Mega Events in the Complex City. A Case Study of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece

by DI Manuela Stögerer (Author) Lisa Faulenbach (Author) Egle Rasimaviciute (Author) Bartek Matuszewski (Author) Anna Schröder (Author) Dennis Ngo (Author)

Term Paper 2014 106 Pages

Business economics - Business Management, Corporate Governance


Table of Content

1. Introduction
1.1. Research Question
1.2. Report Strucutre

2. Methodology
2.1. Research Design
2.2. Research Methods

3. Theory
3.1. Complexity
3.2. Hosting Mega-Events in Complex Systems
3.3. Challenges in Mega-Events
3.3.1. Short Term vs Long Term
3.3.2. Large Scaled Demands vs Local Needs
3.3.3. Old vs New Built Environment
3.3.4. Expectations vs Reality

4. Case Study
4.1. Case Selection
4.2. Case Description
4.2.1. Planning
4.2.2. Implementation
4.2.3. Legacy
4.3. Case Analysis
4.3.1. Evaluation Of The 2004 Games
4.3.2. Athens' Negative Consequences In Context With Challenges ..

5. Alternative Approaches
5.1. Short vs Long Term
5.2. Large Scaled vs Local Needs
5.3. Old vs New Built Environment
5.4. Expectations vs Reality

6. Recommendations
6.1. Underutilized infrastructure
6.2. Small Effects Of Urban Renewal
6.3. Financial Burden
6.4. Social Shadow
6.5. Negative Reputation

7. Conclusion

Table of Figures, Tables and Pictures

Figure 1.1 Report's Structure

Figure 2.1 Research Design
Figure 2.2 Methodology

Figure 3.1 Planning Goals in the Complex City
Figure 3.2 Mega Events in the Complex City

Table 4.1 Olympic Games 2000-2012
Table 4.2 Tourism arrivals to Athens from 1997 to 2009 (in million)
Table 4.3 Negative Consequences

Picture 4.1 Locked brigde to Hellinikon Olympic Complex
Picture 4.2 Olympic Beach Volleyball Centre
Picture 4.3 Neglected park in the Olympic Village


Problem Formulation

In today’s global world a Mega-Event (which is considered to be a large scale, sport, cultural or business event of international significance) developed into one of the most powerful, possible catalysts of changes in a city. Sport events, like Olympic Games, FIFA World Cup, as well as cultural and business ones, as EXPO can be con- sidered as such Mega-Events. What they have in common is being perceived by local authorities, from all around the world as a tool enabling acceleration of transfor- mations and development within urban organism, as well as an important factor that can help to establish better both international and domestic position in terms of economic competitiveness, touristic popularity and quality of living (Essex 2010). Cities started to use Mega-Events as a tool to achieve what otherwise would have to take much longer time, using the cause of the event and the fact that the world is watching to build bridges above boundaries and create a long lasting legacy consist- ing of physical, economic and social benefits.

The list of applicants is always long and cities tried to outdo one another in design- ing bid books full of ideas how to maximize opportunities and enjoy economic growth, international recognition, chance to improve city’s infrastructure, revitalize whole areas and communities, deal with environmental issues and create the image of a modern metropolis.

However, the experience shows that the process of hosting a Mega-Event has also a dark side. Reality shows that it is difficult to the illusion that is presented in the bid file. There are plenty of examples when cities did not manage to create expected benefits but instead of it, changes required for the event facilitated various econom- ic, social or environmental problems. Staging a major event usually requires lots of changes in built environment to provide proper venues, touristic base, transport capacity etc. necessary for successful organization of the venture. Frequently, whole districts or neighbourhoods are redesigned or created, in order to fulfil needs of the event. This leaves a range of possibilities for city planners that can play an important role in preparation process. This is why the issue of organizing and hosting a Mega- Event is very interesting to look at from the urbanism perspective, as for it is direct- ly connected to making major changes in a city structure.

In this moment it is important to be aware that the city itself is a very complex or- ganism in which different, individualized and grouped interests are present. As the resources such as time, money and space are limited, conflicts between those interests are imminent. It is also a net of connections that influenced in one place can cause numerous unexpected consequences in its other parts. Therefore, when implementing such big changes as those connected to Mega-Events, the conflicts can result in creation of serious of problems with finances, economic activity, local community struggles, the use of infrastructure and others.

In order to investigate the topic, special interest will be put on the example of the Olympic Games that “in recent years, have developed into one of the most significant mega-international sporting events” (Malfas 2004). Not only with regard to the amount of exerted sport disciplines, participating athletes and millions of spectators but rather to the global impact it is beyond any doubt that the “Olympics is the big- gest Mega-Event in the World” (Smith 2008). Thus, due to its size and scale of inter- ventions that they bring to the host city, Olympic Games can be considered as a unique, standout example which highlights all possible problems that can occur with other major events as well. To visualize and bring closer the possible outcome of the Olympic Games, the case of Athens is chosen, which, in relevant literature, is consi- dered as one of the “bad” cases when it comes to the dealing with the Olympic lega- cy.

