Friday, July 27, 2012

Celebrate London 2012

My morning and evening commutes, not without their occasional excitement and frustration, have been made even more amusing with the recent 1984-esque tube station announcements by Mayor Boris Johnson’s recognizably baritone voice, which usually go something like this: 

"Attention Londoners!  This is the Mayor of London.  This is the greatest moment in the life of London for 50 years.  We're welcoming more than a million people a day to our city and there is going to be huge pressure on the transport network.  Don't get caught out.  Get online and plan your journey at"

Thanks for the notice Mr. Mayor; I’ll do my best to do my part, even if that means avoiding East London and Canary Wharf altogether and working from my impromptu “Southwest London office” during this period.  Olympic fever is everywhere, equally matched and amplified by the sudden heat wave of the last week.  The official Olympic designated “Fast Lanes” have opened, the tube stations are decorated with bright pink signs directing visitors to the various sporting venues around the city, gigantic yachts are filling the harbors of the Docklands, and throngs of tourists, officials, celebrities, politicians, and athletes are pouring into London every day.  Yesterday the Olympic Torch passed right through our neighborhood along the leafy Clapham North Side of the Common before making its way around the rest of the city, visiting every major landmark, and finally arriving to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford where it will remain until the Closing Ceremony.  There really is no escaping this for the next several weeks, the Olympic spirit is everywhere.   

Over the last several months casual chatter and media commentary have been mixed with a combination of enthusiasm and skepticism, often focusing on the challenges that we will undoubtedly face as soon as the world descends upon this vast metropolis.  Longer than average waiting times on more crowded than usual tube trains, disruptions to our daily commute, crowds of people jammed into almost every corner of our city, and of course the expected and unexpected security threats that come with any major international event, have been just a few of the concerns highlighted in the months leading up to tomorrow.  Even the designs and logos have been criticized, with the poor mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, specifically targeted for a variety of deficiencies.  Other, more sensible discussions have been around the “legacy” of these Olympics.  Will the increased tourism and advertising money help push Britain out of its shallow double-dip recession?  How will the newly constructed venues be used post-Olympics?  And what will be the overall impact on the regeneration efforts throughout East London over the long-term?  As with any Olympics, their true impact may not be felt or realized for years, but in the immediate near term all eyes are going to be on the displays of the games and ceremonies. 

As the days progress, comparisons to Beijing will predictably pre-empt and follow any major aspect of these games, but will ultimately prove unfounded.  These will be a different kind of Olympics just as Beijing and London are completely different types of cities and China and Great Britain are entirely different types of countries.  The Olympic Games should reflect the local geographic, historic, and cultural heritage of the host nation, China succeeding extraordinarily in their own right, and that is the best that London can hope to achieve from their efforts.  Much like the brand new Shard landmark skyscraper, the tallest in Europe, which sits at the bank of the Thames and dominates the new London skyline, Britain should stand proud that for these two and a half weeks it plays hosts to the world and will do so in a quintessentially British style.  Already the Olympic Park in Stratford is being lauded as an attractive destination to visit in itself, independent of an Olympic event, filled with green space, gardens, and outdoor viewing screens.  This can be said of very few other host cities, most of which have struggled to provide a striking identity to the built environment of their respective Olympic venues.

Now that we have reached the day of the Opening Ceremony there is an excitement and buzz throughout town which is unparalleled and Londoners, perhaps aided by the recent amazing weather, appear united in welcoming these Games to our city.  It is similar in atmosphere to the Royal Wedding of William and Kate in 2011 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012, but unlike those milestone events, this energy will last for two and a half weeks and will draw in thousands of visitors from countries all over the world.  To add to what has already been an extremely historic year with Queen Elizabeth’s 60th year on the throne, London is now the first and only city to have hosted the modern Olympic Games three times, first in 1908, then after World War II in 1948, and again in 2012.  This is yet another special milestone for this great city.  Throughout the entire summer of 2012 the city has enjoyed a series of high-profile concerts, parties, special exhibitions, shows, and events which together comprise the 2012 Festival of London, culminating with these Olympic Games in a season of pomp to celebrate the exceptionalism of London.  Why not embrace this?   
It was about four years ago today that we were in the middle of finalizing our plans to move to London, and at the time the 2012 Olympics felt like a lifetime away.  Finally, four years later, the Games have arrived and the time that has passed in London since has gone by in the blink of an eye.  It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to live in a city that plays host to any major global event, especially the Olympic Games.  Although my commute will undoubtedly be disrupted and the masses of tourists will slow me down and get in my way at every turn, the next several weeks will be uniquely memorable.  The 2012 Olympic Games should be a time for nations and people to come together here in London,  one of the most cosmopolitan, dynamic, and diverse cities in the world, to embrace the universal spirit of sportsmanship and to exalt the virtues of discipline, spirited competition, and teamwork.  In an increasingly uncertain world wrought with its fair share of cynicism, unrelenting war, chaos and unspeakable tragedy, this is something that should be celebrated, not dreaded.  So Mr. Mayor, I will take your advice and join my fellow Londoners in embracing what may be London’s greatest moment of the last 50 years. 

Let the Games begin…     

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