How the Commonwealth Games could save Adelaide: Part Two

December 29, 2016

Words: David Cooke

Above image: North Terrace

David Cooke

Last week, architect and urban planner David Cooke outlined the social and economic challenges facing Adelaide and proposed the radical solution of hosting the Commonwealth Games in the city. In the second part of this series, he explains how other cities have used the Games as a lever for change, and what can be learned from their examples.

Find the first chapter in this four-part series by clicking this text. The third instalment will be published on January 5, 2017.

The Commonwealth Games and Adelaide

Adelaide is the only mainland state capital to not host the Commonwealth Games. Australia has hosted the Commonwealth Games four times – Sydney 1938, Perth 1962, Brisbane 1982, Melbourne 2006 and will host the event again in the Gold Coast games in 2018.

Adelaide has bid for the Commonwealth Games on three separate occasions, in 1962, 1998 and 2006, failing to achieve success on each occasion. Interestingly in 1962, Adelaide had secured the rights to host the Games, but through a lack of public infrastructure delivery and Government securities leading up to the Games, Adelaide lost the rights to host the event to Perth. In 1998 Adelaide was Australia’s nominated bid city, but lost to Kuala Lumpur. And in 2006, despite expressing interest, Adelaide couldn’t secure the Australian Commonwealth Games Federation nomination as a bid city.

There is a twelve-year difference between the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and the upcoming Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. This is considered the minimum duration between one country hosting the event again. That said, there are only a handful of countries within the Commonwealth that have the infrastructure, capital and willingness to host the event. Given all this, the earliest Adelaide could bid for the Commonwealth Games would be most likely 2030. If Adelaide was to bid for the 2030 Commonwealth Games it would be notified of the bid results in 2023, seven years prior to the event (Bartlett, 1999).

The Commonwealth Games, colloquially known as the ‘friendly games’ is an international mega sporting event that is held every four years in different cities and countries who are currently part of the British Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Games will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary in 2030. When compared to other sporting events the Commonwealth Games are not the same scale of the Olympic Games or the World Cup. The event over recent times is seen as a show case of ‘local’ businesses and community to the world and a catalyst for delivering legacy outcomes as opposed to the ‘global focus’ associated with the Olympic Games. The cost to host the games is also much smaller and the competition to host the event is not as fierce as similar mega sporting events like the Olympic Games.

At the most recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow 2014, 71 nations participated with about attracting 250,000 unique overnight visitors flocking to the city to watch more than 5,000 athletes compete. From an Australian perspective, the Commonwealth Games are certainly the ‘feel good’ games. Australia, over the past 30 years, has had great success at the Games, often finishing within the top three on the medal winners tally board.


By definition, legacy is ‘anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor’ (Oxford, 2015). In the world of international mega-sporting events, the term ‘legacy’ is the buzz word. The governing bodies of mega events discuss and present how their event can have a lasting positive impact on the host city, while cynics of mega sporting events often link the word legacy with a way to justify the financial cost to governments to host the event. Mega-sporting events legacy outcomes predominately fit within four main categories, cultural and social, environmental, sporting and urban (IOC, 2014).

Cultural & Social Legacy

Cultural and Social Legacy outcomes are in the main focused on the positive benefits to the community, through increased funding for health and well being programs, increased employment opportunities or a greater sense of city or state pride directly related to hosting a mega-sporting event. Since the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, volunteerism at mega-sporting events has been used as a way for the community to be involved in an event and also learn skills that can be applied after the event in possible future employment or within the community (Gold & Gold, 2010). The 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympic Games recently sought applications for the 70,000 volunteer positions, with over 240,000 people applying for the roles (Rio2016, 2015).

Another social benefit is increased participation within recreation and community sport. A study undertaken by the University of Glasgow over a three year period from 2012 to 2015 indicated that after the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games there has been a 14 percent increase in recreational sport participation of the city’s residents. This has benefits in terms of increasing the health and well being of a community. This is no doubt seen as a positive cultural and social legacy to Glasgow from the hosting the Commonwealth Games. (Legacy2014, 2015)

Environmental Legacy

Environmental legacies focus on how a mega sporting event can have a positive impact on issues such as environmental sustainable design of venues or housing, water and energy conservation and community education programs. The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics Games used the games as catalyst to create a demonstrator eco-district housing project for the South False Creek athlete’s village. The village incorporated a major investment in district wide energy and water treatment. Such an investment would not normally be possible in a conventional housing development, but the games was a catalyst for the initiative, which is now providing long-lasting environmental outcomes for the expanding community of South False Creek. Such an approach applied to a potential mega sporting event in Adelaide could link to the city’s current carbon neutral aspirations.

Sporting Legacy

By their very nature mega sporting events impact host cities by facilitating the promotion and development of sport, with new or refurbished sports facilities and through the development of event management skills in locals. This was definitely the case following the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games which used the games to develop a new sports precinct in East Manchester. This precinct is used by the community and also used by professional athletes, such as Manchester City Football Club and UK Cycling. (Najeeb, 2012). Outside of having additional sporting facilities for the community to embrace, there are other legacy opportunities that can be explored. In London, for example, a series of sports medicine clinics have been established as part of the Olympic Legacy Funding, to offer public patients access to specialised health care.

Urban Legacy

Urban Legacies are often associated with public transit improvements and the urban regeneration of an under-developed area of the host city. This was certainly the case with the 2012 London Olympic Games that used the games to remediate and regenerate the former industrial site surrounding Stratford in East London into the sports precinct and athletes’ village for the Games. This was achieved by addressing environmental issues and connecting the site to the surrounding community. The legacy outcomes of London 2012 in terms of increased affordable housing and the repair of this part of the city is now considered the current model of urban legacy associated with mega-sporting events (Hopkins & Neal, 2013).

In going full circle, many Australian companies such as Westfield and Lend Lease who were able to demonstrate their expertise in Sydney 2000, delivered key aspects of the London 2012 Olympic Games such as the Stratford Shopping Plaza and construction of games venues which built on the knowledge gained from their earlier 2000 Sydney Olympic Games experience.

Case Studies

Adelaide is certainly not alone in its potential to use a mega sporting event as a catalyst for city wide urban and economic improvements. Many cities throughout the world have used events like the Olympic and Commonwealth Games as ways to invest in sports infrastructure, transit, urban regeneration, housing and public space and some have had more success than others.

The size of these city’s investments often adds greater scrutiny to the long-lasting effects of the event (or lack of effect). As discussed earlier, the legacy aims that are identified before the event are used to justify the spending but are also how a mega-sporting event’s success or otherwise is determined. With so many recent mega-sporting events and more planned for the immediate future, what lessons can Adelaide learn from other cities that have hosted such events? In order to answer this question, this report has compared eight case study projects that span from 1992 to future planned events in 2018.

These eight relevant and recent case studies are a combination of Olympic and Commonwealth Games. All these case studies have addressed the impacts of a mega-sporting event within their own city context.

Case Study Methodology

In order to undertake comparative analysis of the eight-case study projects the sites were compared initially based upon quantitative information such as number of sports, venues, length of event, visitors, athletes and total investment. Broadly these eight cities are located within western developed nations that are dealing with some of the challenges previously identified as being current issues in Adelaide.

Qualitative Spatial Comparison Analysis

The events were also compared with reference to their spatial layout – particularly the location of the city centre, the main stadium and the Athlete’s Village in relation to each other.


It is the hypothesis of this report that the mega sporting events that have an overlay between these three sites are more successful events and also provide greater urban legacy outcomes. To analyse this, a framework was applied that compared the relationships between city centre, the main stadium and the Athlete’s Village and how this was connected via transit and interfaced with the existing community. Using such an approach reveals the true urban legacy outcomes of these events and also identifies how to plan for them in the future.

Barcelona 1992

Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games

The oldest case study, Barcelona remains relevant today and is still often held as a successful example of a mega sporting event that had a positive impact on the city. Barcelona prior to 1992 was a second-tier city within Europe and at the time ranked 17th on the European City Significant List. Since the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona has ranked within the top five on the same list for the past 23 years. The games were used as a way to increase awareness of the city and region to the broader audience. This resulted in an increase in tourism which became a US$1million boost to the economy. The housing required for the games was also used to reinstate part of original Barcelona’s city grid, while new infrastructure for sporting venues, transit and public spaces was also provided. The regeneration of former industrial parts, mainly the waterfront area, helped link the original city centre more effectively to other parts of the city (Gratton & Preuss, 2008).


Spatial analysis

In looking at the spatial analysis of Barcelona it is clear to see how there is a close proximity between the city centre, the Athlete’s Village and the main stadium.

The travel circles overlap each other and reinforce the development that occurred on the waterfront as part of the event. Most of the stadia are connected by a transit network. Eight of the secondary sports venues are located within the travel circles, with another cluster of four secondary venues located towards the main sports stadium precinct. This cluster is around the existing Camp Nou Football Stadium and is also serviced by transit. Barcelona is rated ‘highly successful’ in terms of the urban outcome of the event.

Sydney 2000 Olympic Games


Sydney was the first Games to incorporate, at the bid stage, a planned post-games legacy approach, documenting the intended repurposing of games infrastructure after the event. Homebush Bay was the location of the main stadium, Athlete’s village, several other sporting venues, and a new spur transit line with connections between Sydney city centre and the satellite city of Parramatta.

