Over determined spaces: From Live Sites to Olympic Venues

Cross posted from David’s blog.

Working alongside my colleague Matt Frew (aka @graffiticloud) on Olympic Live Site research (www.researchinglivesites.net) I’ve been in London for two days now wandering around Olympic venues and experiencing the Live Sites and Celebration events that are part of the Host City Contract for the Games. In this short blog post I want to rehearse some of our initial thoughts on the socio-spatial dimensions of the consumer experience of London 2012.

First, it’s worth thinking about the idea of ‘produced space’ around London for the Games. It’s clear that detailed transport planning has taken place to ensure that the way visitors experience the city is structured around certain routes and the Olympic venue corridors. Sponsors ‘own’ the advertising hoardings along these defined routes, representing valuable real estate in return for their considerable investment. My customer journey is prescribed where possible offering a narrowly defined gaze directed for the activation of the Olympic brand family.

Of course, we’re told that is the ‘cost’ we need to bear in order to host the Olympics in the first place and there are other, less corporate, ways of consuming the Games in public spaces open to anyone, free of charge. These are the Live Sites. Free, though ticketed, held in public parks and other civic spaces. Spaces where those without tickets can congregate, watch events and attend pop culture events collectively. We’ve been in these spaces for the last day of two and here are some thoughts:

1. These spaces are like any music festival – you can’t bring your own food, drink, unofficial merchandise, video cameras and numerous other things. Justified on the basis of security (important) the effect is to reduce freedom and fluidity in experiencing these celebrations. These sites are essentially additional venues controlled by the sponsor family for profit maximisation.

2. The Potters Field live site is more informal, relaxed, accessible and ‘public’. The community live sites across the south of England are even more accessible, open to local people and devoid of sponsor priorities.

3. When linked to the wider issues surrounding viewing the Olympics (ticketing, etc), there is a sense that people want to congregate and experience the atmosphere of the event but the Olympic Park experience is disappointing people. We’ve spoken with lots of people who want to enter the park, see the venues and watch events on the Park Live screens but access is restricted, only limited tickets are available and disappointment abounds. When we watch television and see the empty seats in stadia but can’t even enter the space to gaze upon the iconic architecture then we wonder whether the discourse of securitisation justifies the over-determination of space which is occurring.

There’s lots more to come of our Live Site research over the course of the next few days. To participate, tag your tweets or photos #livesites or comment on this blog post.

The Hyde Park Live Site is more a venue than a public space

Matt and David reflect on their first encounter with the Hyde Park BTLive live site – a space where you queue to be contained and then expected to consume – far from the free and public space imagined. The levels of security, similar to the airport lounge, where chairs and food are not allowed in this alternative space to the Olympic events.

Matt interviews some spectators at the Hyde Park Live Site about why they decided to attend

Westfield’s John Lewis capitalises on the Olympic Park ticketing fiasco

David and Matt visited John Lewis to find that they were charging £2 a person to gain access to the window that overlooks the Olympic Park – providing the opportunity for John Lewis to claw back money from the prime real estate that they were sitting within – and for those who were visiting the Olympic complex, to take a photograph of the venue.

Many people travel to an Olympic Games from all over the world- even if they do not have have access to tickets to the formal games. The Olympic city becomes a festival in its own right, characterised by spaces (such as live sites) where the public can come together, watch and celebrate the sport – as well as being part of a vibrant international community.

Another aspect is capturing the memory of ‘being there’ – photographs, videos and now smart phones enabled by social media allow for people to not only take pictures of the Olympic city, but share immediately with their social network. It is the immediacy of ‘ being there’ – and the need to capture the iconic spaces that we associate with a host city – that probably fuels the frustration of those who could not get the £10 tickets to the olympic park. The obvious thing to do would be to let people in to enjoy the site, the experience and to champion the ‘olympic spirit’ (whatever that is) if it proves to be a way of encouraging people to celebrate the games. If it is to carry on this way, who knows what the outcome or impact from negative experiences may have in the maturing age of social media – it is difficult to ignore user-generated evaluation on your impact of your events…


Sorry, you can’t experience the Olympic Park

David and Matt arrived in Stratford, the tube station that connects the world to the London 2012 Olympic Park to discover that not only was it impossible to gain access to the park (tickets needed to be purchased in advance at the time of the original ticket ballot for events) but the expectations of the crowds were not being matched to previous games. Volunteers were on stand-by with mega-phones to warn the crowds that only 10000 tickets were available daily – and all had been allocated online.

