The Olympics and the urban DNA of London

Is or isn’t the London olympics good for the city? It may be OK according to Deyan Sudjic  the director of the Design Museum in London from domus

Despite the city’s apparent aversion to making grand plans and big gestures, London as a whole has been strengthened in its claims to be Europe’s only real world city. It’s not the Olympics that have done that; it’s the British capital’s 2000 years of urban DNA.

There is an argument that only cities that feel insecure about themselves feel the need to mortgage themselves to the hilt in order to win the privilege of supplying a fleet of at least 500 air-conditioned limousines for the tax-exempt members of what is described without irony as the Olympic family to enjoy driving on dedicated Olympics-only lanes from which even ambulances will be excluded.

London does not, even after last year’s uncomfortable brush with arson and rioting, feel insecure about itself. Prices for houses over 5 million pounds grew another 0,7 per cent in the month of May. All the Greeks who can may already have bought their houses, but there is a growing queue of Italian, Spanish and French money looking for a safe haven in London property.

The more superficially sophisticated the world appears to become, the more its public rituals signal that its underlying preoccupations remain as intoxicatedly atavistic as they have ever been. The Olympic Games, the Grand Prix circuit and the Expo movement are all events that come cocooned with the appearance of a glossy sense of modernity. All are apparently very different from each other, but actually they have converged into a single phenomenon. For all the alibis of urban renewal, their real significance is closer to the motivations of the Easter Island head builders, or the ritual festivals of the Mayans. The calculations of everyday reality do not apply. These events are to be understood as reflecting national prestige or cohesion, or else the rampant pursuit of sheer spectacle for the sake of spectacle. They are celebrations of power and wealth, and distractions from the bleaker aspects of daily life.

When Londoners first heard that their city had been selected for the 2012 Games, one common response was disappointment; if only Paris had won the right to stage the Games. Another was to say that if we must stage them, then lets go back to the austere virtues of 1948, the last time London hosted the Olympics. In those days there was no Olympic Village, and athletes were accommodated in tents, youth hostels and B&Bs. There were no corporate sponsors, and no specially built stadia. The old Wembley football pitch served perfectly well. It’s been seven years since the IOC decision, and while Londoners are bracing themselves for six weeks of disruption that promises to bring gridlock to the city’s traffic, as well as 30-minute delays simply to gain access to Underground stations, the city by and large has become reconciled to the idea of the Olympics.

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