Sunday, December 18, 2016
A white elephant on a green mountain
2017 will be the 25th anniversary of the Olympic Games of Barcelona. I lived these games as a very young city councillor and obviously have great memories of the event, not least from running 50 meters with the Olypimc torch the night before the inauguration. Everybody has actually good memories of the Games, whether they ran with the torch or not. The games were very successful and have been praised even by the now almost consensual literature on the drawbacks of big sports events, for example the book by Andrew Zimbalist "Circus Maximus." However, even those very successful games give examples of the big problems of these events. Barcelona 1992 was also plagued by cost overruns (check the work by Bent Flyvbjerg) and have left a legacy of white elephants. Most of the white elephants are in the Montjuic mountain, this being one of the two hills than delineate the perimeter of the city. Anyone who has come to Barcelona knows that Montjuïc is a hill almost totally occupied by an urban park very close to the center of Barcelona. It is like Central Park on a small mountain, something very hard to make excludable. The Olympic Stadium, the swimming pool, the main sports pavillion (Palau Sant Jordi) are there, being well maintained and with the irregular use provided by concerts, family events and the occasional sports tournament. This contrasts with the other hill surrounding the city, Tibidabo, farther away from downtown, with no olympic faciltities, and with an excludable fun park at the top that is managed by a municipally owned operator (which resulted from the failure of a corrupt private operator in the 1990s). The Montjuïc White elephant is costly, very costly, but there is no way back given that we were very happy to organize the games, which contributed to a huge urban transformation. Now, some months ago it was announced that a private-owned company (with good political connections) would run a sort of theme park, called Open Camp, in the Montjuïc olympic facilities, by which visitors would pay a ticket and enjoy the facilities by practicing their favourite sports. When they presented the project, they claimed to be endorsed by an "economic impact study" by Universitat Pompeu Fabra. When I saw the ill-defined concept "economic impact study" and I saw that the supposed study was not backed by any name of any individual academic that put her or his reputation at stake, I became suspicious. I looked for the supposed study in the Internet and I couldn't find it. Since I also still have some political connections from my times in the City Council, I told them my opinion, including my prediction that some time from them Open Camp would ask to be bailed out. Since this week in the local press there was a piece saying that the request for a bail out had already been made, I felt in the need to write this post.