The football World Cup needs no introduction. It brings with it a legacy of glorious victories, surprising upsets and unbridled tension. It also brings with it a legacy of stadiums, some of which were forgotten about moments after the last goal was scored.
Football stadiums don’t come cheap. Brazil is investing nearly four billion in World Cup stadiums for this year’s event, expected to draw in 500,000 tourists to its 12 host cities. The facilities borne from this investment are designed to score points both on and off the pitch: responsible construction practices and sustainable architecture have been on the cards since day one.
But can stadiums for the “beautiful game” really be green?
The answer only appears to present itself after the event. In the lead-up to the World Cup we hear about stadiums harvesting rainwater to cut water consumption, we read about plans to recycle 100 percent of waste, and we applaud the fact they’ve achieved building certifications like LEED. But once all the games are played the toll on the environment keeps ticking over, and history has shown we’re prone to let this keep ticking, and ticking, and ticking…
In Beijing, the Chinese government paid 480 million USD for its “Bird’s Nest” Olympic stadium, and now pays a further 11 million USD a year to maintain it. Today, the site is a tourist attraction that lacks any regular, large-scale purpose. The same can be said of the many stadiums built in Japan and South Korea, co-hosts of the 2002 World Cup. The new or newly-renovated football stadiums are much too large for domestic demand, and now only used to host football crowds that pale in comparison to the numbers they were designed for.
''White Elephants'' in Brazil's Cities
A large part of the brazilian population are against the astronomical amounts that have been spent on building the stadiums and aren't shy about voicing their opinions. And with good reason, too - After brief moments in the spotlight, at least four stages are lying low. The local authorities have already signaled that they can not afford the high maintenance costs of the buildings, as the football teams of the venues Cuiabá, Brasília, Manaus and Natal barely attract a big enough audience to fill the stadiums.
Brazilians have their own expression for expensive big projects that are primarily funded with public money: ''elefantes brancos'' or ''white elephants''. But couldn't it be done differently? Couldn't a part of the planning process involve how to best convert the stadiums after the event is over? Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any really helpful examples where this has been the case. In the USA, the seats from a baseball stadium were given a second life as benches at bus stops while brazilian judge Sabino Marques has suggested using the Amazonia Arena in Manaus as compensation for the overflowing prisons (although there have been know official follow-up announcements to this effect). The idea to transform a stadium into luxury apartments in England may not work everywhere, given the protests in Brazil discouraging such actions.
Despite the lack of concrete examples, there is so much potential lying in this area such as building a stadium from materials and units that are easy to disassemble and can be reassembled to make cheap and comfortable houses. Or converting it into a large, urban greenhouse where people could grow vegetables and fruits – simply put, urban farming. Or a multi-level park with a sundeck and terraces. As the years progress, we need to think about a more sustainable approach to stadiums – World Cup and Olympics alike – and their lasting effects on the environment...Brazil, this is your chance!
With all eyes turned towards Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we're going beyond the stadium and putting the spotlight on local people, organisations and movements that incorporate and implement smart approaches to sustainability and social justice. Find other articles in the series here.