The seeds for the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games were sown more than a decade ago. A handful of people met in a West End pub to discuss the prospect of London hosting the games, and a feasibility study was duly commissioned. Fast forward to November 2012, and the rest is history.
Looking at it in such linear terms does the process a disservice because the reason we managed to garner such support in the sporting community, in the UK and beyond, was the vision we had for a London Olympics.
Our dream was to use the power of the games to inspire lasting change.
The games had the potential to provide opportunities for the UK that would never come around again in our lifetimes, so the vision would have to run through every aspect of the project. This included where we would locate the Olympic Park. The support of Ken Livingstone, then mayor of London, was total, but he was adamant that any development should be centred on London’s East End.
He was spot on. Under-developed since the war, the area of east London near Stratford chosen for the Olympic Park was, on the surface, prime real estate with strong transport links. But with multiple land use over hundreds of years, much of it was contaminated and would require significant investment to make it suitable for development. The prospect of hosting the games provided the catalyst to bring together three critical things – host the world’s greatest sporting event; regenerate a large area of London; and create a blueprint for new, sustainable, urban communities.
Add to this the prospect of inspiring young people to take up sport and providing the UK’s capital city with sporting facilities it should have had generations ago, and the idea of London 2012 had an unstoppable momentum that transcended party politics. London 2012 had become an opportunity for the nation that could not be missed: inspire a generation – and create a new postcode.
We brought together the UK’s greatest creative minds to help prepare the bid and then deliver the games. From town planning to sustainability, architects to crowd management specialists, everything was planned and developed in great detail. The work done by the London 2012 team demonstrated that when it comes to large infrastructure projects, we have vision and we can deliver. And we can do both on time and within budget.
So on July 27 2012, when the eyes of the world turned to London for the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, we were ready. The sports had been meticulously planned and tested, crowd movements modelled to ensure a smooth experience for our spectators, the games makers were trained and ready. What we saw in the summer was a fantastic festival of sport and celebration. From the moment the Olympic flame landed in the country right through to the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games, we witnessed a wave of support and outpouring of national pride not seen for many years.
The games, by popular acclaim, were a massive success. But what next?
Now we need to deliver on the next part of what we planned for all those years ago. The London Legacy Development Corporation has been set up to ensure that the Olympic Park’s future is as we hoped it would be.
The signs are positive: 8,000 new homes will be created in this well-connected part of London, in five new neighbourhoods. In addition to the magnificent Westfield retail development, a further 91,000 sq m of commercial space will bring more jobs to the area. The park will come to life in innumerable ways – there will always be something to do for those who live in the area and beyond.
It is estimated that each day there will be 25 sports and activities to choose from, including concerts, art exhibitions and, of course, big sporting events. In 2015, the park will host the European Hockey Championships and, in 2017, the World Athletics Championships. There is still much to do, but the vision of the Olympic Park as a vibrant new urban community with sport at its heart is becoming a reality.
It sounds obvious, but by making sure the project was delivered in partnership with all those affected, across all levels of government, the city and other bodies, and by starting the legacy discussions before the games began, we are in a promising place.
The challenge now is to build on the success of the summer of 2012 and make sure not just that the vision survives, but that the blueprint for the new urban community with sport at its heart in east London thrives and grows into the future.
Lord Coe, a former athlete, is head of the London Olympic Games organising committee