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How LA’s Olympic Bid could steer the games in a new direction

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The city’s low-key bid could pave the way for more sustainable planning around the games

When it comes to hosting the Olympics, most cities would like to be Barcelona. Nearly a quarter century since hosting the games in 1992, Barcelona continues to reap the rewards of a very successful games that transformed the city’s economy and urban landscape.

Though the 1992 games went massively over budget, they helped to bring thousands of jobs to the area, solidified Barcelona’s reputation as a tourist destination, and resulted in the creation of facilities that are still in use today. One of the major legacies of the games is the Port Olimpic region of the city, built on what was formerly an aging industrial complex.

The problem is that not very many cities have been able to replicate what Barcelona accomplished in 1992. Some host sites, like London, have had some success integrating the games into a broader civic vision. Others, like Athens, have failed catastrophically. And plenty of host cities across the world are now home to aging, empty stadiums .

At a presentation to members of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation Wednesday, AECOM’s Global Sports Leader, Bill Hanway, explained that an Olympic games in LA runs little risk of encountering the kinds of problems that have plagued games in the past. In fact, LA’s bid is dependent on showing the International Olympic Committee that the city can set an example of a responsible and sustainable games that the rest of the world will be able to follow.

Competing against IOC finalists Paris and Budapest (Rome, a fourth finalist, appears to be on its way out of the race) won’t be easy. Hanway, who has served as master planner for the London and Rio de Janiero Olympics, says that "Paris is probably the favorite right now." But he notes that Los Angeles is "the best suited city I’ve ever worked on to host the games."

Tentative plans from LA 2024, the city’s bid committee, place every single event in an existing or temporary facility. The city won’t go into debt building a seldom-used stadium because the games will simply make use of the plethora of sports facilities and events venues that are already available in LA.

"Our approach is, you start by doing an audit of all the best facilities in Los Angeles," Hanway told Curbed after the presentation. "You have the Rose Bowl, you have the NFL stadium, you have the Coliseum ... if we are going to be financially efficient, financially responsible, we have to use those robust facilities."

This keep-things-simple philosophy is much in keeping with the recent series of reforms passed by the IOC and collectively known as Agenda 2020. These changes are designed to encourage and enable cities to host the games in a way that fits in with their broader plans and economic needs.

"LA’s benefit is that it sort of resets the argument," Hanway says. "You start by taking advantage of your assets and then working from there."

And that’s what makes LA’s bid so unique: the city isn’t trying to be Barcelona. Instead of trying to harness the Olympics as a force for massive urban overhaul, the privately funded bid committee is focusing on ways to make the Olympics work in the city that exists today.

It might not be enough to beat out Paris, but it has the potential to change the way cities approach hosting responsibilities in the future.