Industrial Tourism Ghost Towns: Another Sports Hustle Revealed as Mirage

London Ghost Town

New Orleans    There is no bigger industrial tourism hustle than what we witness with regularity around the hype connected to major international sporting events.  The Olympics are grand quadrennial fare with plenty of “bread” for the masses and are quite moving for the athletes, as indicated by NBA and USA center, Tyson Chandler’s comment that getting a medal felt like someone was “pouring hot water down his back.”  Meanwhile the rest of us are being taken to ice cold showers.

Once again, the Olympics were a major league bust for the host city.  This may come as a surprise, but there’s no news there.  The Commonwealth Games in Delhi recently were also a billion dollar fiasco once again proving that “if you build it, they will NOT come!”  Television is trumping tourism, even though the sales pitch by the promoters and industrial tourism developers are chock full of sky high projections about the number of tourists that will travel to the games and swell city and commercial coffers.  Reality shows it simply is not happening.  London spent between an admitted $14 billion and an estimated $20 billion in getting ready for the Olympic Games, but to quote John Burns in the New York Times “fears of the Gridlock Games have transformed into complaints about the Ghost Town Olympics.”  London experienced the usual situation ignoring “the lessons of other Olympic host cities that have emptied out during the Games over the past 20 years.”

How do they get away with it?  The official spin is always that these expenditures will pay off in the future, but what’s the real story?

It is impossible to believe that the promoters and public officials are not winking-and-nodding in concert here as they pull the wool over the biscuit eaters paying the bills.  Part of this is easy to understand, because there is no harder sell than the need to hunker down to pay for “infrastructure improvements.”  In tough times what citizen wants to have to double down to pay for bricks-and-mortar?  What mayor, governor, or higher wants to risk fame and future just to ensure better mass transit, better roads, and the rest?  The promoters and politicians are easily complicit on industrial tourism.  Big time sports and the publicity and media that come with it, tart up the package enough that no one looks too long at the final bill and long term payment plans.  The developers, contractors, and construction folks cover the blowback for the politicians by being able to back slap about the improved image of the city or the prospects for the future as part of the corporate cushion.

One-time events like the Super Bowl are corporate fandangos so they fill the planes and party locations while the fans watch on TV and understand that is their due.  Even World Cup events leave cities groping for explanations on the costs, as proven by Johannesburg and South Africa last time around, where the endgame rationalizations, as usual, centered on the increased appeal of South Africa in the global tourism market.  I would love to see the figures that have made Jo-burg a destination tourism location since the World Cup.  Now we have Rio de Janeiro at war in the favelas as it prepares for both the next World Cup and the next Olympics.  Brazil fortunately has a strong economy, but so did India two years ago.

The real Olympic dreams are clearly not those of the athletes, but of the developers and the promoters, and theirs are the only ones coming true consistently with the politicians riding on their backs on the money train.  There has to be a better, and more honest, way to build major infrastructure and support ALL of the population rather than the big boys.

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Organizing through the Shelters in Delhi

ITO shelter today

Bengaluru   The Commonwealth Games are the old British Empire’s continued footprint in the former colonies every several years as athletes’ troop in between the Olympics, and when India hosted the games for the first time in Delhi in the fall of 2010, this was to be a star turn for the city on the world stage.  The results can be seen in a number of newly built flyovers (expressways) and other capital improvements particularly in the Metro and the airport.  In the wake of other problems tourism did not reach expected heights and what turns out to have been significant corruption marred the construction and the media’s spin on the games.

For ACORN and our work in Delhi it also meant still dealing with the forced slum removal around the Income Tax Office (ITO) and the 70,000 people that lived in the ITO slums.   In the wake of the disastrous Commonwealth Games we ended up agreeing to manage a “night shelter” across from where the athletes’ housing had been built in the path of the old slums for many of our members who were bicycle rickshaw pullers pushed out of work and off the streets during the games with little livelihood and no income.  When I visited in 2011 we were still waiting for the urban department to reimburse us for the staffing cost for maintaining the tent and tarp structure over that winter after the Games.  Now a year later, the winter has turned into the a year round shelter, the tents have become corrugated, hard walls with solar power, water, and portable toilets, and the one shelter has become four with two on either side of the expressway around the old ITO and the huge Akshardham Temple and the Metro station of the same name in East Delhi.

Akshardham Temple and the flyover

The other two shelters are also in areas where we have a large concentration of members in central Delhi one, a permanent building is near the Delhi Gate in the warren of narrow streets and slender alleys between the buildings of Old Delhi only feet away from the walled city and the Red Fort.  The other temporary structure is hardly a kilometer down the highway from the new civic center that houses the Delhi government and is near the old Azmeri Gate to the old city.   Added together the centers we manage have a theoretical capacity of 250 men, but when the weather is cool, that number is always over 300 and sometimes close to 400 packed in every night.

Permanent shelter in Old Delhi

At first blush an organizer might think that this is a “captive audience” and the organizing could be layered casually across the time, but practically our centers in most locations go from empty to full up and force the work to be done “on the run.”  Informal work is hard work at exceedingly low pay stretched over many hours.  Our rickshaw pullers for example tend to not come into the shelter until after 11 PM when the last loads are driven from the Metro stops to homes.  At 6 AM many are back up on the rickshaw pulling people to work and trying to string their money together for the day and pay the rent on the rickshaw to the owner.  Every morning there is a time in each of the centers where our organizers read the daily paper to the men.  The allotment of staffing on the contracts has allowed us to divide some of the hours into more people doing our community organizing work so that there is one organizer per shelter.  Many of the men join the organization and are able to stay active and each center is a mini-office of sorts.   Capacity has increased for ACORN Delhi, but unfortunately there are only so many hours in the day.

Years ago had we planned to run such shelters?  No, absolutely not, but in organizing, you do what has to be done, and adapt the tools to the construction of the organization as they come to your hand, and that’s what Dharmendra Kumar and his team with ACORN Delhi have taken to task to move their mission.

Here I am with Dharmendra Kumar (left) and some of our organizing staff at the shelters

 

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