Five years removed from the 2012 Summer Olympics, London continues to see economic benefits from hosting this notoriously expensive two-week event.
A recent report from The Economist highlighted many ways in which the neighboring areas around Olympic Park have improved. The most noteworthy development has been an influx in real estate projects and businesses. Over 3,000 new residences have popped up in Olympic Park alone, and over 21,000 have been built in the four surrounding East London boroughs–Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Newham, and Waltham Forest. In addition to the businesses that have already opened in the beautifully renovated Westfield shopping center, further developments continue to take place: the report noted that University College London is building a campus in the area, while the renowned Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as the Smithsonian Institution, are planning to open new galleries.
As a whole, the UK government estimates that the 2012 Olympics contributed to an output increase anywhere from £28 to £41 billion. That’s more than enough to offset the costs they incurred for hosting the games–roughly £9.3 billion; and it should be noted that a portion of these gains have helped improve aforementioned pockets of East London, one of London’s least well-off areas preceding the Olympics.
There are some caveats, though. For starters, the article mentioned a study by a noted German economist who found that Olympic financial reports commissioned by the host government tend to “overestimate the benefits of hosting.” In other words, the £28 to £41 billion in expected economic gains may not be nearly as high. The report also mentions that there were signs of improvement in the four East London boroughs before the games took place: corresponding growth between the four boroughs and London’s others hasn’t been significantly higher since the city received the bid in 2005.
Nonetheless, any good news is welcome considering how costly hosting the Olympics has been for other cities in recent years. And yet, the most notable sign that the London games were an economic success may not have to do with numbers at all.
Essentially all of the resources built for the Olympics remain in use today. Olympic Stadium, site of the opening ceremonies which took place five years ago yesterday, is now the home of West Ham United. It also hosts concerts, including one I went to this past June, and other athletic events such as next week’s World Athletic Championships. Meanwhile, nearly all of the other venues, such as the pool arena, are available to the public. Even a tall, unusual structure called the ArcelorMittal Orbit has been put to use: it’s now a 115-foot slide.
This is a stark contrast to cities like Athens, whose many facilities built for the ’04 Olympics lay in decay, Beijing, whose famed “Bird’s Nest” is mostly unused, and, sadly, Rio, whose pools are already abandoned. As Tokyo prepares for the 2020 games, and as Los Angeles and Paris vie for the 2024 and 2028 bids, hopefully they will take London’s lead and use the Olympics to bolster relatively impoverished areas and make productive use of any new facilities they build.
After all, as other countries have finally discovered, there’s no sense spending billions for a two-week event.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images