Sanitizing Public Space in Olympic Host Cities: The Spatial Experiences of Marginalized Youth in 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London

Jacqueline Kennelly & Paul Watt

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Kennelly, J. & Watt, P. (1). Sanitizing Public Space in Olympic Host Cities: The Spatial Experiences of Marginalized Youth in 2010 Vancouver and 2012 London. Sociology, 45(5), 765–781.

Debord , global cities , homelessness , Lefebvre , Olympics , police , poverty , youth

This article is based on a cross-national qualitative study of homeless and street-involved youth living within Olympic host cities. Synthesizing a Lefebvrian spatial analysis with Debord's concept of 'the spectacle', the article analyses the spatial experiences of homeless young people in Vancouver (host to the 2010 Winter Olympics) and draws some comparisons to London (host to the 2012 Summer Olympics). Tracing encounters with police, gentrification and Olympic infrastructure, the article assesses the experiences of homeless youth in light of claims made by Olympic proponents that the Games will 'benefit the young'. By contrast, the authors argue positive Olympic legacies for homeless and street-involved young people living within host cities are questionable.

Main finding
The spatial experiences of homeless young people when their cities host the Olympic Games are varied, as seen from a preliminary focus group in London and qualitative research conducted in Vancouver. Some youth found that they were afforded access to spaces that were previously inaccessible, while others encountered the emptying of some spaces. The bid committee’s promised formal representations of space (conceived and planned spaces) often stand in marked contrast to the spatial representations (space as it is lived) of the young people themselves. Other forms of urban cleansing and gentrification that have occurred in the East sides of London and Vancouver are not the same as the changes that accompany the Olympics. The Olympics’ status as ‘mega-events’ lead to both short- and long-term spatial results for homeless youth, both predicted and unexpected.

Description of method used in the article
Fieldwork took place over three periods of time: in Vancouver a year before the 2010 Games began, during the 2010 Games, and in London two years before the 2012 Games. Fieldwork consisted of interviews and focus groups alongside visual methods including video responses, photo-essays, and collages. Overall, the low-income, homeless, and street-involved youth participants ranged from age 15 to 24 and were recruited from housing shelters and community centers. There were 33 participants in the first phase of fieldwork, 27 in the second phase (with some overlap from the first), and ten in the third.

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