The Athens Olympics 2004 required “the greatest sum ever spent on a single undertaking since the foundation of the modern Greek state” (Erten 2008). A city that expected economic growth and a positive financial development through the Games was additionally burdened by paying off for the event. Furthermore, the maintaining and operating costs for the leftover Olympic venues, amounted to 50 to 75 billion Euros, weigh heavily (Erten 2008).

Athens exhibits a high degree of over-capacity problems due to amount, scale and financing of the venues (Erten 2008). This case of hosting the Olympics, therefore, implies several difficulties and is used to apply the emphasized challenges and de- tect how Athens dealt with them. Athens, regarded as a less successful case, should indicate how not to deal with occurring challenges and function as negative example for further hosting cities.

This report will try to explain and help to understand the process of generation of problems mentioned above. Moreover, investigating this process on real life exam- ples is aimed at finding things that are crucial to consider when trying to prevent or minimize the difficulties on occasion of organizing similar, big-scale events in the future.


Resulting from these various issues which are mentioned in the problem formula- tion and lead onto dealing with the topic a research question and three sub ques- tions are formulated to narrow the subject-matter. It also serves as a brief overview of the whole report since the questions cover all topics which are presented hereaf- ter. Furthermore, it functions as a structure in order to create a clear common thread throughout the whole report. Therefore, the following research question is formulated:

“How to deal with challenges occurring when changing the built environment in a city that hosts a Mega-Event in order to minimize negative consequences?“

As the topic Mega- Events in the Complex City already implies, the project work fo- cuses on events of great extent with the focus on changes in the built environment in the host cities. Built environment are all physical surroundings which are human- made. It contains all buildings, parks or supporting infrastructure which supply a setting for human activity (Roof, Oleru 2008). Thus, it is not just an assemblage of several buildings but also a result of environmental, social and economic processes (Santamouris 2013).

To be more specific, it means that the project work focalises on all kinds of events with such a broad dimension and their impact on the built environment, for example the traffic infrastructure or venues. These events are called Mega-Events. “‘Mega- Events’ are large-scale cultural [ǥȐ events which have a dramatic character, mass popular appeal and international significance“(Roche 2000). Usually they are orga- nized by a combination of both, the national government and also non- governmen- tal organizations and thus are considered as events of great influence to the public.

Mega-Events can be regarded on different levels. First, there are the world-level- international events which are of great interest all over the world. For instance, the world cup competitions in football or athletics like the World Championship or the Olympic Games, but also different specific arts and cultural events like the Cannes Film Festival can be included in this group. Secondly, several world- regional- events exist, which, for example, cover the area of one continent, like the Asian Games. Fi- nally, on a lower level, national-level-events are considered as events of great influ- ence as well. All these events are called as Mega-Events because they have a great media influence all over the world (Roche 2000). This project just focuses, due to its vast extent, on the world-level-international events, especially on the Olympic Games.

Subsequently, the project carries out a case study about the Olympic Games with the focus on Athens in Greece. Since the Olympics are a Mega- Event which is noted across the world and of great extent, they deal as a good example for Mega- Events in general. The case of Athens is considered as an example of a city that didn’t man- age to reach the expectations they had in the fore field. Especially with the focus on the long term consequences and the changes in the built environment Athens did not succeed. While changing the built environment, not only in Athens, but in every oth- er city, many challenges can occur. Hence, these approaches or issues are difficult to reconcile. In chapter 3.3 the main challenges the project deals with are approached. They are generated through the complexity of the city since many different aspects which influence the city have to cope with each other. A main aspect is the question how to minimize the negative consequences resulting from these challenges. By negative consequences the projects means conditions, which result from different approaches to the changes and are not favourable. These conditions may, for in- stance, be so called 'white elephants'. A white elephant is an item, in the projects’ case especially a building, which is valuable but too expensive in maintenance. For Big- Events, often, there is a need of new stadiums or any other kinds of infrastruc- ture. However, after the event is over, they are often not needed anymore.

To be more precise and for the purpose of answering the main research question three sub- questions are formulated.

1. How can a Mega-Event influence the complex system? What challenges can occur when making changes in the built environment of a complex city that hosts a Mega-Event?
2. How were the Olympics in Athens organized and what is the legacy of hosting the event? What are the negative consequences of hosting the 2004 Olympics and how were they caused by the challenges?
3. How did other cities which hosted the Olympics deal with the challenges, in order to gain a positive outcome?

