Olympic Citizen: London

Our first Olympic citizen is Rob Henson, from London.

Which aspect of London’s time as an Olympic Games host or bid city,  has  made you most proud?

I think the fact that the city has followed through on its big promises, has stuck to its guns and is doing things in its own way – confident in its own personality if you like. It’s a hard task following Beijing’s spectacle, and less than two weeks from the Games, I’m left with the feeling that London’s not going to be cowed by what went before and that the city is really going to shine!

The biggest single legacy will undoubtedly be the regeneration of areas of the East End – and this will hopefully continue even after the world’s packed its bags and is looking towards Rio.

Do you think your London has changed (or will change) for the better and what do you think the biggest single legacy is or will be?

The biggest single legacy will undoubtedly be the regeneration of areas of the East End – and this will hopefully continue even after the world’s packed its bags and is looking towards Rio. London’s a big place – the Olympic is only changing a small part of it – and the area the Olympics is in isn’t one I know especially well. But I’ve been to the area a few times and to see what’s been created – the parkland, the restored waterways, the new venues etc. – is wonderful. How can that not be change for the better?

What particular challenges or lessons from London can act as lessons for future host cities?

Future host cities ought to use as much of their existing infrastructure as possible. I know London started out promising new arenas for sports like fencing and badminton and later had to negotiate moving those sports to existing arenas. Though I think that was the right choice, this might have left a sour taste and those decisions should have been made originally to save everybody the trouble. Also, I think the organisers could have communicated better, particularly during the ticketing process. I’m not one who believes the process to have been unfair, but I do think we’ve been left scrambling around in the dark at times.

Why do you think other cities should consider or not consider bidding for the Olympic Games?

The obvious positive from London’s experience was to enforce a deadline on a regeneration project which otherwise might have only happened in parts or might not have happened at all. That’s a really good reason for bidding! But it’s going to be different for different cities so I can’t really say that one thing is always good and another thing always bad.

What was your favourite moment since London won its bid to host the 2012 Olympic Games?

Hopefully I’ll be able to answer that question for you in three weeks – or at least in a few days when the torch comes to my part of the world! It’s all been about build up and anticipation so far. I’ve been to a test event for water polo, that was good fun, but overall I’ve just enjoyed seeing the city build and develop towards these Games!

Do you think cities can improve their brand through the Olympic Games, and how do you London’s brand is forever changed?

I’m sure cities can improve their place in the world by hosting the Games. It’s worked in the past with cities like Barcelona which were completely changed by the Games. Of course, Delhi’s experience with the Commonwealth Games probably shows the flip side of having an intense spotlight on you. That did India no favours. As for London, it’s hard to say from the inside looking out. I’m not going to be making that judgement, you and others are. London’s a city already known worldwide – it could be argued we’ve got little to gain and a lot to lose in this sense. But hopefully the Games will enhance the city, and show it in a slightly different light too

If you could go back into the past, and look into Future London, what would you change about some of the decisions made before the Olympic Games?

I wouldn’t change too much of what London 2012 has done having looked at other cities’ experiences. The biggest put-off is the politics which has caused some avoidable problems in my opinion . The needless “privatization” of the stadium wrap (its fabric exterior) and the debacle over the stadium legacy are two such examples in London. Both will work themselves out but I think politics has caused as many problems as it’s solved. I suppose political wrangling is preferable to having an underused stadium like Beijing though. Architecturally, I’d rather we didn’t have two big wings jutting out the side of the Aquatic Centre, but looking back to Athens and Barcelona I’m not sure London could get away with an outdoor pool and the city definitely doesn’t need a 17,000 seat pool after the Olympics!

What do you think will make London 2012 unique when compared to previous host cities?

I’m kind of hoping London 2012 will be like Sydney 2000 on steroids, for want of a better phrase. I hope we fill the stadiums and welcome the world like the Ozzies did, show off our venues like Wembley, Wimbledon, Lords, the brand-spanking new Olympic Park, and leave Rio wondering how to top what’s just gone! I think the Paralympics will really come of age in London too – I think that will be the one thing that may surprise a lot of people. And one other thing that may make London 2012 unique is the prospect of rain during the opening ceremony. Can’t wait!

What role should citizens play in the lead up to hosting the Olympic Games? Do you think citizens were or are being involved enough in some of the key decisions? Why or why not?

As I’ve already mentioned, I live a little distance from the main Olympic events. I’m not directly affected by the construction or the hassle that comes with it – and nor will I be a directly benefiting. I really don’t know how democratic an Olympics can be in terms of its preparation. The decision whether to bid should be open to lots of discussion, as should the reasons why a bid would be good or bad. But once a bid’s won the project is so huge and the deadlines so tight I think there’s probably not much leeway for discussing every minor detail with people.