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Faster, higher, richer?

Model of London 2012 Olympic site. Photo: Flickr/RachelH

This week on our Karr on Culture podcast: Will the 2012 Olympic Games improve life in London’s down-at-heel East End — or will the International Olympic Committee pocket the profits after Britain pays the bills?

Two years from this week, the Games of the XXX Olympiad will commence in London. Britain’s capital city marked the countdown with a wave of hoopla, much of it centered in the East End borough of Newham, where the Olympic Park is under construction. Newham councilman Paul Brickell hopes that the Olympics will improve life in the neighborhood where he grew up — a place that now has the UK’s highest unemployment rate. Big sporting events have a mixed record when it comes to boosting the economic fortunes of host cities. Sports economist Stefan Szymanski of London’s Cass Business School says the summer’s World Cup in South Africa was typical: Taxpayers subsidized billions in new construction, yet soccer’s international organizing body pocketed the lion’s share of income from the event. But big events can have a positive impact in the long run, according to urban studies scholar Ricky Burdett of the London School of Economics and Political Science. “You’ve got to look at it over a minimum of a 10-to-20 (year) time cycle, which is what it takes for cities to change and adapt,” he says.