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What's The Olympics' Legacy In East London? The Answer In 6 Photos

On the anniversary of London 2012, a billion-dollar (£8.7 billion to be exact) question remains: what is the lasting impact of the Olympics?

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The Olympic City, a photography book project by Jon Pack and Gary Hustwit, chronicles the legacy of the Games in former host nations. The pair visited London six months after the torch was extinguished. Their pictures reveal the aftermath of the Olympics in the East End neighbourhoods of Stratford and Hackney Wick, which became "the centre of the world" for two short weeks.

Street Art in Hackney Wick

Via Gary Hustwit/The Olympic City

This street art in Hackney Wick, east London, reflects the divisions that surfaced in the city after Britain's bid to host the Games.

Today, according to a recent poll by British market research firm ComRes, 69 percent of Brits believe the Olympics were a good investment of public money. But, only 22 percent of those surveyed felt that the Games actually had a positive impact on their local economy.

The Olympic Stadium from the River Lea

Via Jon Pack/The Olympic City

The Olympic Stadium has finally secured its future in a 99-year contract with West Ham United Football Club. The deal, which has been criticized by former sports minister Richard Caborn, will cost British taxpayers millions.

The £600 million Olympic arena has been sold to the Premier League club for a fraction of its worth - only £15 million plus an annual rent of £2 million.

Residents in the surrounding area are still worried that the Olympic infrastructure will buoy the cost of rent, pricing them out of their neighbourhoods.

"Some of the artists and narrow-boat owners I spoke to were concerned that the neighbourhood’s proximity to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and the stadium would cause housing prices to skyrocket, pushing people out of their homes," photographer Jon Pack said. "I felt like this photo captured that uncertainty, with life as usual taking place in the foreground as the stadium looms at the top of the frame."


Café Lympic, an espresso bar in Stratford lost its ‘O’ just before the Olympics began.

Via Jon Pack/The Olympic City

The owners won’t say what happened but it’s likely they painted over it to avoid a potentially costly lawsuit from the organizers of the Games.

ArcelorMittal Orbit as seen from Stratford City

Via Jon Pack/The Olympic City

The ArcelorMittal Orbit, a red steel observation tower designed by artist Anish Kapoor for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, was at the heart of the former athletic fantasyland. The 200-hectare park is now a deserted expanse in a state of transition. It will soon become housing blocks, a leafy park and commercial center. For residents of Stratford City, the sculpture is now a distant reminder of the Games.

Businesses near the Olympic Park were told to brace themselves for 60,000 tourists per day, but for storeowners like Jim that number was more like 20.

Via Jon Pack/The Olympic City

Jim, owner of Imperial & Standard in Hackney Wick, told photographer Jon Pack that storeowners in the neighborhood at the edge of the park were warned to expect 60,000 people a day during the Games. He said that number ended up being closer to 20. “It was great. Nice and quiet.”

Space for rent near Stratford Station

Via Jon Pack/The Olympic City

Investment was one of the key buzzwords used by politicians, who pledged that the Olympics would help give Britain’s economy a boost. A shining example of this is the Westfield shopping centre, a playground for consumerism that draws more than 700,000 customers a week and provides work for thousands of people locally.

London Mayor Boris Johnson announced on July 25, 2013, that Australia's Westfield Group plans to build the city's first indoor ski center next to its shopping emporium. He said the man-made slope is just one part of "an astonishing economic story of regeneration of east London."

Despite Johnson's remarks, areas of Stratford still stand in stark contrast to Westfield, which boasts boutiques like Prada. Discount stores, market stalls and spaces like this empty billboard are still present in Stratford Center, on the opposite side of the borough's shiny new tube station.

For a snapshot of what east London looked like before the Olympics, watch “What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?” a documentary filmed by Paul Kelly and St. Etienne in 2005.

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“It’s a time capsule of what the area was like before the Olympic construction started, and sort of a love letter to it I guess,” documentary filmmaker Gary Hustwit said. “They were filming buildings there that were demolished the same day. Did the area need improvement? Of course. But did it need a Zaha Hadid swimming stadium?”

“If the real goal was to make this area better for the people who were living there, I can imagine that could've been achieved for a lot less than the billions spent on constructing the Olympic facilities.”

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