Monday, August 29, 2011
I am an Olympic maniac. I love everything about the Games, both winter and summer versions (this is, surely, the most extraordinary thing a human body has ever done). Thus, it's terribly exciting to see an emerging property story coming out of London's preparations for the 2012 Olympiad. For those who don't obssess over Olympic news, London is using the Games as an excuse to undertake a major urban redevelopment project in the East End. For 200 years, the eastern frontier of the city has been home to gnarly scenes of human deprivation and poverty; it's Jack the Ripper territory. To remake the area, the government has knocked down a lot of bad neighborhoods, laid new roads, built new parks, and will convert the athletes' village into government-funded housing. The city has also promised new schools, medical facilities, and shopping.
It will be enlightening to see how this all plays out over the next 10 years. Will London be able to avoid the mistakes that plagued American renewal efforts in the mid-twentieth century? Right now, I'd say the odds don't look great. As a general rule, Olympic hosts have done a dreadful job leveraging the Games into long-term prosperity. Moreover, rather than just focusing on infrastructure improvements, the city seems to have gotten itself mixed up in the much finer-grain planning of housing and retail - things that city governments traditionally don't know much about. The biggest question, perhaps, is what happens to all of the costly athletic facilities and sports structures after the games. This has been a huge problem in Athens and Beijing: