In less than a week, the Commonwealth Games will commence and Glasgow will endeavour to deliver its largest and most complex event ever:
a successful Games that will live on positively in the collective memory. In less than three weeks, the festival will be over. What happens when the banners come down, and people who have come to Glasgow from around the world go home? What will live on in Glasgow?
Many academics have concluded that scant evidence exists from past mega-events to suggest that a significant legacy is likely, while others argue they are merely "bread and circuses" to mask deep social problems ruling elites won't face up to. When the focus shifts at the end of the Games, those who bid for and delivered them at a cost of more than £500 million will have to answer hard questions. This process will continue for many years.
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Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government argue that Glasgow 2014 will differ because legacies were planned from the outset. Legacy was prominent in the bid documentation; it helped determine the east end location; and was supported by complementary investments such as the M74 extension and Clyde Gateway. The intent was to generate a wider social and economic return on the massive public investment.
The word legacy, almost worn out by overuse, does not have an agreed meaning. The city council and the Scottish Government use different words and have different geographies of concern, but both think of legacy as being about economic regeneration and impact; improved health and wellbeing; direct and indirect benefits to local communities; increased participation in physical activity; and greener environmental outcomes. Critics point out that evaluations of previous mega-events have not, for instance, delivered long-term measurable health improvements.
In the case of Glasgow 2014, however, we are more likely to know if there really is a legacy. The embedding of legacy planning from the beginning means that the evaluation frameworks for assessing legacy delivery are much more comprehensive, analytical and focused around the realisation of benefits than ever before.
An example is the in-depth, long-term research of the impact of legacy on the East End, led by our colleague Ade Kearns. The fact that the organisers are supporting such research is an indication of a willingness to learn, even where the impact turns out to be less than hoped for. In an economy that is significantly dependent on events to attract international tourists, with some of the largest concentrations of poverty in Western Europe, understanding what works is critical.
Many cities across the world face similar issues and need to learn from each other. Sharing Glasgow's lessons and testing them against international examples is vital. Sharing knowledge and research findings is what motivates us to take the legacy dimensions of Glasgow to another level. Alongside colleagues at Glasgow Life and the University of Strathclyde and Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Glasgow has launched an International Legacy Network. Our aim is to help ensure that there is a legacy from the Games by learning from the successes and failures. We propose to bring together city partners from around the world, alongside universities will undertake research on the legacy across disciplines. This is not just about the challenges facing cities that host mega-events; much of this knowledge can be applied to policies and services to improve education, health, housing, employment and governance. Glasgow City Council, for example, tried to control costs by finding new ways of using its staff and working in partnership with other bodies to deliver the Games.
From an early stage it recognised that these innovations might be lost so it has attempted to transfer these different effective ways of working into its standard operating procedures. One test of legacy, therefore, will be how much the city learns from the Games experience.