Most good things require hard work.

Thu, 31 Mar 2005

[09:08] London 2013 ?

In 1984, Los Angeles hosted the summer Olympic Games. As a lad of a mere six years watching the television coverage from Philadelphia, I was transfixed, particularly by the feats of Carl Lewis, the American whose four gold medals in track & field that year echoed the four medals won in the same events by the great J. C. "Jesse" Owens in Berlin in 1936: Jesse Owens, the African-American who showed up the Nazi übermenschen ("No Blacks - No Jews - no dogs") on their own home turf. Inspired by the made-for-TV biopic about Owens, and by Lewis himself - who Wikipedia notes as being "considered the greatest athlete of all time by many people" - I, at the tender age of six, started running daily heats around the block in our West Philly neighborhood, in the hopes of training to someday be a great sprinter like Owens and Lewis.

Well, children change future vocations the way their parents change socks, but for the longest time I thought the Olympics were such a fine thing, inspiring youths like me to better themselves through athletic discipline, which I had precious little of as a child otherwise (and not much more to speak of today). It wasn't until I actually spent lots of time in an Olympic candidate city - namely, London 2012, as the advertising puts it - that I witnessed the dark underbelly of the Olympic Games: The manner in which media circus around the Olympics marshals mindless popular support for massive commercial pork-barrel property development projects at the public expense. Bread and circuses, as Heinlein would say.

This morning, that underbelly turned toward the light in a BBC News article about the fate of the Athens Olympic Park. I find I have to restrain myself from excerpting too much of the article here:

Having spent a record sum of at least $12bn (£6.4bn) on the games, Athens is under intense pressure to prove it was all worthwhile for Greek taxpayers.

Most of the venues have remained closed since the games ended six months ago. According to documents given to the BBC, the basic construction work for more than 30 venues cost more than $3bn. And now just maintaining them is costing the state more than $100m a year.

Yet until now the authorities have not had any serious plan for how such a large number of venues can be put to good use, as the Olympics themselves become little more than a distant memory.


One Greek property developer told the BBC the government strategy was all wrong, and that it must sell some venues and use the money to subsidise those likely to remain in state hands. Otherwise, taxpayers will continue forking out just to prevent once pristine Olympic venues from crumbling, he says.

Meanwhile, back in London, the propaganda for the 2012 Summer Olympic bid - against Paris, New York, Moscow, and Madrid - runs at a fever pitch, with signs featuring gargantuan athletes performing gargantuan feats over, on, or from depictions of major London landmarks, all under the legend MAKE BRITAIN PROUD - BACK THE BID. These ads festoon tube stations, tube cars (inside and out), buses, street lamps, billboards, banners, newspapers, you name it. Jo says this advertising cost the Greater London Authority alone £30 million, with a probably not disproportionate amount spent by Transport for London, both government agencies.

That's all well and good for London in 2012, but what about London come 2013? The proposed site for the billions of pounds of construction work to be poured is none other than the Lea Valley, a dingy, polluted wetland / canal / garbage pit, sandwiched in the East End between Tower Hamlets, Hackney, and Stratford, filled with the detritus of 250+ years of industrialization in and around greater London. Jo calls this region the 'Olympic Sacrifice Zone', after Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash. We went for a hike through there with a few people on my birthday back in December; you can see our photos, and there are links to some other galleries at the bottom of the UO wiki page (linked above).

Now, there's no question that the Lea Valley, and indeed most of the East End, could benefit from an influx of public funds in the form of urban renewal/regeneration projects; the question is what kind of regeneration are we talking about? Projects that will actually give the residents of the East End new places to live, work, and co-exist, or projects that amount to corporate giveaways after the Olympics are over, with only a token nod to the working stiffs that live here? We put up hackthebid.org to offer a forum for the public discourse that isn't happening in the mass media, but, as could be expected, the web site ended up getting spammed by noisome assenters, so the idea has been shelved, since none of us really have time to play nanny. Fortunately, others have taken up this task, particularly NoLondon2012.org, who have a nice set of resources on "London Olympic Myths" (alas in MS Word format), which I won't recount here.

The IOC renders its final decision in July. Of course, if London loses, someone somewhere will still get screwed out of their tax dollars or euros or rubles, a fact which prompted Saul Albert to suggest a Nowhere 2012 campaign instead - MAKE NO ONE PROUD!

Anyway, having read this BBC article, I have just two words for anyone in the UK who might still be deluding themselves that the government will know what to do with a London Olympic Park after it's built, and those two words are: Millenium. Dome. Don't let them waste your money.

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