, and rumors swirl about it falling into disrepair: the Beijing Guo'an soccer team draws some 10,000 fans to its matches—in a stadium designed for more than 90,000. PTW Architect's National Aquatics Center—or Watercube—has only been partially converted for use. Those stadiums are only two examples of valuable, underused pieces of real estate. But the structures for Beijing, in all fairness, were practically designed to fail. As ARCHITECT's own Kriston Capps wrote, the Beijing Olympics was "a way for China to demonstrate before the largest possible audience its progress as a culture and an economy."
The architecture firm Populous, though, designed the London Olympics with Beijing's faults in mind. It's the first so-called "the temporary Olympics." In London, Populous built the Olympic Stadium to hold 80,000 seats for the games, and then to shrink down to 20,000 afterward. Two-thirds of the inflatable basketball arena, designed by London firm WilkinsonEyre.Architects and nicknamed "the marshmallow" will be dismantled or reused after the games. And the volleyball arena is in the middle of the historic Horse Guards Parade, where the queen's brithday is celebrated each year—and where it would be impossible to build otherwise. "London said, we're only going to build new if it's going to be long term," Keas said.
Beyond the benefits of temporary structures to the city, Washington, D.C., has neighborhoods that could gain from some Olympic love. As happened with East London, a more-neglected Washington neighborhood could be turned into a more-developed and better-connected place to live and enjoy.
Washington also has needs for stadium upgrades. The Washington soccer team, D.C. United, wants to put a new stadium in up-and-coming Southwest D.C., which would automatically create a sportscentric vibe; and an Olympic Stadium could easily double as a new soccer playfield. This would leave D.C. United's current stadium, RFK Stadium, in an underdeveloped Capitol Hill neighborhood, up for rehab for other Olympic sports. Another option is to renovate RFK to become an Olympic stadium itself, and then use it to bring the Washington Redskins back to city center, a dream of Gray's and other D.C. politicians. Kill a flock of birds with one stone by creating a world-class Olympics stadium that could transform into an arena for a local sports team.
Some of the obstacles that Gray sees are actually opportunities. Yes, security would need to be watertight for a D.C.-hosted games, but what city in our country has a better start on security than the capital? Superficially, road blocks, bollards, and Secret Service abound. Substantially, underground bunkers, cameras, and plans are already in place for preventing attacks and unwanted disruptions.
And as for the expected overwhelming influx of people into the city., D.C. has two answers: One, London's influx of people didn't occur in the numbers expected; and two, D.C. population triples daily already as people commute to work. In addition, efforts are under way to add a streetcar connecting one D.C. neighborhood with downtown; the streetcar could be pushed along to aid in Olympics transportation. There has also been a plan afoot for years to redevelop a 25-acre portion of D.C. called the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant; a national Olympics committee could easily step in with funding to develop the area for the Olympics in 2024, and for residents in 2025 and beyond.
Lastly, for those who want D.C. to gain statehood, and thereby have their own elected representatives, a Washington Olympics would call attention and possible support to their plight. My brother-in-law, for one, wants to take the statehood issue even further: If D.C. residents can't get their own representatives, then he says that they should at least get their own Olympics team—as does the unincorporated United States territory of Puerto Rico.
Add to all that the advantage of all the nearby embassies: athletes would have built-in support from their home counties. (Bonus for locals: embassy-watching parties!)
Gray may be a dissenter, but the idea of hosting the games in our area has support from other officials, including Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who said that D.C. "would do a phenomenal job" hosting the games. The most important reason, though, to host the Olympics in the United States capital, is for the same reason that it's important that this summer's games are held in the United Kingdom's capital: national pride. As columnist Robery McCartney wrote in The Washington Post today, "the challenge is enormous, but the rewards could be golden." (And isn't it always challenging to host the games, no matter what city you are?)
I can already see it now from my TV: a new swimming pool, red-white-and-blue on its façade, with the Capitol dome in the background, silhouetted by the morning sun. And crowds cheering the next Michael Phelps to gold, chanting, "USA! USA! USA!"