Birmingham 2022: The Legacy of Commonwealth Games

Anyone visiting Birmingham City Centre’s Library will be told, courtesy of a ticking, digital stopwatch, that we are approaching 200 days out from the 2022 Commonwealth Games’ opening ceremony. And should any of those visitors be travelling from the north of the city, their view of the Birmingham skyline coming in will have been somewhat impaired by cranes and construction structures assembled over the Perry Barr region.

The one-year countdown to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is now well underway. But what legacy will it leave on the Midlands beyond 2022?

Sport led regeneration is the concept of using major sporting events to improve policies concerning urban economic development and social integration across a major city. It is why the West Midlands, and its then newly elected mayor Andy Street, were so delighted when Birmingham defeated Durban, South Africa, in 2016 to host the 22nd Commonwealth Games.

The prospect of hosting a major sporting event is an excitable one for a city’s tertiary sector. But for certain residents, landlords and business owners, feelings of uncertainty will arise about the prospect of competitions and celebrations taking place on their doorstep, for such a short and arguably inconvenient period of time.

They instead want to enjoy the economic stimulation and regeneration that comes with it and mirror the success of other host cities in times gone by. Glasgow most recently hosted the Games in 2014, whilst the last English city to have the games played was Manchester, in 2002.

As a city, Manchester has rivalled Birmingham for the status of the UK’s ‘Second City’ ever since.

The extent to which Manchester’s growth can be directly attributed to the hosting of the Commonwealth Games is open to debate. However, the explosive regeneration its city centre and surrounding areas has seen since, is physically present for all to see.

Prior to the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Manchester and its eastern areas were feeling the effects of economic downturn, increased unemployment and de-population, following an extended period of de-industrialisation towards the end of the twentieth century. The hosting of the Games, and the consequential funding of capital from central government and private entities, heavily supported the city’s integrated regenerative strategies.

Manchester City Council hoped the Games would also catalyse interest and future investment into the region. Those hopes came true in 2008, when the Abu Dhabi Royal Family acquired Manchester City Football Club for £210 million. Since the end of the games, the Premier League club have been the long standing tenants of the City of Manchester Stadium, the purpose-built arena that was the crown of the Commonwealth Games in 2002.

Since, investment to the tune of billions of pounds has poured into the regeneration of the areas surrounding the stadium, the city centre, and the nearby wards of Bradford, Gorton, Ancoats and Clayton. Manchester has benefited from thousands of new homes, apartments, shops, jobs and restaurants, as investment into the city increased in parallel to its population.

In recent times, South Africa, Brazil and Russia’s hosting of FIFA World Cups and Olympic Games has shown the opposite effect sport led regeneration can have on a city. Stadiums and regeneration projects in surrounding areas have gone unfinished or abandoned, leaving the undesired effect of being unable to promote sustained growth in a targeted region.

However, each case study is ultimately different. Birmingham and Manchester’s recent and historical relationships with industry have common similarities, and notable differences. Manchester’s de-industrialisation and subsequent decline prior to 2002 is not now mirrored in the Midlands, whilst they both remain more developed than cities in both South America and Africa that have hosted major sporting events in recent times.

Instead, Birmingham represents a stable base with promising potential for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, to catalyse high levels of growth, interest and investment into the region.

The eyes of the world will soon be on our second city, and its impressively redeveloped Alexander Stadium.

But as a region, attentions must be firmly focussed on the future, to ensure no potential goes wasted. The legacy of the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games should be one of growth, development, regeneration and success, to mirror the success of sport led regeneration projects that have previously gone by.

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