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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ISTANBUL: The city too big to fail

New emphasis on sustainability and resilience  from the Urban Age team

As Urban Age changes its focus to Istanbul, Deyan Sudjic frames the city’s urban history through cultural, economic and political comparisons with global cities around the world.

Skyline of IstanbulPlaying host to several civilisations and empires, Istanbul’s silhouette is defined by minarets, spires, columns and more and more tall buildings. The historical peninsula sits at the intersection of the Marmara Sea, the Bosporus and the Golden Horn.

Istanbul is a city as beautiful as Venice or San Francisco, and, once you are away from the water, as brutal and ugly as any metropolis undergoing the trauma of warp speed urbanisation. It is a place in which to sit under the shade of ancient pines and palm trees for a leisurely afternoon watching sun on water, looking out over the Bosporus. But also, in some parts, to tread very carefully. Istanbul has as many layers of history beneath the foundations of its buildings as any city in Europe. In 2010, it will become the European Cultural Capital. Depending on how you count, Istanbul has been the capital city of three, or perhaps four, empires. It is still shaped by the surviving fragments of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman civilisations. It has Orthodox Christian churches, Sunni mosques, and Sephardic synagogues. It has vast classical cisterns, ring upon ring of ancient fortifications, souks and palaces. It also has desolate concrete suburbs of extraordinary bleakness, urban terrorism, and a rootless, dispossessed underclass struggling to come to terms with city life.

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