Piero’s research interests are in comparative urban studies, cultural and urban policy Olympics, gentrification, housing, and social deprivation and marginalisation. His work thus straddles both the disciplines of geography and cultural policy.
The links between cultural policy and geography are brought together and made visible through the issue of affordable housing provision; a key feature of Olympic legacy claims, with regards to the Athletes’ Village and other associated housing developments. The research investigates cultural strategies and urban development – via the re-development of the Athletes’ Villages in London and Turin – through the lens of neo-liberal policies such as public-private partnerships (PPPs). The thesis shows that this policy model, through favouring private interests, fails to achieve social justice and benefits for local communities. Similarly, when applied to the Olympics-related housing developments PPPs produce a large amount of housing stock oriented to wealthy social groups; they are not likely to provide genuine affordable homes for the individuals in the greatest need for them. This research, thus, contributes to both the disciplines of cultural policy and geography by showing how urban redevelopments need to be examined within the wider context of city branding when cities try to transform or maintain their status as a Capital of Culture.
While there are many differences between London and Turin, their comparison provides interesting food for thought regarding how the global Olympic city-building models have developed differently according to each city’s peculiar characteristics. Similarly, this comparison allows for an analysis of the Olympic housing legacy that occurs between global and local urban and cultural policy.
The Athletes’ Village in Turin was built in the area of the city’s former fruits and vegetables wholesale market, adjacent to the ex-industrial district of Lingotto: this was one of the Olympics-related large-scale urban regeneration projects key objectives. After the Games the Village was reconverted into 657 housing units. 207 of them – nearly 30% of the total stock – have become social housing. Part of the remaining 70% was turned into offices, while the rest should have been sold on the private housing market. However, Turin’s city council and its private partners, who own the complex, have not been able to sell these units; hence, these buildings have remained empty, and over time have considerably deteriorated. In March 2013, 600 refugees who arrived to Turin as a consequence of the 2011 North Africa emergency occupied the empty buildings. During my visits to the Village and my informal talks with several refugees, I have verified that they are experiencing deprivation, marginalisation and unemployment. Such degraded life conditions has also prompted several of them to become involved in criminal activities; and this has generated tensions with the residents living in the surrounding area. What’s more, in January 2015 an order from the judiciary identified the refugees as squatters and ordered their eviction. Interestingly, Turin’s Village story also includes the contemporary art event “Paratissimaa” and this highlights the increasing links between geography and culture. In 2013 the local council of Lingotto invited the organisers to hold this event in the abandoned exposition area adjacent to the occupied buildings, as part of a strategy to revitalise the neighbourhood. However, in 2014, the organisers did not have the financial capacity to address the poor conditions of the pavilions and decided to hold the exposition in a different place.
London’s Athletes’ Village borders the Olympic Park in Stratford, and was meant to provide affordable homes for deprived East London communities. However, the joint venture between the Qatari Diar sovereign fund and Delancey (collectively known as QDD) purchased 51% of the 2818 housing units that were allocated to the private market. QDD, as the freeholder, has renamed the new neighbourhood East Village. Furthermore, it has transformed the Village into the first real estate management investment fund in the UK; and it is renting out its flats on long-term lease instead of selling them. Triathlon Homes – a consortium with extensive experience of managing affordable housing – took on 49% of the remaining housing stock that was designed to be affordable housing. Only half of these flats have become traditional social rental housing; while the other half has been transformed into new affordable housing products: intermediate rent; shared ownership; and equity shared ownership. However, such products – allocated at a price between social and private market levels – are unlikely to be truly affordable for lower-income categories; and they risk becoming an opportunity for wealthy professionals to purchase housing at a discount. What’s more, one of the main criteria adopted by Triathlon and the London Borough of Newham to allocate the social housing units is to prioritise those in employment rather than those in greatest need.
Both examples demonstrate that while there are different management styles involved in the transformation of the former Athletes’ Villages in Turin and London, where the former has not been well-planned and the latter clearly managed, both projects have produced spaces that raise several questions regarding their proposed Olympics legacies.
Piero is jointly supervised by the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies (School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy) and the Department of Film, Media and Cultural Studies (School of Arts).