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Tomorrow’s East End

With its upset victory to host the 2012 Olympics, London plans a massive makeover of some of its poorest neighborhoods.


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By Emily Flynn
Updated: 4:14 p.m. ET July 6, 2005

July 6 - Stratford is a hard place to love. This is the London that tourists shun, a dreary patch of the East End bypassed by the city's prosperity. Its principal landmark: a vast tract of industrial wasteland, once home to a rail freight terminal. Just three miles to the west stands a clump of slick modern office towers at the heart of the city’s financial district. But don't look for signs of shared wealth. London's eastern boroughs include some of the poorest in Britain.

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So much for today. For tomorrow's vision see the maps displayed in the town hall. Within 15 years the abandoned sidings will be Stratford City, a cluster of office blocks, sleek hotels and landscaped gardens as well as 4,500 new homes. Billed as Britain's “front door to Europe,” the planned development will boast a shiny new international station, served by a high-speed rail link delivering passengers to central London in less than 10 minutes, or to Paris in three hours.

Even sooner, Stratford's name will register around the world. Londoners rejoiced on Wednesday as the International Olympic Committee announced that London had won its bid to host the 2012 Olympic games, with Stratford designated as the home to a brand new Olympic Village worth $1.1 billion and a sparkling 80,000-seat stadium in nearby Lea. “The Olympic bid united the country in a huge goal and a big vision,” says Manny Lewis, CEO of the London Development Agency. We took on four world cities—and we won! People are delighted and very proud.”

In total, London expects to see $8.6 billion being pumped in to get it ready for the games—much of which will go into the East End, an area in desperate need of regeneration. Plans call for transportation to be improved, to the joy of London’s massive commuter population; power lines to be boosted to prevent blackouts; beautiful new buildings to be constructed, and waterways to be cleaned. Officials say the Olympics will create 11,000 permanent new jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars from tourism.

When the Olympics are over, there will be even more good news for Brits. The Olympic Village will be turned into 3,600 affordable apartments to serve the community’s needs, the stadium’s size will be reduced to suit local events, and a large number of relocatable venues will be moved throughout the country so that everyone in Britain will benefit from the construction. “London is at a cusp of becoming a capitol of the world—a place where hundreds of cultures meet, especially in the East End [where new immigrant groups have traditionally lived],” says Jo Valentine, CEO of London First, a nonprofit promoter of inward investment into the city. “This tremendous win will be the finishing touch making London an international city. It’s a great morale booster for businesses and residents in a marginalized area of London.” With the population of the city of London expected to grow by 800,000 people by 2012, many believe Olympics-spurred redevelopment couldn’t come at a better time.

As great as hosting the Olympics could be for London in the long term, though, some argue that when the elation of today’s win wears off, the reality of the near future may prove stressful. “The Brits have always been good at ceremony,” says Tony Travers, director of the London School of Economics’ Greater London Group. “What they’re not always so good at is delivering big projects on time and on budget. Now there’s an immovable deadline with things—like transport—that London has struggled with for years unsuccessfully. It’s going to need a great deal of effort and thought from tomorrow morning right the way through to 2012.”

The Olympics-buildup challenge may remind some of Britain’s 2000 Millennium Dome, a failure of a “landmark” that went nearly $2 billion over budget (including the cost of transport link extensions). Accordingly, not everyone is happy about hosting the games. Under the headline JUST SAY NO, the edgy British political magazine The Spectator lampooned British "Back the Bid" sentiment before today’s vote: "The Brits have proved that they cannot build stadiums except for the Dome. Let Paris have the Olympics with all the headaches involved."

Still, the vast majority of Brits—78 percent, according to a London Development Agency poll—supported the Olympic bid for the longterm economic benefits it offers and its ability to increase Britain’s positive international profile. Says Tim Northam, a 24-year-old British banker, celebrating the win in London’s Trafalgar Square Wednesday: “There’s going to be hysteria—good hysteria—because the country is going to be proud of our sporting achievement. It's going to be such a bunch of excitement!

Former British Olympic athlete John Herbert (Britain’s No. 1 triple jumper in the 1980s) grew up in London’s East End. He says the win is a “fantastic opportunity” to seek out and develop the talents of new athletes by raising the profile of Olympic sports for local kids. “Right now, we’re going out looking for talented teenagers and training them up. In seven years, they’ll be the ones bringing the medals home to Great Britain—at home!”

With Mary Acoymo in Trafalgar Square

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