• Sun
  • Sep 21, 2014
  • Updated: 9:10am

Has London delivered on dreaded L-word?

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:27pm

In any capital city, the best way to discover what is on its mind is to ask a taxi driver. 'Olympic legacies? Nah, I can't see any myself,' concluded the cabbie as we shuttled across the host city of the 2012 Games, the roar of the crowd that cheered Usain Bolt to his historic record still clanging in our ears. Evidently, sat in the driver's seat was what the city's major, Boris Johnson, would declare an Olympo-sceptic or gloomadon popper for believing the Games would be - and have been - a disaster.

'I've enjoyed the Olympics and that,' the taxi driver continued. 'I admire those athletes doing what they've done, training and all that for hours on end. But for me? As a cabbie? It's been disastrous. It's been a great shame for the shops and other businesses, too.

'You wait. When the retail figures or whatever they call it come out, they will show we all made a loss during the last three weeks. Nah, mate. No Olympic legacies here,' he said, miffed over how the London streets, in the height of the summer tourism season, could be so empty of fares.

London's famous shops are also bemoaning a lack of footfall. Tourists have stayed away. Many locals have also taken flight, leaving central London with a forlorn feeling, though in recent days the city is starting to swell again as the end of the Olympics approaches.

The taxi driver's gloom could not have been more different from the euphoria hours earlier in a press conference close to the Houses of Parliament. There, a buoyant Johnson and a panel of business investors assembled to announce the legacies of the 2012 Games.

As Olympic tradition dictates, dreaded questions about legacies are now being asked as we near the end of competition. Now is the time to talk up the power of the Games and the benefits to be reaped from staging them.

Legacies are written into the Olympic contract and without a legacy plan, you can't bid for an Olympics, let alone stage one. Commissions and committees are formed and the topic is debated obsessively and thousands of plans run off the photocopier. Rarely, however, do legacies make ordinary people, such as a London cabbie, smile and nod with enthusiastic approval as they do the city's mayor and organising committee.

The sight of empty Olympic parks and rusting venues is too often a host city's ghostly reminder of an amazing two-week party that flashed by and came at vast cost. If there are legacies, they are not tangible. Few can see what long-term good the Olympics have achieved.

Beijing 2008, Athens 2004 and Sydney 2000 have all come in for criticism over white elephants and the slew of broken legacy promises that emerged after the last spectators and media departed.

No surprise, then, that Johnson had perspiration dripping from his forehead when he and his panel of legacy makers assembled to tell us what London would look and feel like when we all wake up - back in reality - on Monday morning.

He and his team currently have more of the world's weight on their shoulders than the athletes who compete for the medals. The suits now have to deliver on their promises - that the Games will transform London and the country, and that the benefits of lavishing so much money on the event will pay off every year, for years to come.

The London Legacy Development Corporation believes it has got it spot on. Unlike recent host cities who built their Olympic centres on prime real estate or in remote locations, London staged the bulk of its Games on a piece of toxic industrial wasteland in a poor area of the city.

Improvement was the only thing to come from the Olympic-backed regeneration project, and though one hates to use the wan, overused term, this has been a 'win-win' move from the moment the diggers broke ground. As well as delivering the event on time and under budget, the London Olympics team have already secured the future of six out of the eight venues on the Olympic Park - something that has never been achieved before.

There are serious and credible plans on the table for the Olympic Stadium and the Press and Broadcast Centre. And as soon as the Paralympics are over, the Olympic site will be once more flooded by builders as a ?00 million (HK$3.6 billion) construction project gets underway to transform the area into a new urban park, replete with new homes, schools and businesses sitting alongside the iconic sports venues. London loves its green spaces and art hubs, and there will be plenty of those, too, the legacy makers have promised.

This is all impressive stuff that prompted IOC president Jacques Rogge to declare London 'had raised the bar on how to deliver a lasting legacy'. 'This great historical city has created a legacy blueprint for future Games hosts,' he said. Indeed, Johnson said his team have already signed a memorandum of agreement to show the host of the next Winter Olympics, Sochi in Russia, how to set about legacy-making and delivering.

No wonder the London Olympics cast are looking so pleased with themselves. If you can nail down the legacies, you can do anything other than run as fast as Usain Bolt or cycle as quickly as Chris Hoy.

Of course, the proof of the legacies will be in the public's utilisation of the venues, from living in the Athletes' Village, picnicking in the Olympic Park and more and more of us playing sport. There will be no brushing of failed legacies under the rug here. Locog and Johnson know full well the British media will be following their every movement as they gingerly navigate the Olympic legacy tripwire - but the nation can allow the charismatic Johnson at least one day in the sun.

'I do not intend on wasting too much time gloating at the Olympo-sceptics and gloomadon poppers and all those who got it all wrong about the success of these Games. This is not the time to plant our feet on their moulded bellies and exult but instead time to alchemise that spirit, and harness that energy. Our plan is to keep the Olympic flame burning,' said Johnson.

For once he was not joking. When it comes to colourfully talking-up and delivering Olympic legacies, not even a maverick like Boris dare play the tussled hair buffoon. London cabbies would never stand for it.

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