Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Going behind the scenes at the 2012 London Olympics

The 2012 Olympic Games will be London's third time as host of the summer sports extravaganza, but it will be the city's first chance to truly wow the rest of the world. Their two previous Games were both hasty affairs by necessity -- in 1908, London agreed to take on the Games after the planned host, Rome, had to pull out because Mount Vesuvius erupted, and in 1948, the city was still scrambling to recover from World War II.

Logo courtesy of the London 2012 website. It was not universally liked over here. 

London was awarded these games in July 2005, and spent two years planning before any demolition or construction was done. The organizers used that time to figure out how to truly benefit London and Britain both during and after the Games, with some impressive results.

The start of the Orbit Tower, which will be 459 feet high, next to the aquatic venue.
The Olympic Park is located in London's East End, a former industrial center that was heavily bombed during the war. The area never really recovered, suffering from poverty and dereliction for decades. In fact, the five boroughs that border the Olympic Park have been some of the poorest in the United Kingdom.

The Three Mill area in London's East End relect the area's industrial past. Only two of the mills that provided the name remain.

Abandoned warehouses and grafitti-marked buildings can still be seen near the Olympic Park, though it is expected that the land will be sold or refurbished in the coming months.

But the Games offered London a chance to change that. Millions of pounds have been poured into revitalizing the area. Some of the improvements that have been made:
  • Waterways that were severely contaminated with oil, petrol, arsenic and other toxins have been cleaned.
  • More than 1.4 million tons of soil were washed
  • Local ecosystems were rebalanced and wildlife is returning
  • Transportation facilities and options have been upgraded
  • More than 400 apprenticeships were awarded to neighborhood workers, giving them skills and a trade that they can pursue after the Games.

East End waterways were cleaned up. Shopping carts, tires and occasionally entire cars were removed.

The organizers were also very focused on making these improvements while keeping the environmental impact minimal. More than 50 percent of construction materials were transported by water and more than 90 percent of the building materials were reused or reclaimed. In fact, the white piping used for the Olympic Stadium was purchased for another project and never used, so it was re-purposed for this one.

The Olympic Stadium. The field is sunken below the ground, which should reduce wind and make the facility more friendly to record-setting performances in the track and field events next year.

And London has specific plans about what will be done with the Olympic Park and venues after the Games to ensure that the facilities don't go to waste:
  • The Olympic Park will be turned into a 500-acre urban park, the largest to be built in Europe in more than 150 years.
  • The Olympic Village where the athletes will be staying will be converted into more than 2,000 homes.
  • The athletic facilities will be downsized and adapted for use by local clubs and communities.
  • Bridges will be reduced to half their size to match predicted traffic needs.

Playing ping-poing at one of the parks being renovated near the Olympic Park.

I've tried to resist sounding too much like a tour book on this blog so far, but I really have to emphasize how fantastic it was to have Sean as our Blue Badge tour guide; otherwise the magnitude of what the Games mean to London and specificially the East End would have been lost on us. Rick Steves himself benefited from Sean's expertise -- you can see Sean in the 2011 London guide.

Photo from Rick Steves' 2011 London guide.

If you are planning a trip to London in the next year, you should definitely consider hiring a guide and visiting the Olympic Park to see it for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment