Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Geographical Association Annual Conference: 2013- Derby- Presidential Lecture from Bob Digby

For the next two weeks, Geography with Dan will be focusing on just a handful of the extremely enriching lectures I enjoyed last weekend in Derby, at the annual G.A. conference. What better way to begin than the Presidential Lecture given by present President, Bob Digby?

Bob isn't a sportsman as such, but he has a burning passion for sporting events, in particular the Olympics and the lecture he gave this year at the conference really exhibited that love. From the very opening sentence, he shuttled a hundred or so of us in the audience back to last summer's grand display of sportsmanship and positive competitiveness; a memorable summer that Rio can aspire to in 2016. But Bob's essential question rang throughout the presentation: was it just a summer to remember?

London's Olympics has been dubbed the 'Sustainable Games' and has, in some way, imprinted a legacy over the words: Great Britain. In some ways, Great Britain has never been so great; so inspirational. London's diversity has become augmented, it has sent out a motivational message that sport is an ingredient to a positive well being, and the games themselves were one of the 'sustainable' games on record. Of course, the word 'sustainable' lingers out there in a cloud of ambiguity.

So very often progress and achievement can only be measured by firstly observing what was in place before, and Bob gave a very informative briefing on East London. He drew on the fact that the London Olympic Park planners had taken inspiration from previous games, referring to the concept of 'Green Games' that we adopted from Sydney. It's clear that one of the pivotal Olympic environmental principals was this notion of 'remediation' and Bob punctuated what almost had been a non-stop celebration, by turning to Athens. The Athens' Olympic Legacy is one of negativeness; the park has been labelled a "wasteland", but where on the league does it sit with Beijing? Beijing created the arresting site of the 'Bird's Nest' stadium which has seen very little action apart from tourism since 2008. (Of course, if you're not an avid reader in Olympic Legacy or regularly take trips to Beijing, you probably wouldn't have known that!)

It's significant- perhaps more significant than ever after Athens and Beijing- that the London Legacy perpetuates. Already afoot are plans to transform every venue into a public leisure venue. The Copper Box will be turned into a public leisure facility, the Velodrome will be converted to a BMX/Mountain Biking track and the Aquatic Centre will be revised to become community swimming baths. (Those who have the inclination, I have no doubts that Tom Daley's locker will be an on-site exhibit with hourly tours and one of his towels will be there hanging behind a glass cabinet in the foyer!) And the Olympic Stadium? Well, it's diary isn't exactly bare. Already, the turf and track has been reserved for the World Athletic Championships and Live Nation. Whether the 2015 Premiership Matches, World Rugby and 20/20 Cricket will secure the stadium, is a controversial and much-heated debate.

Bob ventured far beyond the success and legacy of the amenities, and touched upon the re branding of East London. 2800 more social housing units have been built, and economic opportunity will continue to thrive largely thanks to a multiplier effect. The question remains: will East London be the new Silicon Valley? With 3000 jobs and Facebook moving in, it's almost certain that the stereotypical image of East London will be cast aside and replaced by a fresh one of innovation.

Sydney's Olympics is one that Bob remembers very well. But has it been deemed an all round success? (I know I have readers from this pocket of the planet, so I should speak carefully here!) If there were any shortenings, it would be the political secrecy that transpired from the games. It has been pointed out that the economics of the event overshadowed the social issues. It scored 5/10 overall, which is something to chew over I think. There are obviously parameters that weren't considered when scoring the success, and of course, it is very difficult to quantify something which itself is qualitative. Bob calculated a score of 8.4/10 for London 2012, which inspired an audience with a sense of achievement in Derby at the conference, and I think I speak on their behalf too when I say I have never been more proud to be living in England, and to be studying in London later this year.

Finally, Bob issued what could be an extremely interesting discussion point. The Olympics undoubtedly installed a sense of national pride back into the country and it simultaneously hosted a games which has furthered globalisation. But 'national pride' and 'globalisation' conflict with one another. Whichever side of the pitch you stand on that one, (pun very much intended there) I think we are altogether united in agreeing that London 2012 wasn't just a Summer to remember. It has sparked a wave of opportunities both socially and economically and will forever be known as the Legacy Games.

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