The 2012 Games is held up as way to regenerate a run down part of London. The transformative powers of the Olympics have been tried before when Turin hosted the Winter Olympics. The city's former mayor describes what happened

The early 1990s for Torino brought the crude awareness of a deep structural crisis coming from the irreversible decline of its car industry. The model of “one-company town”, that had marked its development through the century and especially in the last forty years, was to an end. The city and the community had to reinvent themselves to defeat the decline forecasted by all the observers. There was a mood of sadness and depression amongst the citizens. There was no doubt about the harsh realities: eighty thousand jobs lost in fifteen years, a 60% reduction of cars produced in the area, a loss of credibility of the local government with four mayors in five years and finally a government appointed commissioner.

Season of mayors

The turning point of this process was 1993. First of all, the Italian Parliament approved the reform in mayoral elections. Instead of being appointed indirectly by a council of elected politicians, mayors would henceforth be directly elected by their own constituents. This novelty started the so-called “season of mayors” that gave many Italian big cities a new capacity to plan their future and the opportunity to increase the pride in affiliation of the citizens and to mobilize the different city actors around shared projects.

In Torino, the new administration launched a long-term project to redefine the mission of the city from the “one-company town” model to that of a European node in the network of European leading cities. The crisis had to be considered as a unique opportunity to design a future for the 21st century.

New masterplan

The first important decision was the approval in 1995 of the new urban masterplan based on the strengthening of the Torino railway node and the reuse of the adjacent 3.7m m2 abandoned industrial areas. The capacity of the old railway track was increased and put underground and a 15km north to south urban boulevard over the railway track, called the central backbone, became a link between the old industrial areas transformed into mixed-use development areas.

A second crucial governance tool was the adoption of a strategic plan with a 2011 deadline, the 150th anniversary of Torino becoming the capital of a unified nation. Torino was the first city in Italy to adopt this innovative governance tool. All groups within the community - public and private, institutional and social – joined in the process of creating the plan and six main themes were identified to guide the initiatives.

Olympic hopes

One of these themes was the commitment to the internationalisation of Torino which led the city to decide in 1997 to bid for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Of course, we could not expect to win the bid – it was the first time that Torino attempted such a challenge – but the bid itself was considered to be a good opportunity to present the city to the international community. But luck was on our side and in 1999 we were selected to host the XXth Winter Games.

Careful attention was devoted to planning the staging of the Games as part of the transformation of the city. First of all the investment in the Games should leave the maximum legacy. We decided therefore to accelerate the implementation of the new urban masterplan by giving priority to reusing and restoring older facilities and sites instead of building new ones whenever possible. The Olympic district was identified around the Lingotto area (the old Fiat car plant) and this part of the city has dramatically taken advantage of the huge investment made.

City of the Alps

But the Olympics were a catalyst also in a more general way. Many projects and investment that were not directly related to the Games were accelerated and met the Olympics deadline. For example the first trunk of the underground transportation system was opened one month before the Games and a wide plan of urban restoration was completed to host the spectators coming from all over the world. New good quality hotels were built and the old ones were renewed under a public plan financed by the region. The same initiatives took place also in the mountain area close to Torino where the alpine competitions were planned. In this way the claim in the Olympics bid that Torino was “the city of the Alps” was confirmed and became a legacy commitment.

A second guideline was concerned with Italian culture and lifestyle. The opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics were a fantastic opportunity to promote our values and traditions with centuries of history and achievements in all cultural fields. Through the cultural Olympiad hundreds of events in music, cinema, theatre and art were held for visitors and citizens and so the community rediscovered the city spaces as opportunities for meeting together and celebrating. The Olympic Games were the turning point from the depression of the late 1990s to a new pride.


What were the main lessons we learned? First of all we learned that a crisis causes problems and depression in a community but it can be also an opportunity for change and innovation. A great event can be very useful provided that it is tailored to the size and capabilities of the city, and it is better if it is part of an innovation process and investment in it is strongly driven to leave a legacy.

The most important legacy of the Games is – in my opinion – an intangible one: the self-confidence of the community for an important success on the international stage. This will be a precious resource to complete the transformation process of the city now facing the effects of the global financial crisis.