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Comparing Olympic Notes: Chicagoist And Londonist Chat, Part I

By Kevin Robinson in News on Oct 1, 2009 3:40PM

2009_10_01_london.jpg With the IOC less than a day away from reaching a decision about which city will host the 2016 Summer Games, we thought it might be a good idea to talk to someone that lives in a city that's hosting a summer games soon itself: London. Amidst confusion over what exactly Greenwich Mean time and Chicago time is, we met up with Londonist editor Matt Brown via IM for a conversation about the impact of the games on a major city, and what the residents of that city think about hosting such an event.

"There are many reasons that make the proposition of hosting the Olympics in London very different to in Chicago," says Brown. "For starters, we've done it twice before - no other city has had the Olympics a third time. There's also a number of key parallels in our history of huge, expensive, unwieldy events paying dividends in legacy." Brown warned me that he's a supporter of the Olympics, and "not to expect a rant." But that, too, comes with a caveat: "Most of what I've said has a positive sheen to it, because that's my own viewpoint. Others in London would disagree - mostly for reasons of cost. You should be able to find a few bitchier news reports with some simple Googling. And, of course, there have been many examples of groups local to the Olympic site who were non-too-impressed that their neighbourhood is being turned into the world's biggest circus."

What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the IM conversation I had with Matt Brown.

Chicagoist: I have to admit, I've never been to London, so I don't have that much context of your city. Can you sketch it out for us? How big is London? Who lives there, etc?

Matt: Ha. Well, that's a 10 volume encyclopedia answer but I'll do my best. Pop = 7 million. Mostly young 20-40s. The key thing about London is it's exceptionally multiracial and multicultural - I guess like most world cities. But even more so because of the old British Empire and some of the most lax immigration rules in Europe.

Chicagoist: Sure. Chicago's not quite as large.

Matt: In terms of physical size, it's about 20 miles in both directions.

Chicagoist: We have more of a blue collar history here, and obviously we're a younger city. How does London compare to a city like ours? Have you visited Chicago before?

Matt: I've not been, but my brother lives not far away, so I've heard quite a bit about it. London is a real mix of classes and financial backgrounds.
We have all the 'City boys' - the bankers and hedgefund managers we've all been hearing about - as a huge part of our economy. At the same time, we have very poor areas with maybe 20% of the population on or near the poverty line.

Chicagoist: Sounds like most cities.

Matt: Yeah. I think it's slightly more polarised here though, as London is one of the biggest financial cities on earth...but also has huge numbers of poor immigrants as already mentioned. I imagine NY is most similar.

Chicagoist: And you've been living in London since before the city was picked to host the Games?

Matt: Yeah. I've been here 12 years

Chicagoist: So what was the lead up to London getting the bid like? We're many Londoners for it? Against it? Split? Was there opposition?

Matt: Momentum slowly grew. When it was first touted, there was an initial wave of great support. The UK has this real sports snootiness - 'we invented half the world's sports, so we deserve to be at the centre of bet we want the Olympics.' But then the press began digging into it a bit more. When the costs and efforts to do this became more well-known, there was something of a backlash. But later on in the bidding process, things turned around and, in my perception, most people were behind it. I think the polls said 70% of Londoners and a similar number UK-wide.

Chicagoist: I think we went through something similar - people were for it, at first, but they've grown weary here as well as the costs and consequences have come out. I'm not sure Chicagoans have come back from that backlash. One poll I read showed that 45% of the city was against it. As preparations for the games in London have moved forward, have you found that things haven't been as promised? Jobs, costs or construction-wise?

Matt: Well, absolutely. But I think everyone expected some of that. Can you name any project on a similar scale that hasn't had over-runs and compromises? And [there was the] Heathrow expansion. So everyone was well prepared that the figure the gov. gave us would inflate with time.