There is an assumption that even if you don’t have access to the venues as a paid-for ticketed spectator, that you can still come to the Olympic site in East London and watch the events on a big screen. This has not been helped by the rumours that the BBC (TBC) have been promoting that access to the on-site celebration zone is now available to those who arrive – right in the mist of the #emptyseats scandal that dogs every Olympic games, where sponsors and stakeholders are given priority access to seats whilst the public scrabble for the remaining tickets.

Never the less, after speaking with some international spectators, Matt discovered that if you were willing to pay the price, there was access to tickets – but if that was through the ways prefers by LOCOG, that remains to be unseen.

London 2012 Olympics: the impact of commercialisation on the games

Cross posted from the Guardian Data Blog where this original article was published.

Since recovering for the rush of the Citizen Relay: a project thatattempted to capture alternative voices and stories of the Scottish torch relay, our research team (David McGillivrayMatt FrewGayle McPherson and myself) are now setting our sights on London.

Unlike the majority of the world, who will be focusing on the inescapable sporting events in the custom built stadiums and venues, we will instead be looking to capture, map and make sense of the alternative gathering sites of London 2012: the live and celebration sites. Through the course of the games we will be on the ground as researchers, using social media to capture and visualise the spectator spaces that we don’t often get to see.

In Olympic terms, Live Sites and Celebration Zones are now regularly trailed as being the way in which people can congregate(PDF) to celebrate. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) published a technical manual that stresses the main goal of Live Site and Celebration Zones is to:

provide a forum for people to come together in peace to celebrate the excitement of the Host City during an Olympic Games.

However, it is unsure how much impact such sites will have on the apparent collective enjoyment of the mega event or indeed how their presence will be used to justify and evaluate public perception towards the Olympic Games. But who is keeping tabs on such spaces?

Live Sites vary in size, scale and geographical location and in their objectives. In addition to ticketed spaces such as the Olympic Park itself, or the official sponsor spaces such as BTLive Fan Zones in Hyde and Victoria Park, there are also a vast number of country-specific ‘houses’ hosting public events and tourism showcases throughout the 16 days – vanishing as quickly as they were erected once the flame is extinguished. Some have cropped up across the country in the form of22 BBC Big Screens, giant televisions partially funded by local authorities to bring communities together to watch live events together in prominent places in city centers.

How popular they will be remains to be seen, but partly the reason we are interested in gathering data around these spaces in both London and across the UK is to try make sense of the spaces that are planned, crop up or are encouraged around the Olympics. We might have become accustomed to the big screens in our home towns as they have blended into the city noise over the 6 years they have been in existence, but it is worth remembering they were installed on behalf of the Olympic Games. We will be encouraging the use of tag #livesites on twitter throughout our time during the London Olympiad and as a team visiting London, Glasgow, Weymouth (host cities for sports) plus Edinburgh, Leicester and Manchester for big screens and community sites.

The research will be blogged at researchinglivesites.net and, like Citizen Relay, we will be using audioboo to interview people who are within the live sites to gather opinions and perceptions of the spaces. Importantly, we are keen to encourage others to contribute their thoughts on alternative Olympic spaces in their vicinity, as well as be advised on events and spaces that are occurring outside of officially sanctioned ‘celebration’ zones – these could include community events and gatherings, cultural and arts events, resistance, protests and political interventions (especially government hosted space) and commercial and branded opportunities posed by both official and unofficial sponsors across the city during games time. it is hoped with the help of theGuardian data blog, we will be able to gather and produce data that will help inform us where and how exactly people are not only ‘celebrating’ the games, if they are at all, but how they are experiencing the enclosed spaces that are considered ‘fun’ on behalf of LOCOG and their friends.

Reflecting on the BBC Big Screen experience in Edinburgh during the torch relay [audio]

During #citizenrelay, a community media project that followed the Scottish leg of the Olympic torch relay, we spent some time around the BBC Big Screen in Edinburgh – the only one of its kind in Scotland. Here is an audioboo of the direct reflection of watching some of the live evening celebrations of the torch reaching the capital city.