“The games fit into the wider picture of trying to rebalance London” Ricky Burdett speaking on
the 2012 London Olympic Games on TVO’s “The Agenda”.

BIG CITY BIG IDEAS recently posted the link to this interview on their Facebook Page. I am so glad that technology is as it is so that I can share a snippet of what I experienced listening to urban visionary, Ricky Burdett.

Ricky spoke at the first of the lecture series put on by Urban Strategies Inc and hosted by University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance. . The series is about looking critically at urban planning and city design. I left the lecture hopeful that there are important people out there – the policy makers and the producers of the buildings we interface with in our work, our leisure and private lives – who care, think comprehensively and THINK BIG in a way that doesn’t discount the small, but important details, that make a city more livable and enjoyable for everyone in the social strata.

Urban planning surrounding the Olympic Games is always a provocative discussion. There are polarized positions that are emotionally intense, especially surrounding the displacement of the people living in the areas that will be developed for the games as well as heightened feelings around the wasteland that Olympic sites often become after their 2 weeks in the spotlight. When the games are over and the glory fades frequently what is left is a dark urban vacuum of real estate that was not well used.

Ricky is the Chief Design Advisor on Architecture and Urbanism for the 2012 London Games and his holistic and long term envisioning of what hosting an Olympic games can mean is encouraging to hear for those of us who question is all the Olympic hoopla worth the hype?

When THE AGENDA’s Steve Paiken asks Ricky what he hopes to achieve with the London Games he answers:

“I’d like the games to start something that in thirty years’ time one can look back and say if we hadn’t had the games in 2012 we wouldn’t have people living here in a beautiful park and schools and housing. That’s really the ambition”

He continues:

“The Eastside [of London] towards the River Thames, opening up open towards the North Sea… has been for hundreds of years the poorer side. The Olympic games goes right in the middle of East London and it is a excuse, in a really good way, to make the sort of investment  to kickstart a regeneration, but not just architecture and space but in terms of jobs, in terms of education, in terms of opportunities in a very short period of time…investing large amounts of public money in a way that you cannot measure it ‘is it worth it in the two weeks in which the games happen next year?‘…but if you measure over ten, twenty, thirty years then I think it totally makes sense… it is about rebalancing…the social equity of London.”

Not to paint an image here of the London Olympics that is all rosy. When asked to identify the biggest challenge the production of the Olympic site faces Ricky states bluntly that it is “kicking people out” and that there needs to be policies in place to address this. He goes on to give an example of how the government of London is handling this with a policy of priority placement in affordable housing at residential developments around the Olympic site. Whether this policy will work in practice remains to be seen.

Is the vision for the urban development of the London 2012 Olympic perfect? No. Critically, there are some cracks where disregard for people and wasteful thinking can seep in. There is still a ways to go on how to best build a humane city where citizens can do more than just survive, they can actually thrive, but listening to this interview you can sense the shift that is taking place and that we are well on our way.

My post “BIG CITY BIG IDEAS” offers some more info and resources on Ricky Burdett and the players involved in the BIG CITY BIG IDEAS Series.

Join the BIG CITY BIG IDEAS Facebook Page.

Next lecture in the series will be on Wednesday, November 16. Leading Canadian Planner Larry Beasley will be discussing “The Global City Vancouver, Abu Dhabi and The World.” Promises to be good! Register on Eventbrite.