Have the Olympics gotten too big?
London residents today lost a bid to stop rooftop missile deployments. Many Britons are questioning Olympics they say are most notable for super-sized costs and security.
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Sinclair talks over the noise of construction trucks doing last-minute work on the Olympic Park. Sinclair says the reclaimed area had industrial scars but also overgrown orchards that enthusiasts were beginning to replant.Skip to next paragraph
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He ends the walk in front of Stratford's revamped transit station, and points up past an elevated footbridge. Rising castle-like is Europe's biggest urban mall, newly opened by Australia's Westfield Group.
"You come out of this station and you can't access the Olympic site without having to walk through that," he says. "The first thing you'll see on the right-hand side is an enormous casino."
New jobs in 'derelict' spaces
The perspective is different on another walking tour accompanied by Jamie Hodge with the Stratford Renaissance Partnership, a consortium of organizations with a stake in the area's redevelopment. As he walks through the mall, he, too, notes that most Olympic spectators are going to walk this route, "which is why you can see [luxury retailers like] Liberty, Prada," he says, pointing. "It'll be interesting to see how many will stay."
The mall employs 10,000 people, at least 2,000 of whom were previously unemployed, according to the government's London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).
But shopping there is mostly beyond the reach of locals, says young resident Rob Winkel. Instead, the trains bring shoppers from outside.
Still, jobs hold the promise of lifting up residents. The LLDC says the reuse of the four permanent Olympic venues will provide 8,000 to 10,000 jobs. And the new hotels are taking in nearby college students, training them in the hospitality industry and offering them lasting jobs.
"Marks & Spencer, Holiday Inn, they are now telling businesses coming in that you can hire local people [and] they are a fantastic workforce," says Paul Brickell with the LLDC. He hopes the coming of Siemens will similarly reassure other high-tech firms.
The little guys
On the walk, Mr. Hodge points out a set of abandoned buildings surrounded by shattered glass and graffiti. "You see here: urban dereliction. This is what a lot of the site was."
Could redevelopment of such spaces be done with smaller local firms rather than big multinationals?
"If it were up to me, I would have local stores, but we don't live in a world where investment is dictated by [them]," he replies. "Do I like the fact that the biggest McDonald's in the world is being built in the Olympic Park? No."
As Hodge walks down Stratford's main street, he points out several small local businesses sprouting near the Holiday Inn. One is a Victorian theater that had been a dangerous nightclub. Locals have refurbished it to offer live shows and boxing. A nonprofit artist studio and an upscale Moroccan restaurant have also opened.
But there are signs of loss, too. A furniture store is closing because of higher rents. Hodge is sad to see the greasy-spoon Pie Crust Cafe shuttered.
One of the old businesses that survives is Cafe Mondo, recently reopened after renovations. Proprietor Antonio Zeolla owns the building, insulating him from rent hikes.
Times are tough, though. When Cafe Mondo first opened in 1997, no one in Stratford knew what a cappuccino was. Now he's competing against nearby Westfield mall.
But he's still happy with the redevelopment. "The best thing is putting the area on the map," he says. "Stratford now, everyone knows where it is, from all over the world."
IN PICTURES: Countdown to the 2012 London Olympics