Going for gold

Read in The Economist of 25 July 2015:


Spent a week in London this summer with the whole family. On arriving at Gatwick airport I started reading the local newspapers. The title of an article in The Economist on the legacy of the London Olympic Games 2012 stroke me: ‘’Going for bronze’. Really just bronze? What did the UK taxpayer pay for the London Games, which were, as I remember, extremely successful? According to the London based newspaper it costed 14,5 billion dollar – more than double the original bid (9 billion pounds public money plus 250 million pounds for renovating the stadium and 141 million pounds for building the Olympic village). Three years later The Economist concludes that the Games did not boost sport in the UK. On the contrary, budget cuts have even diminished sport activities. The other aim of the Olympics – transforming London – has been reached though. Almost 3000 flats have been built in the eastern part of London; another 7.000 will be built in the coming years; the media center will reopen as a tech-startup hub and museums and universities will move to the site. And yes, the unemployment rate in this poor part of town was as high as 13%, but has fallen to 9% now.

Why then only bronze? The Economist: “With London’s extraordinary growth, the area would have been developed eventually in a piecemeal way, Olympics or not.” The newspaper thinks the games only sped the development up. As a planner I doubt whether this is true. The extraordinary growth of London is partly also due to the positive vibe and radiance of the Olympic project. Besides, we’re discussing the poorest parts of London: Newham and Tower Hamlets, chosen on purpose by ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone. Sure, the Jubilee line and London City airport were already in place, but all these schemes fitted in the Greater London Plan of mayor Livingstone, of which the Games were, in fact, its centerpiece, its jewel in the crown. The most important legacy of the Olympic Games 2012 has been omitted in the article though. Public transport in London was in a very bad shape. The quality of mass transit has improved all over London very much since the bid for the Olympic Games was won. Modern busses, modern trains. Every two minutes a metro, every four minutes a bus, the oyster card works. The quality is far better than public transport in Amsterdam. And it is still improving because even Mr. Johnson keeps on investing in Transport for London. Without the games this would never have happened.






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