The legacy plan has not been adopted as intended and the site is primarily used as a business park or for sporting events. In 2014 a new legacy master plan was released for the precinct which redefined many of the original legacy outcomes such as mixed use, education and employment uses (Kassens-Noor, 2012).


Spatial analysis

The Sydney spatial analysis highlights the separation between the sports precincts, the Athlete’s Village and the city centre. The sports precinct of Homebush is connected via rail as the map indicates but this rail line is a spur line from the existing western metro rail line. Due to its spur nature, rail services are less frequent than compared to the main metro rail.

There are seven secondary games sporting venues within the sports precinct travel circle, although not all are connected to the rail line. The analysis emphasises where the investment for the Olympic Games was directed and highlights deficiencies. The result is moderately successful due to the lack of transit choice within the sporting precinct and lack of connection to the city centre.

Manchester 2002

Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games

Manchester is a secondary city of the UK and has seen its population increase by 17 percent to 514,000 since the Games.

This increase in city centre population is a trend Adelaide is aiming to achieve. Manchester used the Commonwealth Games to address issues such as urban regeneration of old industrial sites, investing in sports infrastructure, building a new stadium for the games, now used weekly for English Premier League soccer matches and community focused sporting infrastructure now used by the existing community after the games. (Gratton, et al, 2005) Adjacent infill housing within the precinct is connected by transit and offers greater affordable and social housing outcomes.


Spatial analysis

The analysis identifies the close spatial relationships of the city centre and the main stadium precinct, which are separated by 2km. Within the sports precinct and the city centre there are six secondary games sports venues, new venues located around the sports precinct and existing venues with an event overlay located around the city centre.

A new light rail was built to connect the city centre to the sports precinct. The Athlete’s Village is slightly removed from this compact relationship and is located towards the south-east part of the city. The mapping frame highlights the transit connectivity of venues and the city centre which is a ‘successful’ outcome.

Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games


Already well facilitated with much of the sporting infrastructure required to host the Commonwealth Games, Melbourne was able to simply overlay temporary infrastructure and fast tracked planned upgrades that were required to the existing stadia.

Melbourne used the Commonwealth Games to re-assert the city as Australia’s sports capital. The Athlete’s Village was located 4km north west of the city, near the Melbourne Zoo.

A new Light Rail transit line was constructed to connect this village. After the games this village was handed over as a new inner-suburb to the local council and the properties sold to the private market. The Melbourne Commonwealth Games also fast tracked State Government expenditure on new rolling stock for the transit system and upgrade of key public open spaces and street improvements within the city. The fact an event can provide ‘deadline motivation’ for things to get done without compromising on quality is well exemplified by Melbourne.


Spatial analysis

The exiting sporting facilities within Melbourne are located close to the city centre and it is for this reason that the spatial analysis highlights the close relationship between the city centre and the sports precinct. Melbourne is a sport infrastructure rich city, with secondary sports venues located either within the main sports precinct or adjacent to the city centre.

The Athlete’s Village is located adjacent some new sports venues, towards the north of the city centre to create another sporting precinct. The spatial analysis highlights that the location of the Athlete’s Village is somewhat removed from the city centre, although it is serviced by Melbourne’s extensive light rail network. This is a ‘successful’ spatial result, despite not having many new urban additions.


Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games

Vancouver set significant goals when approaching the bid process for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Having not hosted a major international event of this scale since Expo ’86, the committee aimed to undertake the required infrastructure upgrades and additions in the most sustainable way possible. Many existing facilities were refurbished for the event however the Olympic Athletes Village was designed as a mixed use community to address environmental, economic, and social issues. The success of the Canadian team at the games was in part attributed for the increased involvement of young people in sport. These opportunities were created through 2010 Legacies Now, a not-for-profit organisation which has developed a series of recreational and high performance sports programmes for young people in Vancouver (Kassens-Noor, 2012).


Spatial analysis

The Winter Olympics is somewhat difficult to compare as many of the venues are located in remote outdoor areas in mountains, away from the urban areas. There remains a requirement for an athlete’s village, a main stadium for ceremonies and indoor venues. Vancouver took this opportunity to separate the locations, with outdoor venues located at Whistler and the secondary indoor venues, the athlete’s village and the main stadium located in the downtown area. The Excising BC Place Stadium, which was already located adjacent Downtown was refurbished, and a former industrial site fronting the harbour – South False Creek – was regenerated into a sustainable eco-district to house the athlete’s village. The site was also linked by an extension to the transit rail line, which also services the airport. The result is a highly successful spatial outcome that sees close proximity between the downtown, the stadium and athlete’s village.