These three questions emerge while getting a deeper understanding of the main top- ic and help to structure to the report. Step by step they will be answered partially followed by new upcoming questions and the need for definitions of the key- con- cepts. The first question thus tends to create a theoretical framework. In fact, it is important to first form am knowledge about the complex system and afterwards define what a Mega- Event is. Consequently, the project seeks to figure out, which changes appear while setting a Mega-Event into a complex city. Additionally, chang- es in the built environment cause further alterations in the city’s routine. Therefore, a main goal of the projects’ work is to ascertain which challenges need to be consid- ered when hosting the Olympics.

The second question, on the one hand, provides more background information since it targets the chosen case of Athens. It focuses on the organisation of the Olympics and its legacy. On the other hand it also contains the analytical part of the project work which contains a deep analysis of the case. Moreover, it shows the connection between theory and analysis, since beneath the description of the case and the de- tection of the negative consequences a link to the theory will be created. This is done by presenting a real life example, which illustrates which challenges occur, when a Mega- Event is set into a complex city. Hence, the negative consequences are caused by the challenges.

The third sub-question focuses on the alternative approaches which include positive examples of other cities which hosted the Olympics in recent years. Although, all these cities hosted the same event during the last years, different approaches led to different outcomes according to their priorities and fields of interest they focused on. By comparing the case of Athens with other cities it is possible to give a proposi- tion for future hosting cities about how to deal with the Games in the future.


In order to answer the research questions which are previously presented the re- port is structured into seven main chapters. The first chapter functions as an intro- ductory part of the whole report. Initially, it contains the problem formulation and the motivation of the project to deal with the topic. After the first impression of what the project work contains, the specified research question and three sub- questions are presented. They give an overview of the whole report and will be answered hereafter. Subsequently, the second chapter presents the methodology applied in this report. It outlines, which methods are used in order to achieve the goal of get- ting the information which are necessary to answer the research question. The third chapter implies the theoretical part of the report. It deals with a general understand- ing of complexity followed by a conjunction of the topic of complexity with the issue of Mega- Events. By creating this linkage four challenges are identified. The fourth chapter entails the case study and is divided into three parts. In the first one, the selection of the case is stated and justified. The second one describes the case city and the third one contains the analysis of the case. Afterwards alternative approach- es, which are seen as more successful than the case of Athens, are presented. There- fore, for each of the challenges, which are figured out in the chapter before, an ap- proach of previous hosting cities, how to deal with the respective challenges is se- lected. As a conclusion, in chapter six, recommendations for potential future hosting cities are given. By doing that, five main issues are approached which need to be considered when hosting a Mega- Event. They derive from the analysis of the case in combination of the theory and are supposed to address all cities which are planning to host a Mega- Event in the future. The recommendations are the answer of the re- search question which is presented in the first chapter. To round the report off, the last chapter entails a conclusion, which comments on the report and gives an out- look into the future.

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Figure 1.1.: Report's Structure (Author's own illustration)


In a project work different methods are needed in order to identify problems, gather information and to elaborate solutions. In the beginning of a project, the first step is to form a research question which narrows the topic down and gives an overview about the report. It is followed by a theory part which serves as a theoretical frame- work for the analysis of the chosen case. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the amount of information about the topic dealing with. For that, methods like field trips, interviews, group discussions or observations are very useful to get deeper information one would not get by mere literature research. Subsequently, the theo- retical framework has to be analysed in order to identify problems and find solution approaches. These approaches are based on good practise examples which are com- pared to the case. In fact, all these methods help to answer the research question and help to give solutions for solving the problem.


In order to answer the research question, a clear structure is needed. Therefore, the research design describes how the report is approached. It consists, on the one hand, of one main research question and three sub-questions and on the other hand, it contains of different parts which answer the research questions.

The following graphic depicts the research design and helps to get an understanding of how the project is approached. Furthermore, it gives an overview about the methods used in this project.

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Figure 2.1 Research Design (Author's own illustration)

After the process of roughly formulating the problem, the project group worked on a research question which is more detailed and includes all issues which are discussed in the report. The question narrows down the topic and gives a clear structure to the text, since it is answered step by step in the report. Nevertheless, it is just a brief overview about the topic and needs to be specified. For the purpose of being more precise and in order to answer the main research question three sub-questions are formulated.

The first question tends to create a theoretical framework. It mainly asks for the im- pacts, a Mega- Event has, when it is put into a city which is, due to many interrelating issues, a complex system. What emerges are challenges, the city has to deal with. Additionally, changes in the built environment cause further alterations in the city’s routine. Hence, a main goal of the projects’ work is to ascertain what needs to be considered when hosting the Olympics. Therefore, the theory chapter gives the background information and builds a framework for the analysis. Furthermore, it gives explanations on resulting negative consequences when setting a Mega- Event into a complex city.

