Will London’s post-Games sustainability plans bear fruit?

It will be some time before we know for certain whether the 2012 Summer Games in London has lived up to  its claim of being the most sustainable Olympics in modern history.  But organizers say their pledge to environmentally and economically transform a hard-hit area of the city, where many of the Olympic venues and facilities are located, was not taken lightly.

“Far from becoming white elephants, these iconic facilities will become a new generation of world-class sports facilities, serving communities and elite athletes for decades to come,” said a statement on the UK Trade & Investment web site.

Over £8 billion (U.S. $12.4 million) in public funding is reportedly going towards the reviving the East London area where much of the Olympics are being held.  The Olympic Park is being developed into more than 2,800 new homes. And according to UK Trade & Investment, the surrounding Lower Lea Valley area, a long-neglected and heavily polluted former industrial area, “has been transformed into the largest new urban park in Europe in 150 years, creating a new ecology of wildlife, plants and woodlands.”    

Experts say the Olympics forced London officials to get decades of major redevelopment and sustainability projects completed in less than ten years. The games became “a major opportunity to link the east end [of London] to more affluent areas of the city,” said Tony Travers with the London School of Economics, as quoted in the Globe and Mail.

“We also had to take down the overhead power lines and underground them, clean up the rivers, reprofile the riverbanks, and demolish all the old derelict buildings on site,” said David Stubbs, the head of sustainability for the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, in an interview with the New York Times. “All that work was a vital part of making the site what it is today while fitting our longer-term vision. And about 90 percent of all the contracts awarded were to British firms, with 70 percent of these small to medium businesses.”

And that long-term vision includes the London Legacy Development Corporation -- to ensure the transition of the site into what is to become Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in 2013.

“The legacy company will do the transition work of getting the park ready for the public and breaking down the barrier between the new park and the old part of the city,” Stubbs said. “No previous games have had a legacy body formed well in advance of the events.”

Photo of London Skyline by Samot via Shutterstock.

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