The Glasgow games are over but the legacy debate continues

The legacy of the 2014 Commonwealth Games will be a grey area for years to come. Daniel0685/Flickr, CC BY

The 20th Commonwealth Games have come and gone. Glasgow has demonstrated that it can successfully deliver a large-scale, global, multi-sport and cultural event. It can fill the stadia, shuttle people around the city relatively efficiently, and generally provide a positive and memorable experience for visitors and residents alike.

I suspect this performance exceeded many people’s expectations. Apart from the inconveniences associated with security, road closures, and the pressures on the transport system, it seems that almost all of those who engaged with the games had a genuinely good time. Epithets such as “raising the bar” and the “best games ever” are, in many respects, a remarkable achievement.

Legacy in the long term

The potential legacy of large-scale sporting events are difficult to measure, and need to be assessed over time - all of which makes the results much less transparent. Research evidence is generally pretty sceptical about sustained benefits associated with increased physical activity, inclusion, and the economy. Glasgow is also pursuing a series of connected regeneration programmes, and this year’s Commonwealth Games were only one, comparatively limited part of the long term strategy.

The sceptics point to the direct costs, the lack of benefit to local people, and the high opportunity cost of the games, which amounted to more than £560 million. What else could have been done with those resources to address Glasgow’s chronic socio-economic problems? The imperative to test legacy claims is equally strong for both the event’s critics and its proponents. Yet it may take five, or even ten years of research and evaluation to answer key questions about the legacy of the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Back in 2007, the Glasgow bid had to respond creatively to meet the growing expectations about the legacy. Two detailed frameworks for delivering legacy benefits were set up by the Scottish government, and by Glasgow City Council. If the legacy benefits are not achieved there will be clear evidence of this; questions will be asked, and hopefully lessons learned.

Keeping white elephants at bay

One direct effect of the games is that Glasgow’s journey to reinvent and regenerate itself has taken a significant change of gear. Glasgow has moved into the big leagues of cities around the world that are willing and able to play host. Glasgow will undoubtedly use its experience, as well as its visitor and facility infrastructure, to bid for and put on future sporting and cultural events.

Much of this infrastructure was refurbished, and the project derived a lot from complementary regeneration activities. Examples include the M74 extension, and the Clyde Gateway, as well as recent investments on either side of the river, to the west of the city centre. Additionally, many of these venues reflected an acceleration of existing plans, rather than a new investment. This should lessen the dangers of post-games white elephants. All of the sport facilities were open to, and well-used by, local people before the games.

The focus area for new investment was, of course, Dalmarnock. Apart from the velodrome, the indoor arena, and the new link road, the main feature is the Athletes’ Village. The present phase is an award-winning development of private and social housing, with a further 700 private homes planned in the following phase. This will generate a revolutionary, new, mixed community in an area of hitherto low demand.

A key question for legacy assessors is how well integrated and sustainable this new community turns out to be. While concerns have been raised about the negative effects of these projects on the local community, it will be a decade before such questions can be convincingly answered.

The Athletes’ Village will become home to a diverse new community. AlasdairW/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA

The 2014 Commonwealth Games were a step on an unfinished journey that goes back to earlier, less successful regeneration efforts like the Glasgow Eastern Area Renewal (GEAR) project, as well as the decisions to take on events such as the Garden Festival and the City of Culture. Future steps will include initiatives like the Glasgow City Deal.

In an effort to assess the legacies of large-scale sporting events like the Commonwealth Games, Policy Scotland are setting up an international legacy network. Our aim is to bring cities and academics together to learn transferable lessons about capturing long term benefits from events like Glasgow 2014. We’re aiming to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t, and to discuss the costs of these events in terms of city regeneration.