The second question focuses on the organisation of the Olympics and its legacy. It shows the connection between theory and analysis since it refers, on the one hand, to the investigation of the case and on the other hand to the application of the theo- retical framework on the case by figuring out how the negative consequences are caused by the challenges. Thus, the theory is implemented on the case in order to gain a better understanding of the occurring phenomenon. The question is divided into two parts whereas the beginning constitutes a precise case description followed by an explanation and case analysis of the occurring challenges in Athens. The ana- lytical part provides an understanding of the negative consequences when hosting a Mega-Event and identifies reasons for these adverse developments. The goal is to detect and understand the challenges which are depicted in the theory.

The third sub- question is used to find additional “best-practice” examples of other host cities. With answering the question, alternative ways on how to deal with the challenges are depicted. The examples are selected from specialized literature and not investigated as further case studies. Their main purpose is to gain knowledge about how different cities dealt with the challenges described in the theory part and how they managed to get a positive outcome through hosting the Olympics. They are necessary to build the base for giving general recommendations on minimizing diffi- culties.

The sub- questions contribute to the answer of the main research question in the conclusion and figure out how to deal with occurring challenges because of changes in the built environment in order to minimize the negative consequences. Therefore, the approach of the case of Athens and of alternative cities is compared and general recommendations are generalized from the examples of how to deal with the four challenges. The recommendations are not only referred to the case of Athens but meant as a general advice for other cities which host a Mega- Event.


During the research process a variety of methods was used to guarantee scientific work and validate the research. Therefore, literature review, a case study analysis, an interview and personal observations were conducted (see Figure 2.2). In the fol- lowing, it describes how these methods were used and which limitations came up while applying them.

Figure 2.2 Methodology (Author's own graph)

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Literature Review

The theory is needed to get insight and a better understanding of the topic. It is also vital to create a framework for understanding the case. Therefore, literature which is considered as reliable is chosen. Among this group, there are scientific articles and relevant specialized literature published by authors who are highly recognized in this field. The sources are used for secondary data analysis. Instead of assuming an already existing theory, a framework for the topic of Mega-Events in the complex city had to be developed through the combination of several approaches. As a foun- dation for the theory, literature for two different subjects was needed. Firstly, litera- ture on the theme of complexity was used in order to understand the main mecha- nism of the city. Secondly, literature about Mega- Events is used to track the pro- ceedings of hosting the event. Subsequently, critical literature forms the basis for interpreting and evaluating the case as well as for the alternative approaches.

During the literature research limitations mainly came up while searching for detailed information about the case of Athens. Some official papers, e.g. the official bid file, were not openly available. Therefore, the project group had to rely on existing debates and interpretations and was not able to make the comparison by its own. However, by selecting the different articles, an own perspective and angle on the phenomenon is reflected in the project work.

Case Study

For investigating the problem and in order to apply the theory on a real life example in its natural environment a case study was implemented. The case study approach is defined “as an intensive study of a single unit or a small number of units for the purpose of understanding a larger class of similar units (ǥ)” (Gerring 2007).

The selection of the case is based on two different levels: Primarily the type of MegaEvent is determined. Thereafter a specific city, as part of this range of events is chosen. The Olympic Games as biggest Mega-Event was selected because it is referred to be the most complex and prestigious Mega-Event in the world (Kaplanidou 2010). Therefore, it entails significant changes in the built environment, wherefore, dealing with the Olympic legacy is challenging.

As specific case of the Olympics, the host in Athens in 2004 is considered more close- ly due to the fact that Athens is treated as a case which was barely successful regard- ing the exploitation of benefits such an event can generate. This case of hosting the Olympics, therefore, implies several negative consequences and is used to apply the emphasized challenges and detect how Athens dealt with them. Athens as a “badcase” should indicate how not to deal with occurring challenges and functions as a negative example for further hosting cities.

The single case study is conducted in several stages which built upon one another and provide information on challenging issues for Athens hosting the Olympics. The first part focuses on a description of the actual state and creates a frame for the fol- lowing analysis. The analysis as the second part investigates which challenges caused the occurring negative consequences and how the case dealt with these con- sequences.

For the descriptive part of the case specialist literature was reviewed to demon- strate what has happened during the organization of the Olympics in Athens. For the following explanatory part previous discussions in the literature about original poli- cy documents and official organization were selected to explain how and why Ath- ens struggled.


Conducting an interview gives the possibility to gain deeper information of the sub- ject from an ‘expert’ which otherwise would be hard to get. Furthermore, it can lead to other directions for the research through literature recommendation and give a hint to connections which were not obvious before. One of the main reasons why the project group decided to conduct an interview was the option to talk to a local in Athens, which is directly confronted with the impacts of the Games and is able to compare how the situation was before and how it is afterwards. Aside from that, locals may be able to separate the Olympics from other factors which influence the city.

The initial plan was to talk with representatives of the Olympic Committee, the mu- nicipality and the University in order to cover a broad spectrum of issues and hear different opinions about the Games. Unfortunately, it was not possible to receive the official bid book to get information about the planning process and the strategy of the Olympic Games. Therefore, the interview gave the opportunity to learn about the reasons behind decisions that were made. From the municipality the project hoped to gather information about the status quo and how Athens is planning to deal with the after effects. The university is a good interview partner for getting knowledge about the impacts of Mega- Events in the context of the complex city.

Regretfully, it was difficult to find an interview partner. In fact, just one interview with a geography professor from the Athenian University Harokopio has been con- ducted. Since the purpose was to get answers to several questions, but also gather new information, the project group decided to do a qualitative, semi structured in- terview. Hence, an interview guide was created in order to structure the conversa- tion and maintain the overview of important topics (see Appendix Table 1). Through the interview the project got new inspirations and recommendations for the litera- ture review.

During the period of preparation, time was a limiting factor because there was a short period of time between the decision of doing the interview in Athens and the actual request. In addition, it was hard to get enough interviewees to talk with since the period between the excursion and the beginning of the project work was too short. Otherwise, it would have been better to develop a more specific interview guide for the relevant persons. On the other hand, the time for the interview was restricted as well, since the professor did not have unlimited time to talk.

Apart from that, there might be other reasons why it was so hard to get an interview partner. The chosen topic is not convenient since Athens is considered as a bad case and people might be reserved when talking about this topic. Further, people in Greece might not be used to talk with students so that they were just not fond of talking with the group. Moreover, the economic situation is tensed and people might have to deal with issues, which are more important right now.

In order to gain more information it would have been helpful if a survey among the citizens had been undertaken. Through a survey the project group would have got- ten first-hand information from the inhabitants about their opinion concerning the Games, whether it was a good or bad decision and how they evaluate the situation now. Due to organizational reasons concerning the work and the time frame the plan got rejected. Furthermore, there were some concerns about the language barrier and the fact that people might be biased so that a survey would not have been objec- tive.

Reflecting on the conducted interview with the geography professor at the Haro- kopio University in Athens, the outcome can be described as worthwhile and relia- ble. The professor has an exceptional knowledge about the topic and already published several papers about the chosen topic. He was critical although he might be biased due to a national pride. In fact, the project group is aware of the fact that only one person was interviewed and so only one opinion is represented. Indeed, it would have been nice to interview people who were involved in the planning process. Actually, for the report it does not generate a big problem since other sources are used, which contain other peoples’ opinion about the topic. The awareness of the limitation of having only one interview leads to a careful treatment of the knowledge and the results will be combined with other sources.


In addition to the interview, field trip observations were also made to get an impres- sion of sizes and dimensions of Olympic related facilities. A field trip might be de- scribed as an excursion whose basic objective is a first-hand observation (Zirkle, 2004). Observing as a non-stimuli technique does not directly affect the monitored objects and is used to study phenomena in their normal surroundings parameters (Andersen 2008). The observations examined if the facilities are in the same condi- tion as described in the literature.

Three of the main Olympic sites were subject of the field studies including the Faliro coastal zone and the Hellinico complex, which were important sport complexes dur- ing Games and nowadays are unused and abandoned facilities. The Olympic village, at the time of Olympics 2004 accommodations for Athletes, is now in used as a low income residential zone in the suburb of Athens. The visited venues were carefully chosen in the fore field, which assured a structured excursion. The collected data, as for example pictures, are used to underpin the description of Athens current situa- tion after hosting the Olympics.

Alternative Approaches

After conducting the case study analysis, alternative approaches of hosting cities are presented in order to have a broader knowledge about the consequences of hosting and ways of dealing with the Olympics and to evaluate and reflect Athens. Thus, they are basically used to demonstrate additional ways of dealing with the occurring challenges and resulting negative consequences. The alternative examples are rated among the recent Olympics due to the fact that size and stature of the Games changed in the last few years immensely. Furthermore, in the literature they are considered as “best-practice” examples matching with the four challenges explained in chapter 3.2. This means, the exemplary hosting cities Vancouver, London, Barce- lona and Los Angeles show certain fields in which their plans had positive results. These examples are not investigated as additional case studies but rather literature is reviewed.

Regarding the alternative approaches, more time would have been preferable to conduct interviews with city representatives of each hosting cities of the Olympics. This variety of data would have been helpful to get a deeper understanding of the city´s approaches and could have underpinned the literature review. An additional limitation appears during the investigation of alternative approaches, as for example in the case of the Olympics in London 2012, since they were just recently staged and no statements can be made about long term impacts.

