One of the highlights of the previous week was my trip to the Olympic Park in Newham. Before I continue about my experience at the Olympic Park, I think it would be appropriate to explain the background of Newham. Newham is a borough of London on the east side and it is the second poorest borough in the city. Newham is also one of the poorest boroughs in the entire country. The east side of London including Newham was bombed very severely by the Germans during World War Two compared to other parts of the city. The result was that it took longer for that area to recover, and sub-sequent generations have been hurt by the reduced quality of infrastructure, loss of industry (especially at the river ports which was the largest employer), and loss of housing which caused people to move out.
When London was awarded the bid for the 2012 Olympics, the British government saw an opportunity to completely remake a very poor region and generate excitement in a discouraged borough. The Olympic Stadium, Velodrome, aquatic center, basketball arena, handball arena, media center, athlete housing, medical center, and other various venues are all located right in Newham itself and will be recycled to be reused once the Olympics are over. For example, athlete housing will be converted into cheap social housing once the Olympics are over, and the Olympic Stadium will be converted into a soccer stadium to bring back a Premier League team (West Ham) to the local area. Beyond reusing Olympic venues, major renovations have been done to the public transportation systems in Newham. A new line on the London tube has been renovated for the Olympics, as well as the International train station where most foreigners arrive in London. Outside the train station for both domestic and international lines the largest shopping mall in Britain has been constructed which the local government has used to help put people back to work and generate revenue.
All of this has inspired me. I am amazed at how the Olympics is being used to completely turn an under-privileged part of the city around, and subsequently turn the lives of the people who live there around. I believe that the 2012 Olympics and the plan of attack that both the national and local governments to boost the borough of Newham will be a model for turning around poor areas all over the world. It has given me much to think about as an aspiring economist, and this experience may impact my career path down the road. The 2012 Olympics may not be the “show” that was put on in 2008 in China, but this Olympics will be special because it will be done for the right reasons. I personally can’t wait for the Olympics to take place, and I will remember my short time in Newham as I watch it on tv next year.
Joe Hansen is studying abroad in London, England, with the Foundation for International Education (FIE).