Those Beijing Olympics "Ruin Porn" Photos Are Faking It

This month, the Atlantic Cities picked up a batch of photos by David Gray of Reuters, purportedly documenting the waste and ruin left behind by the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A lot of people are excited by this. But the pictures are dishonest crap.

It's true, every city that hosts the Olympics is squandering resources on a phenomenal scale, for the most absurd of reasons. It is a giant, temporary festival of otherwise obscure and unpopular sports. You will never host another weightlifting event that is as big a deal as your Olympic weightlifting competition, so your Olympic-class weightlifting arena is by definition useless afterward. Nothing but the Olympics is important enough to justfy Olympic construction, and the Olympics leaves town forever as soon as it's over.

So what have Reuters and the Atlantic put together to prove this easily provable fact?

The 2008 Beijing Olympics venue for the beach volleyball competition lies deserted and unmaintained.

What? There's not a thriving pro beach volleyball circuit in Chaoyang Park?

The only really odd thing about the neglected beach volleyball arena is that it hasn't already been torn down, as it was designed to be. Maybe the economic downturn made it less urgent to recover and reuse the structural steel. What next?

A sign stands at a deserted field showing where the stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games baseball competition once stood.

So where the temporary baseball venue stood, there's now...an empty field, with trees planted in it. Because the temporary venue has been taken down. As planned.

On we go:

The deserted and unmainted former venue for the kayaking competition [...] cycling competition [...] rowing competition [...] rowing and kayaking [...] rowing [...] baseball [...] baseball [...] BMX [...] kayaking [...] baseball [...] beach volleyball [...] kayaking [...] baseball.

So that's five of Beijing's 31 venues. Three of the five were designed to be temporary facilities. None are on the Olympic Green. Most are nowhere near the urban center.

Again, the Olympics is a huge waste of money. Beijing wasted huge amounts of money. Hundreds of thousands of people were relocated. The Bird's Nest-the avant-garde centerpiece of it all, a stadium too large to be used for any spectator sport in China-stands now as a symbol pointless gigantism and broken promises; Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist who helped design it, was imprisoned and released last year as part of a crackdown on dissent that began around the Olympics themselves and shows no sign of easing.

But the infrastructure build-out in Beijing was, if anything, more practical than the Olympic norm. The city attached the Games to an ongoing, rapid urban-renewal plan, including a vastly expanded subway and rail system. In the name of thrift, many of the minor-event venues that were originally planned for the Olympic Green were instead located at universites around the city-where they could have an afterlife as somewhat overbuilt campus gymnasiums, rather than completely overbuilt white elephants.

Those Beijing Olympics "Ruin Porn" Photos Are Faking It

Here's a photo of the Bird's Nest from the spring of 2010, when I went back for a look. The Olympic Green, two years after the Games, was a pleasant public space. The grounds were well tended, with fresh flowers planted everywhere, and people were enjoying themselves there.

A Reuters story this past May, accompanied by Gray's grim photography, described the venues as "unloved, underused and draining public finances"-but then, describing the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube swimming center, Reuters reported:

[B]oth places are better known for the steady stream of curious tourists they attract-some 4.61 million visitors in 2011-rather than as locations for major sporting events.

Who needs a major sporting event? That's 2.2 million more people than Turner Field, né Centennial Olympic Stadium, drew last year. Even if you add in the Georgia World Congress Center, Beijing is a million visitors ahead of Atlanta.

People see what they want to see. The final picture in the Atlantic Cities series the one at the top of this post:

A make-shift broom lies on a deserted field that was once part of the stadium where the 2008 Olympic Games baseball competition was held.

In the foreground is a bound bundle of brush, raggedy-looking to the untrained eye. It is a completely ordinary Chinese-style broom, the exact implement that every professional street sweeper in Beijing sweeps the streets with every day. Anyone who's been to China who would call that a "make-shift" broom is bullshitting you.