Writing in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, China Mieville blazingly describes two Londons: an exuberant, organic place that has been lived and built over and remade, bursting with energy and vitality; and a fearful, banker-driven collection of megaprojects and guard labour, where billions of pounds can be found to surround the Olympics with snipers and legions of police, but nothing can be found for the library on the corner, where the center of town is being purged of anyone but the super-rich, and where rioting has nothing to do with stop-and-search powers and poverty, and is the result of mere "pure criminality."
The Olympics are slated to cost taxpayers $14.7 billion. In this time of “austerity,” youth clubs and libraries are being shut down as expendable fripperies; this expenditure, though, is not negotiable. The uprisen young of London, participants in extraordinary riots that shook the country last summer, do the math. “Because you want to host the Olympics, yeah,” one participant told researchers, “so your country can look better and be there, we should suffer.”
This is a city where buoyed-up audiences yell advice to young boxers in Bethnal Green’s York Hall, where tidal crowds of football fans commune in raucous rude chants, where fans adopt local heroes to receive Olympic cheers. It’s not sport that troubles those troubled by the city’s priorities.
Mike Marqusee, writer and activist, has been an East London local and a sports fan for decades. American by birth, he nonetheless not only understands and loves cricket, of all things, but even wrote a book about it. He’s excited to see the track and field when it arrives up the road from him in July. Still, he was, and remains, opposed to the coming of the Olympics. “For the reasons that’ve all been confirmed,” he says. “These mega-events in general are bad for the communities where they take place, they do not provide long-term employment, they are very exploitative of the area.”
Stratford sightseers are funneled into prescribed walkways; going off-piste is vigorously discouraged. The “access routes,” the enormous structures are neurotically planned and policed. For the area to be other than a charnel ground of Ozymandian skeletons in 30 years, it will have to develop like a living thing. That means beyond the planners’, beyond any, preparations.