The $14 billion Summer Olympics: Why does London even want them?
Unlike recent past hosts of the Olympic Games, London has nothing to prove to anyone. Yet it has paid handsomely to hold the Games – for reasons that go beyond mere prestige.
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Without the Olympics, Professor Travers doubts whether the land would ever have been reclaimed. At the least, he says, it would have taken as many as 60 years. The reason for that is as obvious as the $14 billion estimated budget for the London Organizing Committee of the Olympics Games.Skip to next paragraph
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Originally, officials had promised a $3.9 billion Games, with $1.6 billion of that to reclaim the Stratford land. In 2006, environmental analyses made it apparent that it would cost $8 billion to reclaim the land alone. But with the Olympics already secured, there was no choice but to do it.
In doing so, London has added a new chapter to the Olympic history book. It is trying to carve out a new standard for the Summer Olympic Games hosts – one might call it the anti-Beijing model. The Games are used to further specific urban redevelopment visions, and everything else gets a minimum of fuss.
The new train system to serve Olympic Park and beyond? That's high speed and state of the art. But the Olympic Stadium? Plans for it to be encased in costly LED screens were scrapped. After the Games, it will be downsized and handed over to West Ham United, a local professional soccer club. The wings of the "Stingray" – the aquatics venue – will be removed to leave a cozier stadium that can be used by the community as well as for competitions.
The basketball stadium? It's a 12,000-seat Hefty bag, basically. It is not permanent and will disappear when the Games end, as will most of the venues. The Olympic Park resembles nothing so much as a World's Fair for scaffolding enthusiasts – hardly the Beijing Olympic park, which was built as part of a $40 billion budget and looked as though finished with a sculptor's tool.
To be sure, the construction that's meant to be lasting – the remaking of East London neighborhoods – has come in for some criticism. Some local residents see it as gentrification for the benefit of corporations, wealthier outsiders, and politicians hoping to make a mark on the city.
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Travers, meanwhile, is not sure that London was immune from the one-upsmanship that has become so ingrained among the world's leading cities. Put another way: Do you think London wasn't at least a little pleased at snatching the Olympics out from under the nose of Paris – the presumed front-runner in the bidding for the 2012 Games?
True, getting the Games venues done well and on time is a check mark for British project management. After the debacles of building the Millennium Dome and renovating the nation's signature soccer stadium, Wembley, the Olympics can only help restore global trust in British can-do.
"You’re going to see beyond doubt that Britain can deliver," said Prime Minister David Cameron in a speech at the Olympic Park Thursday. "We’ve delivered this incredible Olympic Park on time, on budget, and in real style."
And he touched on the new infrastructure, too: "Forty-six thousand people have turned a wasteland the size of Hyde Park into an extraordinary city town within one of the world’s most exciting cities."
That, and the new velodrome.