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.
While London was for a long time surprisingly quiet during its Olympic prep, there's now a dawning realization that these Games are really going to happen, soon.
The city's traffic has already been partly redirected around major competition sites, the controversial games lanes have been laid out and the subway system is full of posters urging commuters to reconsider their routes to work. Public art projects and international bunting are making the city look a bit more festive, while with Thursday's inaugural light show for Europe's highest skyscraper, The Shard, London got its first taste of the major public spectacles coming up in a few weeks time.
More than anything at the Olympic Park, the Shard is the real monument to London's Olympic year. It looks impressive for a distance, but it also hangs like the Death Star over the last remaining neighborhood on London's South Bank that is still lively and attractive, as if intent on mass abductions. Its developers put on this laser show on Thursday night to celebrate its structural completion. Viewed from a rooftop in Hackney, East London, its color changes were quite pretty, but the ultimate impression was of an overgrown lava lamp. Photo by Christian Schmeer
Here's the Shard again with a new color, the inspiration for this parody. Photo by Christian Schmeer
There is a also an Olympic light show of sorts going on nightly at the top of Tower 42, London's seventh highest building. After it was built in 1980, this office block remained London's tallest for 19 years. As a London child I always thought the tower was the height of urban glamor, but now it's starting to look a little stumpy. Photo by Feargus O'Sullivan
Meanwhile, Central London is being gently reshaped to make room for the Games. The Mall, the grand avenue leading up to Buckingham Palace, is normally one of London's busiest roads. Thanks to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, it will now stay closed to traffic (except for Games VIPs) until September. Currently, a beach volleyball court is being set up here, along with stands to watch the Olympic Marathon, which will end outside Buckingham Palace. The temporary loss of a major thoroughfare may be inconvenient, but at least these events are going to have an attractive iconic background, standing in welcome contrast with facilities in rawer, rougher East London. Photo by Feargus O'Sullivan
London's Games Lanes, on the other hand, are less easy to stomach. These lanes will be set aside to transport athletes and VIPs (and it was alleged, private individuals who bought luxury Olympic packages) making sure that anyone essential to the games' running doesn't get snarled up in London's traffic. Lanes like these have been a feature of Olympic Games for some years now - Beijing and Sydney had them too, and at least London's lanes will be in place for a shorter period than usual, going live only two days prior to the opening ceremony. With £130 fines payable by anyone who strays into them, however, they are still highly unpopular - some businesses have been threatening to ignore them. These markings have appeared on London's Embankment, flanking the North side of the Thames. The bicycles behind are Boris Bikes, city bikes for rent with drop off points throughout the city center that are named after London's mayor. Photo by Feargus O'Sullivan
Given the games lanes unpopularity, the city is making sure everyone knows they are not yet in action. Photo by Feargus O'Sullivan
Get Ahead of the Games, London's Olympic transport advisory body, has been begging Londoners to reshape their commuter journeys to minimize Olympic congestion, suggesting people walk, cycle or work from home. Even Mayor Boris Johnson has been begging users to be aware of the "huge pressure on the transport network". Olympic bosses are understandably being softer on visitors, but signs like this one may do little to halt unnecessary congestion. Found at Leicester Square Tube Station, it's encouraging visitors to take the Northern Line one stop to the Olympic beach volleyball court, which would probably be slower than just walking the 200 odd yards the journey covers. Photo by Feargus O'Sullivan
Beyond the many flags crossing London's streets, the city's center is also being livened up with temporary public art projects. These customized telephone boxes have cropped on every second corner, perfect for tourist photo opps. With the growth of cellphone technology, these typical London booths are now a dying breed. The few still in place are often as popular as late night pissoirs than as call boxes, so it's great that a new use has been thought up for them. Photo by Feargus O'Sullivan
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