Officials preparing for London’s 2012 Olympics expect millions to visit the British capital and attend the world’s premiere athletic competition, scheduled to run from Friday, July 27, through Sunday, August 12.
But when the Olympic torch is snuffed out at the conclusion of the games, what happens to the Olympics site and its facilities built for the competitions?
The job of transforming the London Olympics site and its facilities into long-term use has for the past three years been the responsibility of an American-born, urban designer who graduated from Temple University, and who worked for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration as deputy mayor.
Andrew Altman is the chief executive of the London Legacy Development Corporation, the entity tasked with plotting post-Olympics games development for the 500 acre site in East London that hosts most of the Olympics events and primary supporting services like the massive media center for the 20,000 journalists scheduled to work the games.
So how did an American obtain this pivotal post for the 2012 London Olympics, the third Olympics held in that city since 1908?
“The London Legacy Corporation asked [Altman] for recommendations to head up that very important Olympic venture. The more they talked to him and heard his ideas, the more they liked him for the position,” Oliver St. Clair Franklin said.
Philadelphia businessman Franklin, who frequently travels to London, knows Altman. Franklin serves as the Honorary British Consul for Philadelphia.
“Andy is a good Philly fellow and brings a unique vision to the planning process because he understands the commercial [aspect] as well as the elements of planning,” Franklin said.
Altman said professional associates urged him to apply for the CEO post he received in 2009, so he gave it a try.
“My name was mentioned because I worked before with the London School of Economics,” Altman said.
Altman graduated from Temple University with a degree in urban geography before obtaining a graduate degree in city planning. He’s held planning positions in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and Oakland, working as Philadelphia’s First Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development when he was tapped for the LLDC post.
Altman has generated praise, according to numerous reports, for his key role in devising the vision for transitioning the Olympics site after the games into a new community that will eventually have nearly 8,000 new homes plus commercial and recreational facilities. The site is officially known as Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park,
As one published account stated, Altman “helped re-envision” the previous master plan for the park’s post-Olympics development.
“This was always about a regeneration project, an urban redevelopment project,” Altman said last fall when he met with a group of Temple University students who were studying in London.
“This place was an absolute dump,” Altman said, referencing the main Olympics site built atop old, industrial wasteland once shunned for being highly toxic.
Building on that site required cleaning over a million tons of toxic soil, scrubbed in specially constructed washing machines.
The Olympics site in East London abuts some of the poorest neighborhoods in London, and the entirety of England, a striking contrast to other sections of the increasingly gentrified city.
“This is literally a massive stimulus program for London,” Altman said when talking with the Temple students. “Our task with Legacy is to make sure we pass the “white elephant” test … will these things benefit East London?”
Finding an owner for the main Olympic stadium, transforming other competition sites like the Aquatics Center into a public swimming facility and building an eco-friendly park along the long-polluted River Lea are elements of Altman’s work paralleling construction of new residential neighborhoods on the site.
Turning the Athlete’s Village into residential use is a component of that neighborhood transformation.
Altman said that half of the housing in the Athlete’s Village, located in London’s Stratford section, “is already designated for local residents and low-income.”
The envisioned new neighborhoods in the park will feature mixed income [housing] — unlike the current low-income and increasingly gentrified upper-income.
“There are few opportunities for the middle-class, forcing many families to move outside of London. We are looking to rebalance the area from lower to upper income,” Altman said.
Altman, last month, announced his resignation as LLDC head, effective when the main games conclude in August.
“It has been a tremendous honor to lead this once-in-a-lifetime project that will transform the face of London and will be a spectacular example of city-building the world over,” Altman stated in a London media account.
That media account credited Altman for leadership “in laying the foundations for London’s Olympic legacy” leaving the capital with more advanced planning and execution “than any prior host city.”