Nobody Does It Better: Why London 2012 Wins the Gold Medal of Recent Olympics
Back in the day, things were easier. All you needed to have an Olympics was a loincloth and the will to win. And, in the beginning, they often forgot the loincloth.
For better or for worse, putting on an Olympics nowadays is an unfathomably complex affair. Bidding wars and billions in contracts are the hallmark of a modern Olympics. But in spite of all the resources behind them, some Games still go better than others.
For example, many of the things that Athens and Beijing got wrong with their Olympics in 2004 and 2008, London got right in 2012. The main masterstroke by London planners was hosting the Olympics in Stratford, East London. The area was, and still is, economically poor and densely populated and, before the Games, in dire need of infrastructure. Unlike in Greece and China, London’s Olympic venues have not turned into tumbleweed ghost towns once the athletes and enthusiasts cleared out. Now, the facilities are now busy sports centers used by local residents. The aquatics centre, Velopark and Copper Box sports venues are open to the public, as is the Arcelormittal Orbit.
Probably the most notable new resident is the Olympic Stadium’s new tenant, Premier League soccer club, West Ham United who have refurbished the stadium to suit their needs. It hasn’t come cheap—£702m, including conversion costs—for the duration of their tenancy. But with a host of other sporting and cultural events likely to be held there, the 54,000 seat venue seems unlikely to turn into a dustbowl.
The Games helped London in other ways too. Around the time of the Olympics and until the Brexit vote, the London property market was on fire. Fueled at the high end by investment bankers, Russian oligarchs, Chinese investors and Middle Eastern oil billionaires, the trickle down meant that all of London’s numbers went up. People needed housing and Stratford, with its proximity to Central London and new rail links, was an area that made perfect sense for new residences. In addition, the expansive Westfield Shopping complex next to the Olympic Stadium became a strong retail draw for new transplants.
The gentrification of Stratford, though has been contentious. The Olympic Village, which housed athletes during the Games has been converted to long-term residential dwellings. Now renamed East Village, it contains 2,818 units, half of which are market priced homes (mostly for private rent), a quarter are housing association homes or “affordable housing”—and a quarter are for social rent. That makes a 50/50 affordable/market split. The Olympic Park development plans to have five new neighborhoods but unlike the East Village’s 50/50 ratio, theirs was only 31 percent affordable. Why the reduction? Two reasons. There has been a dramatic increase in property prices and the deal for the East Village was struck under the old Labour Government. David Cameron’s Conservative Government has been less enamored with the idea of low-income housing.
But all is not shiny and new in Stratford. It’s still home to some of London’s poorest communities, living in old run-down buildings reminiscent of Dickensian times. Until all the new housing is completed in five or six years, it will be impossible to judge the full ramifications of the Games on Stratford’s economy. But if past Olympics are any measure to go on, London 2012 has been the Usain Bolt of recent events. The others aren’t even close.
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