Former host cities are notorious for abandoning Olympic venues, but two Olympics after London 2012, the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, appears to have overcome the curse.
Hosting the Olympics is considered an honor for a host city, but what happens after the Games leave the city is often more embarrassing. From Rio to Athens and Beijing, it’s easy to find photos of former swimming pools and Olympic villages that have fallen into disrepair.
What about London? With the Tokyo Games finally taking place this year, we are now two Games away. What happened to the venues and the Olympic Park? Did London give its games a ‘legacy’ and overcome the Olympic curse?
“We’ve spent 14 months repurposing the park, putting the permanent sites back into long-term mode,” said Mark Robinson of the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), the body created to support the post-Olympic development of the park.
park and the surrounding area, and which has planning authority within its boundaries and exceeds that of the four London boroughs that converge in the park.
From the temporary locations, the original basketball arena was completely dismantled as planned, with the seats moved to the new Barnet football club stadium as a permanent home.
The hockey arena was moved to a new location just north of the Olympic Park. And temporary wings of the Aquatics Center were removed, reducing the number of seats from 17,000 to a more manageable 3,000. As for the Velodrome and Copper Box arena, they required little work as the latter is now regularly used as the home of the London Lions basketball team.
The most visible place, however, was by some distance the most restless in the years that followed. “Originally, the Olympic Stadium was to be taken apart and reduced to 20-25,000 seats as a large open bowl,” explains Robinson. However, plans to turn the stadium into a permanent athletic venue were changed after the Games.
Instead, after a lengthy bidding process, the renamed London Stadium eventually became the home of West Ham United football club, who kept the building in its original size.
This did not mean that the transition was smooth. The new tenants determined that the stadium was poorly optimized for football, due to factors such as the existing running track keeping fans too far from the action, so an extensive rebuilding process took place, at an estimated cost of £320 million.
“We probably could have avoided some of those costs if we’d thought about it carefully,” Robinson says. However, the end result is what Robinson claims to be one of the busiest stadiums in the country as it hosts both football matches and other events such as concerts during normal times.
The biggest change to the park since the games has been housing, which has been a key focus since its inception in leaving behind a ‘legacy’ from the games that would benefit the local population. LLDC has divided the park into a dozen different lots, and since 2012, developers have been slowly filling the park, mostly with office towers and mid-rise condominiums.
“I think regeneration would have happened in East London anyway, but I suspected it accelerated it by about 30 or 40 years,” Robinson says. Today, flats can be found where the basketball arena once stood, and the former security control area now houses offices for Transport for London and Cancer Research UK, among others.
“What’s always struck me is that all the CGI and the drawings done before the Games of what the park would look like after that are remarkably accurate for what’s happening now,” Robinson said, noting in particular.
neighborhoods like Eastwick and Sweetwater, which sit between the Copper Box and the former media center, which is today an industrial and commercial space called Here East.
Plans have changed a bit since the Games – most notably in the development of what former Mayor Boris Johnson called the ‘Olympicopolis’, known today as the East Bank, and which will house a new branch of the Victoria & Albert Museum, a new theatre, a new BBC recording studio and a new campus for University College London.
“There are a lot of locations in East London where you can put houses, but there aren’t that many locations where you can put new museums and universities and so on and get a cluster together,” Robinson says. So it’s clear that the park has continued to expand, but it has not been without controversy.
“If you came out of a spaceship, you would be impressed. You’d look around and you’d be like, ‘Oh, wow, this is all really, really good,” says Professor Penny Bernstock of the University of West London, who has devoted much of her career to studying science. the London housing estate. “However, there is a huge gap between the park and the existing communities.”
She points to what she describes as the “growth-dependent planning paradigm,” in which public money is used to increase the value of land, which is then sold to private developers to generate a profit. This has not resulted in better housing for existing, poorer residents of the Olympic boroughs, she says.
According to her research, only 19 percent of LLDC-approved housing for the park was classified as “affordable.” “The Games have resulted in land regeneration, but the gains to local communities in terms of jobs or housing are negligible,” she says. “In addition, regeneration and land value gains exacerbate the displacement of local communities.
” dr. Paul Watt, an urban planner at Birkbeck University, puts it even more sharply, pointing out that nine years later, housing waiting lists among Newham residents and homelessness remain largely unchanged. “All that has been done in terms of housing has been to make parts of Newham a speculative hotspot for speculative housing investors,” he says.
Has London overcome the Olympic curse? Walking through the park today, it is certainly not the ghost town we have seen in other cities. As the new neighborhoods and landmark buildings continue to appear, there are still big questions to be answered about who will truly benefit the Olympic legacy.