Conclusion on the Research

The theoretical research and the information acquired with the case study gives in- sights on how challenges can occur when hosting a Mega-Event. Furthermore, the case shows how the challenges are dealt with. The alternative approaches give addi- tional information on how to deal with those challenges in a proper way. Combining the way of dealing with the challenges in Athens with alternative approaches leads to a basis to give general recommendations. The recommendation do not address how to deal with already existing negative consequences, but rather suppose, how to deal with the occurring challenges in order to minimize negative consequences which can occur. The recommendations should point out what has to be considered when hosting a Mega-Event. They give advices on what could be prioritized to lead to better results.

To ensure the quality of the overall research, special attention was given to create a clear and comprehensible structure of research design. Reliability and validity was established with using appropriate research methods.


The theory chapter creates a foundation for the further project work and emphasizes the relevant theoretical background on the topic of Mega-Events in a complex city. Therefore, firstly, a definition of the term complexity is attempted to be formulated and the characteristics of a complex system are elucidated. Thereafter, the city is described as an example for a complex system and investigated for possible conflicts occurring when staging a Mega-Event. The main aim of this chapter is to identify the challenges that need to be considered when making changes in the built environment in order to stage a successful event.


Definition of Complexity

Although, there is a variety of different definitions of complexity it may be considered as ‘’the state or quality of being intricate or complex’’ (The Free Dictionary 2013). This definition gives a hint on the difficulty and complication of complexity or else complex systems. Robert Cowan regards complexity as „the state of being composed of many interconnected parts” (Cowan 2005). If these parts are connected with each other they may be viewed as a system and thus, the term complexity is often connected to the phrase complex system.

Excursus of complex systems

Since determining the term complexity is challenging and various different defini- tions exist, it is attempted in the following paragraphs to develop a description of common aspects of complexity. These eight characteristics derived from Paul Cilliers suggestions have to be met for turning a system into a complex system (Cilliers 1998):

1. Complex systems are composed of a variety of items. If a system merely consists of few numbers of terms a definition can be given and the complexness decreases. However, when numerousness elements come into contact the understanding of the system as a whole is aggravated.
2. In a complex system a big number of elements are obligatory, although not enough. For generating a complex system the interaction of the elements is neces- sary. This interaction must not be static, but active. Accordingly, a complex system transforms over time. Therefore, the relation of those elements of a complex system does not have to be physical. It can be considered as a transfer of the information between those elements.
3. The interaction is quite prosperous regarding to the fact that any element of a complex system can be affected by and can affect fairly other elements. Nevertheless, systems demeanours are not determined by the precise number of synergies which are related with particular elements. The same function of the complex system can be reached with a richly connected element or with a system which has a number of sparsely connected elements as well.
4. The interaction between the elements of a complex system is characterized by some features, especially by being non-linear. The linearity of items facilitates the perception of connections and thus reactions could be better predicted. Due to the non-linearity of the items in a complex system, slight changes cause significant ef- fects and the other way around. This characteristic can be seen as condition of com- plexity.
5. There exist back couplings in the interactions in a complex system, which implies that the effect sometimes leads back to the activity itself, directly or indirectly. The so called recurrency can entail negative or positive consequences and acts either stimulating or inhibiting for the complex system.
6. Generally, complex systems are not closed but rather interacting with the sur- rounding in which they act. In fact, frequently it is hard to determine complex sys- tem`s bound. Commonly the volume of the complex system is “determined by the purpose of the description of the system, and is thus often influenced by the position of the observer” (Cilliers 1998). This action is defined as framing. Closed systems are commonly slightly difficult.
7. Complex systems can be understood as living organisms. A constant energetic input is needed to preserve its functions and guarantee the survival.
8. Complex systems should not be investigated isolated but always embedded in their historical background. Ignoring the time dimensions signifies that only a cur- rent excerpt is presented and the past responsible for the present behaviour is omit- ted.

These eight characteristics are the precondition for complexity. They are highly theoretical and can be applied for different systems in various contexts, for example the human brain, engines, economic systems, etc. The next step will be to elucidate the example of a complex system such as the city.

City as a complex system

The characteristics of complex systems can also be applied to the city. The city con- sists of multiple items found in social and cultural concerns coupled with the dimen- sional and historical issues (Docktor 2008). Between those items active interactions take place to make the city constantly transforming (Docktor 2008). Changes made within one field, for example in social aspects, lead to effects in other fields like eco- nomic aspects and vice versa. Cities are characterised through their strong connec- tion with their surroundings. Trading goods, exchanging work capacity and other city related functions are usually not only organized within the city itself but with surrounding areas or other cities and regions. This leads to the fact that the city is not a ‘closed’ system but shows interactions with other systems. Describing the complex system as a living organism is highly corresponding to the city. With all the people a city contains, a dynamic is created to keep the system alive. To understand a city’s typical appearance and characteristics it is necessary to engage with its his- tory. The strong embedding in its historical background is another characteristic which makes the city a complex system (Docktor 2008).

