Who doesn’t love the Olympics?
Every two years, the globe focuses its attention on our planet’s most talented and hardworking athletes, watching them compete against the backdrop of a transformed world city. The whole experience seems rather magical and inspirational, and is perhaps the world’s best attempt at coming together peacefully with a common goal (though the preferred victors differ) in mind.
With the July 27 London opening ceremonies just over a month away, I’ve started to feel excitement build for this year’s games. Not only is this a summer games year (soccer! gymnastics! swimming!), but it’s also going to be hosted in one of my very favorite places in the land: jolly old London.
In anticipation of this global event, London has been in the years-long process of readying its city for its many visitors. Notably, the city’s East End (historically overlooked for the more trendy and upscale West End) has gotten a major makeover for the Olympics. Home of the infamous Jack the Ripper unsolved murders as well as a blossoming arts scene, the area was previously rather disconnected from the rest of London. Thanks to major transportation changes, though, these days it’s easy and comfortable to travel between the East End and other London boroughs, and now there are buildings, parks, and shopping destinations to enjoy once you arrive.
Though some East End natives profess disdain at the thought of their neighborhood becoming a more tourist-laden enclave, London has big plans for the area once the athletes and enthusiasts have cleared out this summer. The Olympic venues will be the future home of five new neighborhoods, featuring homes, schools, healthcare centers, parks, and places of worship. (It will be interesting to see how the characters of the long-running British TV show EastEnders react to this change in their environment.)
I spent a semester in London in the fall of 2005 as part of a wonderful study abroad program that my college, Samford University, offers. During our time there, my classmates and I visited countless parts of the city and were often led by tour guides who helped add color and context. I fondly recall exploring Charles Dickens’ stomping grounds and marveling at the outstanding Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Tate Modern. When I look back on my time spent in the East End back in 2005, however, all I remember is noticing some industrial looking, run-down apartment buildings and learning about the area’s notable contributions to modern-day sewage treatment. Just delightful.
I’d say the East End has come quite a long way.
(Oh, and be on the lookout for roughly 900 East End kids as participants in the July 27 opening ceremonies. That’s a definite perk for being an East End local!)