been there, done that, got the nifty pool

So London has been awarded the 2012 Olympics, and while Tony Blair takes some time off from indulging Bob Geldof to grin, our fellow London Metrobloggers are somewhat more ambivalent.

As one of the few Metblog cities to have hosted a Summer Olympics more recently than London’s last turn in 1948 — the others being Montreal (hey, what happened to AndrĂˆ? Did he get home safely?), Los Angeles, and Tokyo — I feel we ought to be offering some advice to the Londoners. Or at least consolation. It’s hard enough to have a pleasant experience on the Underground without hordes of overrich, overripe tourists.

A better way to look at this might be: was the Olympics good for Atlanta? And if so, would it be good in a similar way for London? My answers would be “yes” and “no.”

The foreseen benefits for Atlanta were: putting itself on the map as a “world-class city,” whatever that was supposed to mean; new construction; giant advertising opportunities for local corporate overlords; increasing the tourism profile. I think we did pretty well on the last three objectives and failed on objective #1 — the combination of the IBM glitches and the belief, on many of the visitors’ part, that #1 and #3 were not compatible.

(A mini-rant: I enjoy Bill Bryson’s work, but the Sydney Olympics chapter in the updated version of In a Sunburned Country, his otherwise fun book on Australia, is hard to take. Sydney’s great! Atlanta sucked! Sydney’s great! Atlanta sucked! ad nauseam for a dozen pages. See if you get invited back to Mary Mac’s Tea Room, Mr. I’m-a-Stranger-Here-Myself.)

And then there was the unforeseen, but no less important, benefit: the influx of Hispanic immigrants, attracted by the construction jobs. Atlanta might have attracted Hispanic immigration anyway, but I think (and I could be wrong) that the Olympic-related expansion of the ’90s helped quite a bit.

Now, London doesn’t need what Atlanta needed. It doesn’t need to justify itself as a “world-class city” to anyone. It’s doing just fine attracting immigrants and tourists without the Olympics. It does need infrastructure improvements, but bundling infrastructure improvements with an Olympics is not necessarily the way to go. Meanwhile, because the public-private partnerships that helped fund the Atlanta Olympics aren’t in vogue anymore, and because of security needs, hosting an Olympics is a lot more expensive than it was nine years ago.

So maybe everything will run beautifully and under budget, and University College London will get a mind-boggling pool to rival Georgia Tech’s inherited facility and Londoners will get to indulge in a three-week-long sporty party and boast about it for years afterwards. That would be nice. But my feeling is that it’s not likely. I’d congratulate the Londoners, but “good luck” seems more in order.

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