Overall, Jane Jacobs also refers in her critics on urban architecture to the city as an “organized complexity“(Jacobs 1961). She states that “situations arise in which many quantities are arranged simultaneously and in subtle interconnected way“ (Jacobs 1961).

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Figure 3.1 Planning Goals in the Complex City ( uthors’ own illustration, based on Campbell 1996)

Urban planning tries to intervene in this complex system with its different interrelations to guide the urban development. Influencing this system is connected to the identified elements of planning. They can be defined as social, economic and environmental interests. Those three elements often act in the city with contradicting forces. Furthermore, environmental, social and economic issues demanding widely varying approaches as they differ in their objectives. According to Campbell, these three different elements can lead to potential conflicts as they are not always compatible. If one considers each element located on one corner of the triangle, a balanced urban planning can be reached when considering each dimension equally to ensure a sustained and just planning in a complex city.

When putting Campbell’s approach about non compatible dimensions into the context of Mega-Events, it is tried to apply the triangular model to the characteristics of staging a large-scale event.


Urban systems are the perfect example of a complex network with large numbers of interacting and contradicting components. It is very delicate when it comes to changes in the unsteady and continually developing environment. Putting a huge interference, such as a Mega-Event, into that surrounding affects urban life in any case. The “organized complexity“(Jacobs 1961) gets extended by additionally varia- bles. This leads to altered interactions between the components and problems can occur as the whole system can become out of balance. As hosting a Mega-Event can have a tremendous impact on planning in the city, it influences the three goals as already presented in the triangular model (see Figure 3.2). By affecting the economic, social and environmental aspects, the already existing conflicts between those ele- ments get distorted by the Mega-Event and reaching their balance gets aggravated.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 3.2 Mega Events in the Complex City ( uthors’ own graph, based on Campbell 1996)

As it is known, the city is one of the complex systems in which a lot of different elements act. Sports mega-events are catalysts for conflicting activity in many cities. In the centre of the triangular model the successfully balanced hosting of a Mega-Event is placed. For that, it is important to consider a just way of dealing with the conflicts between environmental, economic and social aspects.

Economic vs. environmental

To insert a Mega-Event into a complex system, such as the city, aggregates the con- flict between economic growth and environmental protection. Mega-Events are global consumer spectacles that have as their end goal the expansion of markets. Ensuring an environmental friendly approach can stay in contrary with this charac- teristic of the event as economic and environmental goals are often not in line.

Environmental vs. social

When hosting a Mega-Event the balance between environmental and social needs can get more unstable. Staging a Mega-Event with its large scale dimensions can have an enormous impact on the environment. At the same time, reaching for positive economic impact does not always lead to a positive social impact.

Economic vs. social

One strong focus put on hosting a Mega-Event is connected to economic profit and growth. Staging the event can help to accelerate positive economic impacts on the city. In contrary, social goals are not necessarily connected to economic success. Moreover, they should ensure a just way of living in the society. Therefore, these measures can be described as ‘uneconomic’ as they do not lead to a growth of econ- omy in the first place.


As it is previously explained, the city is a complex system with various components interacting with each other. Those components can have contradicting directions when it comes to strive for economic, social and environmental goals in the planning process. With examining the hosting of a Mega-Event in the complex city, the first part of the 1. Sub Question on “How can a Mega-Event influence the complex system?” can be answered.

If a Mega-Event is put into this complex city, the dynamics of reaching these differ- ent goals get influenced. Additional powers are introduced to the complex city in terms of the conflicts between economic, social and environmental aims, which dis- tort the system.

Understanding the complex characteristics of the city, with its three basic conflicts, demands for a deeper and more detailed insight to the conflicts of hosting a MegaEvent. The next chapter will deal with this issue in an in-depth way.


The following chapter focuses on challenges that can occur while hosting a MegaEvent which derives from conflicts mentioned in the paragraph above. It refers to four exemplary contradicting issues that are significant for the hosting city and the occurring conflicts between social, environmental and economic aspects.


There are a series of issues to consider when hosting a Mega-Event. Among these issues are the aspects of planning that can contradict each other: long term and short term planning. The terms are defined as following: “The process of setting smaller, intermediate milestones to achieve closer time frames when moving toward an important overall goal” (BusinessDictionary 2013) and “Exercise aimed at formulating a long-term plan, to meet the future needs estimated usually by extrapolation of present or known needs” (BusinessDictionary 2013). This report will use these definitions of short term and long term planning further on.

