TOWARD AN URBAN SOCIOLOGY OF MEGA-EVENTS
Harry H. Hiller
The density and diversity of urban populations has long been understood to provide a context for the expression of various forms of collective behavior in the public spaces of cities (Mumford 1961; Lofland 1998; Castells 1983; Jukes 1990; Jacobs 1961). From street festivals, parades, and pilgrimages to riots, marches of resistance, and demonstrations, such expressive and instrumental activities have been among the most observable aspects of urban social life. Juxtaposed next to more spontaneous behavior supported by large urban agglomerations were large planned gatherings of people for religious, sporting, or political purposes in cathedrals, coliseums, or state buildings. Special events provided occasions for celebration, commemoration, or declaration as emotions intensified, generating excitement that altered the daily routines of urban dwellers. Even special market days could draw crowds to specified locations in a congested city in a manner that altered the nature of urban living. Cities and their public spaces have always provided an environment for a wide range of special events that changed the daily rhythm of city life (Whyte 1980). Research in Urban Sociology, Volume 5, pages 181-205. Copyright © 2000 by JAI Press Inc. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved. ISBN: 0-7623-0540-1
HARRY H. HILLER
In the contemporary era, cities continue to be centers for special events that draw people like magnets from within the city as well as beyond. Some special events are primarily local, whereas others are deliberately planned to attract nonresidents, such as festivals, major sporting events, or conferences (Getz 1997). Some events are a regularized part of city life (e.g., taking place annually) while others are one-time events specially awarded to a city. Given the process of globalization (Sassen 1991), some special events have become so significant, as a result of either widespread recognition or perceptions of their meaning and impact, that cities have actually engaged in competitions with 6ther cities in a "bid" process to host these events. The larger the event as measured by the number of participants, the extent of media exposure, the potential revenue generation, and the international nature of the event, the more likely that cities will pursue the event as desirable (Zukin 1995).
THE CONCEPT OF MEGA-EVENT IN URBAN PERSPECTIVE
When a special event is a short-term, one-time, high profile event hosted by a city, it is referred to as a mega-event. The high profile nature of the event is related not only to some form of international or large-scale participation but specifically to the fact that in some significant sense, the mass media carries the event to the world. A special event habitually hosted by a city on a fixed time schedule (such as festivals or exhibitions) may attempt to draw international visitors, but it has become part of the rhythm and identity of that particular city (Getz 1997, p. 8). In contrast, a mega-event rotates among cities, occurs intermittently (which presumably heightens its importance), and generates intense global media exposure specifically for the duration of the event. 1 A mega-event is normally sponsored by a body outside of the city or country in which the event is hosted that establishes the parameters and ground rules for the event. Thus, in an important way, ultimate control of the mega-event does not rest with the host city, which is increasingly expected to provide financial guarantees and comply with other rules and timelines set by the sponsoring body. The awarding of a mega-event to a city is often contingent on the city meeting these external obligations in relation to a fixed date, which creates a sense of urgency that is not always conducive to urban democratic processes and established long-term planning goals. The best illustrations of mega-events are World's...
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