Monday, February 24, 2014

What Befalls Putin's Potemkin Village?

Now that the Olympics are over and the athletes and tourists - and their wallets - have packed up and left what does the future hold for host city Sochi, Vlad Putin's Potemkin Village?

The facilities will probably wind up in predictable hands.  Many already have.  Putin, meanwhile, seems to remain strong enough to fend off any enquiry into where that $50-billion actually went.

Was it all for show?  CBC News offers this example of a café created, literally overnight, as a photo op for Putin.

A week into the Olympics, a buoyant Vladimir Putin took a stroll on the freshly constructed boardwalk, settling in at an outdoor café with a view of the Black Sea to chat with Olympic officials.

Like many photo opportunities, everything about the Russian president’s latest appearance seemed
staged: the “customers” who filled every table, the untouched glasses of beer growing tepid in front of them, the colourful macaroons — all of it appeared designed to look spontaneous when it was anything but.

Even the café itself was a prop. A day earlier, it didn’t even exist. It was just a patchwork of unpainted and unremarkable wooden beams tended to by purposeful labourers seemingly unmoved by the unseasonably warm temperatures.

Overnight, it had been painted, outfitted with a bar and furniture, staffed with waiters, and by midday, it was ready to welcome the president.

It should be interesting to see what Sochi looks like in two or three years.  Salon's Lindsay Abrams interviewed Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit who have checked out other Olympic venues from games long past.

Gary Hustwit: Everything in Athens is probably a good example. Any time when there really isn’t a need for these facilities in these cities, but they get built anyway for the games, everybody has kind of wishful thinking about what the afterlife of these spaces is going to be. If there is not demand for it before the Olympics, there’s probably not going to be demand for it afterwards. So unless it’s a government like China or Russia that can just pump money into these places to keep them going, when there isn’t really a need for them you end up with something like Athens, where there are 20 of these beautiful, amazing venues that were built that just have chain-link fences around them and are covered in graffiti and haven’t been used in 10 years.

And when people do find different uses for the city it can end up being almost ironic. I’m torn between Lake Placid (where the Olympic Village was converted into a prison) and what happened in Sarajevo as being the most unexpected use of space that you captured. The same spot where the 1984 Winter Games were held, for example, would later become the site of over 10,000 deaths during the Siege of Sarajevo less than a decade later.

Jon Pack: The other unusual thing is that for the last few Olympics, people have really seen Athens in their rear view. They’ve really been nervous about having a mess like Athens on their hands. They’re very careful to build temporary venues. In London they were talking a lot about that; they built six or seven temporary venues that were broken down and sold off. And they’re doing that a again in Rio, being very careful. But in Sochi, I didn’t hear anything about that.


Purple library guy said...

So is the problem here that they made stuff that was just "Potemkin Village" props, or that they failed to make things temporary?
I'm not clear how both these objections can apply at the same time.

It seems very likely that there was massive corruption, cost overruns, overbuilding, and a fair amount of shovelling the poor out of the way. Pretty standard olympics, in other words.

The Mound of Sound said...

I suspect the actual games facilities will wind up behind chain link fencing. Sochi isn't a spot for winter games or post-games winter recreation. There won't be anyone around to truck in snow for ski tourism.

We'll have to wait and see what happens with the resort infrastructure - the hotels, roads and such.