Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
The city's new cable car crossing the Thames suffered a malfunction this morning, but Opening Ceremonies hype is building.
With the summer heat cranking up and local excitement rising, London is getting ready for its largest athletic event this year – an egg and spoon race. I’m not talking about Britain’s capital, of course, but the city’s smaller namesake in Burgundy, France, which has been used by bookmakers chain Paddy Power as a way of getting around Olympic sponsor regulations. The bookies have been asking for trouble, cheekily advertising their sponsorship of a tiny French event they’ve set up there with billboards proclaiming them the "Official Sponsor of the Largest Athletics Event in London This Year!". Predictably, Olympics brand police are on their case, but the ambush ads could still have a positive PR effect for the games. After months of petty enforcement, their reaction to Paddy Power's stunt actually makes them look pretty reasonable.
The Games’ image could do with a little boost, following an incident with one of London’s pet Olympic projects this morning. The Emirates Air Line, the new cable car crossing the Thames in East London, broke down today and passengers were left stranded mid-air for an hour due to a technical glitch. Some passengers reportedly needed first aid after broiling for a waterless hour in 86-degree heat, which (just as it caused subway power cuts earlier this week) may have also caused the cable car’s malfunction. London’s prestige projects often have rocky births, and the Air Line's halt is no scarier than the opening day wobbles of the Millennium Bridge between St Paul's cathedral and the Tate Modern. Still, tweets this month have commented on how few passengers there are on the stunning but not desperately necessary new link, and the prospect of dangling indefinitely in a plastic bubble is unlikely to boost numbers further.
Despite these last minute glitches, there’s no denying that the previously somber mood in London has lifted completely, along with the recent months of poor weather. Traffic and transport congestion are now starting to feel like semi-welcome proof of something big about to happen. What’s more, spectators of opening ceremony rehearsals have been rhapsodic about what’s coming up on Friday, though in using the hashtag #savethesurprise, they’ve been obediently coy about what to expect. Even a threatened strike by Border Agency staff has been called off, possibly due to government threats of mass sackings. The expected party atmosphere is now arriving, with Olympic National Houses starting to open their doors across London. These houses should do a good job of spreading Olympic business away from the congested Olympic Park. News overall in Britain may still be rather gloomy, but for now, Londoners have a reason to turn a temporary blind eye and enjoy themselves.
Top image: Toby Melvillle/Reuters.