London 2012 Olympic Games

Somewhat similar to the Sydney 2000 model, the London 2012 Olympic Games focused on creating a sporting precinct on former industrial land at Stratford, in the east of London. The site was the location of eight Olympic venues and also the entertainment centre. The Athlete’s Village was located within the precinct. Unlike Sydney, where Homebush was essentially a blank slate, the Stratford area regeneration has been incremental, with an underground line and new station constructed in the late 1990’s, some infill housing and major shopping centre constructed in mid 2000’s. The Olympic Game investment was seen as a way to fast track the urban regeneration of the area (Hopkins & Neal, 2013).


Spatial Analysis

In analysing London there is a concentration of the sports precinct and Athlete’s Village located towards the east of the city centre. Given London’s size and density compared to some of the other case studies, it is difficult for the city centre of London to have a close proximity to the sports precinct.

In the assessment, this criteria is not enforced as significantly as in other case study cities. The sports precinct and Athlete’s Village have six secondary games sports venues within the precinct. The precinct is well connected to other parts of London by the underground network resulting in holistic ‘successful’ outcome.

Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games


Similar to Manchester, Glasgow could be classed a second-tier city within the UK. The Glasgow Commonwealth Games focused on showcasing the city to the broader UK and the Commonwealth while also having a legacy agenda that connected the games to all of Scotland, not just the one city.

This was achieved with some Commonwealth Games venues being located outside Glasgow and by health and community programs that linked a broader audience to be part of the games experience. Glasgow also used a combination of existing sporting facilities with some temporary overlays and new purpose built facilities. The Athlete’s Village was located in a former industrial site near The Clyde. The site was partially built out for the games requirements and is now being further developed for the private market (Legacy2014, 2015).


Spatial Analysis

The spatial analysis of Glasgow shows three distinct precincts all in close proximity to each other. In a different approach when compared to other case study cities, the main stadium is isolated and not the anchor of the sports precinct.

The main stadium is an existing football stadium that was fitted with a temporary overlay in order to meet the requirements for the Games.

The Athlete’s Village has four secondary sports venues located in close proximity and are connected by new or refurbished transit lines, which results in a ‘successful’ outcome.

Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games.


The Gold Coast games will use the recently refurbished Carrara Sports Stadium (Metricon Stadium) and upgrade a series of existing facilities, some located close to the Carrara Sports Stadium area and others within the broader metropolitan Gold Coast boundary.

Some more specialised venues for the games, such as the Anna Meares Velodrome will be in Brisbane. The Athlete’s Village is located adjacent to the Griffith University Campus and will be used primarily as student housing after the games. A new Light Rail transit system, G-Link, links University to Southport and beyond to Broadbeach (ACGA, 2015).

Spatial Analysis


The spatial analysis of the upcoming Gold Coast Commonwealth Games initially highlights the lack of integration between the main stadium, the Athlete’s Village and the city centre and how the only connection between these three main attributes is road infrastructure. Within the mapping frame there are two transit lines, the intercity rail towards the west which connects the Gold Coast to Brisbane and the G-Link light rail that connects the Broadbeach, Southport and the Athlete’s Village. One of the biggest challenges for Gold Coast, under these criteria, is defining the city centre. With competing planning definitions, the centre could be interpreted as Southport, Robina or Surfer’s Paradise. This therefore makes it difficult to define an outcome. Gold Coast is proudly a regional Games and are trying to demonstrate a new mega-sporting event delivery model.

Spatial Comparison Findings

Events that located the city centre, main stadium and Athletes’ Village in closer proximity to each other were more successful in delivering legacy outcomes. Under the criteria the most successful outcome was the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, which was able to overlay much of the required infrastructure within close proximity to the city centre. Two less successful sites under the criteria are both within Australia – the Sydney Olympic Games and the upcoming Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in 2018. The analysis highlighted that both offered a fragmented urban spatial solution. At a similar scale to Adelaide, Glasgow and Manchester also achieved successful outcomes of integration, and are now starting to see the urban regeneration benefits.

These last two examples show the success Adelaide could aim to emulate, and as this series goes on I will further explore what ‘hidden’ abilities Adelaide might have to use an event like the Commonwealth Games to address its challenges of vibrancy, identify and community.

David Cooke
Director, City Collective

David Cooke has the unique skillset of being an Urban Designer, Architect and a Planner. In 2014 David was the first South Australian to be awarded a prestigious scholarship to attend the University of California, Berkeley in their intensive Masters of Urban Design program. Upon returning to Australia, as Director of design and architecture studio City Collective, David is now applying international knowledge to address the urban renewal challenges that face Australian cities.


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Rehman, Najeeb, (2012) Commonwealth Games legacy lifted a part of Manchester out of the doldrums, Mancunian Matters, viewed 29 November 2014

Hopkins, J & Neal, P, 2013, The Making of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, John Wiley & Sons Ltd

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Chris Gratton, Simon Shibli and Richard Coleman (2005) Sport and Economic Regeneration in Cities, Urban Studies, 42:5, 985-999.

Australian Commonwealth Games Association, viewed 14 June,

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