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How Olympic Cities Fare

Why the Olympics Are Bad for (Most) Cities

Travel + Leisure, July 27, 2016

The run-up to the 2016 Summer Olympics, which kick off in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, has been rocky, to say the least.

In April, a bike path built for the games collapsed, killing two people. A key new piece of infrastructure—a subway extension—was so delayed that it’s now scheduled to open four days before the games start. Guanabara Bay, where the sailing competition will take place, is dangerously polluted, and the Zika virus has rattled visitors and athletes alike.

City leaders declared a state of financial emergency in June and had to be bailed out by Brazil’s national government (which has problems of its own, like the worst recession since the 1930s and the suspension of President Dilma Rousseff).

Is hosting the Olympics worth it? Recently, the conventional wisdom has tilted toward no. Sure, there’s an initial burst of civic pride and, maybe, increased tourism. The desire to look good in the eyes of the world can provide the impetus for major public-works projects that might otherwise languish. But Rio exemplifies a pattern of major delays, skyrocketing costs, and projects that often become white elephants.

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