Olympics: London

For those of you who don’t know, this whole trip was made possible by a generous donation from my sponsor UNC-Chapel Hill. I told them I was intrigued on how hosting the Olympics affects the host country economically and wanted to visit different Olympic structures in Europe to see what the countries do with them after the fact. The Phillips Travel Scholarship committee liked my proposal and decided to fund this amazing trip! Learn more about this program here.

My first Olympic stop was the most recent host of the summer 2012 games: London. While the site is a little ways away from the main part of London, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is quite large and definitely a sight to see when visiting.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Then

The 2012 Olympic games hosted more than 10,000 athletes from all 204 National Olympic Committees. London was selected in 2005 defeating Moscow, New York, Madrid and Paris. The games used a mix of new venues, existing and historic facilities and temporary facilities in well known locations (like Hyde Park and the Horse Guards Parade). The redevelopment of the area required compulsory purchase orders of property to the dismay of the residents of the area – ie people were forced out by the government (with a severance package of sorts) in order for some site to be built. Overall, 206 businesses were forced to relocate by July 2007 so that the area could be cleared.

The costs for the games are separate from those for building the venues and infrastructure and redeveloping the land. The games are privately funded, but the venue and park costs are funded by public money. The original budget was £2.4 billion, but this was increased almost fourfold to about £9.3 billion ($14.46 billion) in 2007.

During the games Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time with 22 medals (18 gold). Women’s boxing was included for the first time, thus becoming the first time in which every sport had female competitors.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Now

Before heading out I interviewed a few people to gather their perspective on what it was like hosting the Olympics and what it meant to them. Overall they thought it was good for the city even though the tourists and traffic made life a pain while the Olympics were occurring. The part of London that was the site for the structures was “dodgy” and received a face lift due to the games. Roads were repaved and tons of projects that went to advancing the city flew through Parliament when it would normally take years.

While at the site, I was hoping to see closer views of the Olympic stadium, the east village and maybe even the stage where Gabby Douglas became a household name. To my surprise all of the Olympic related structures were blocked off for construction and the only thing accessible to the public were the shopping centers. Intrigued I asked one of the guards what was going on.

He informed me that the Olympic Stadium is being renovated for West Ham United, a football club in the area. The renovations will be until 2015 and there will be no public access until then. Womp.

While it was disheartening to realize that I was at a loss on this site, it was a little reassuring to know that it was not going to turn into a wasteland. Most people are happy with the area as Westfield Stratford City (a huge three level shopping mall) would take hours to go through. For tourists, this is great. For locals it was a huge (10,000 permanent jobs – 2,001 of which going to locals) addition to the job market. From a casino to an international food court to a bowling alley to a movie theater to almost every top European clothing brand name, Westfield Stratford City is definitely a site that almost everyone should make a trip to while in this great city.

Overall, the few people I talked with saw the 2012 London Olympic games as a success as residents saw many improvements and job growth in the aftermath of the games. While they have noticed taxes rising and public transport fares on a rather sharp increase, they attribute this more to general inflation rather than having to bare the brunt of the financial weight that the Olympics can bestow upon a city.

Here are some minor financial highlights from The Guardian:

  • The single biggest item of spending has been preparing the Olympic park: at £1.822bn ($2.75bn), it includes the local infrastructure, roads, cleaning up the site and powerlines
  • That’s followed by the venues, which cost £1.106bn ($1.669bn), and the most expensive is the Olympic stadium at £428m ($646m)
  • The cheapest venue is the basketball arena at only £4m ($6m)
  • While security is budgeted at £533m ($804m) – there’s another £475m ($716m) budgeted to cover army, security services and police spending (that includes surface to air missiles on tower blocks)
Not sure what this is, but it looked cool from afar

Not sure what this is, but it looked cool from afar

Map of the Olympic area

Map of the Olympic area

Not sure what this is, but it's a cool building from afar

Not sure what this is, but it’s a cool building from afar

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