Preparing for a Mega-Event can be very thrilling for a city and sometimes it can be hard to not only focus on starting the event. That is why words such as "post event legacy" might seem distant compared to the excitement of staging the event, but they are important for the city to pay attention to (Pellegrino, Hancock 2010). When the term 'legacy' is used in relation to Mega-Events such as Olympics, it refers to the after-effects of hosting the event. This can involve infrastructure upgrades, creating a long-term employment opportunity or social changes in the host city’s population. Legacy is usually divided in “hard” and “soft” legacies. Hard legacies are, for exam- ple, infrastructural development. Soft legacies can be city image, social impacts, rela- tionships or changes in lifestyle, which can occur from them (Smith 2008). This re- port will mainly focus on hard legacies, as they are measureable and can be com- pared to other cities. Soft legacy will also be discussed, as host cities sometimes have motivations and expectations that the hard legacy will lead to soft legacies.

In the years from the planning to the post event, the political leadership can be out of resources or the leadership might have changed entirely. This creates a conflict because many governments and ruling parties try to leave a permanent or a long- term legacy in the host city trough a Mega-Event (Pellegrino, Hancock 2010).

For many, a legacy could be landmarks, like a stadium, which might become a sym- bol for a city and the success of the event. However, in most cases, venues like Olym- pic stadiums have been oversized because the post use and needs were not suffi- cient. One explanation could be that IOC often pushes the organizers and host cities to provide state of the art venue while almost ensuring that the legacy will be wel- comed with open arms. In the past, little thought was put into the post-use of Mega- Events like Olympics. This view has changed now, as the awareness of the risks had grown. The permanent needs of the host city should be used, to justify building new infrastructure (Furrer 2002).

Leaving a hard legacy is considered as a challenge to realize, especially a long-term economic legacy. The legacy that is left behind is most vulnerable after the event, when its participants have gone home and left the city and its political leadership with their newly built infrastructure, which now have to function on its own (Pelle- grino, Hancock 2010).

It often happens that the new stadiums or parks being left unused, also known as ‘White Elephants’ (Pellegrino, Hancock 2010). The term 'White Elephants' are over- sized venues and facilities that are planned for Mega-Event crowds and ticket sales. They are often designed to showcase the local economy and engineering prowess instead of thinking them in to a long-term urban planning strategy and meeting the population’s needs. Other types of ‘White Elephants’ include construction of new hotels to meet the short-term needs of a Mega-Event. This will lead to an oversupply of hotel rooms after the event and could have significant effects on the host city’s industry (Furrer 2002).

One example of a White Elephants are Olympic venues. Evidence from past Games show that venues for the event have poor post-use. The Games only lasts 16 days and one of the biggest challenges is to reuse the facilities so that the activity used in these and financial profit does not drop. This is difficult to plan and measure, but the maintenance cost can be easily calculated (Furrer 2002).

Another important factor is the timeframe of a Mega-Event. This is one of the most important aspects when assessing conflicts and impacts. There is usually no possi- bility of postponing the date, resulting in organizers being pushed to deliver capable venues and efficient infrastructure. This development which would usually take twenty years or more to realize is being accelerated greatly to reach the deadline (Furrer 2002). “This fast-track development has the potential to accelerate impact studies, planning procedures, public consultation and even the construction itselfǥ”

(Furrer 2002).

Which is why these strict deadlines can be used to justify hidden agendas a city can have, that might not be as popular to the public, and pushing them to be implemented (Furrer 2002). This opposes a threat because it could lead to a focus, only on a short term planning and important issues with long-term consequences could be missed, when pushing a deadline.

The most important benefit would be that the host city can meet the Olympic requirements, but still with the city’s long-term needs being met and thus avoiding the big cost maintenance of White Elephants (Furrer 2002).

A Mega-Event can accelerate a city’s global image, infrastructure improvements and promote economic boost. So what could that mean for a city in the long run? The long-term impact can be an abstract thing to isolate and measure, but the importance of its impact is there (Pellegrino, Hancock 2010).


Although a Mega-Event can bring many benefits to a city, one of the questions that always arise is: who will actually gain those benefits and for whom were, they created? Answering this question can be extremely useful when analyzing the decision making process in any given case of planning and staging such an event. What is going to be shown later in this chapter, some problems can occur as a result of conflicts of interests among different interest groups.



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mega events complex city case study olympic games athens greece


  • DI Manuela Stögerer (Author)

    4 titles published

  • Lisa Faulenbach (Author)

  • Egle Rasimaviciute (Author)

  • Bartek Matuszewski (Author)

  • Anna Schröder (Author)

  • Dennis Ngo (Author)



Title: Mega Events in the Complex City.
A Case Study of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece