London needs to grow into the Olympics - Monocolumn | Monocle


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26 April 2012

So it’s now less than 100 days until the London Olympics. 92 days in fact. We’re in the home straight – the finishing line’s in sight. It’s a curious time to be a resident in London. Across the city there are quietly urgent campaigns encouraging residents to tidy up, to put rubbish in bins, smile and tuck shirts in. It feels like we’re grumpy teenagers and the extended family is coming around for Sunday lunch.

One organisation goes as far as to point out that we all do a superficial tidy before our parents drop in, so let’s do it for London before the rest of the world descends on our doorstep. All very patronising. And symptomatic of the fact that time is running out, London is in a bit of a mess and Londoners are not yet onboard to help sort it out.

Who can really blame us? Yesterday we learnt we’ve sunk back into recession. The Leveson enquiry continues to reveal ever-murkier links between the government, the police and the media. We’re in a housing crisis. The mayoral election has turned into a rather boring game show. It’s been raining for weeks but we’re also in a drought.

Londoners love to moan and there’s plenty to moan about at the moment. But it’s not the content of these pre-Olympic pull together posters that offends so much as the tone. Last week I was in Milan, a city in a country with its own set of problems, sagas and scandals that rival even the UK’s current doldrums. Milan has a stopwatch of its own too, which it’s currently racing towards welcoming the world to its streets for the 2015 World Expo.

But the Milanese are poles apart from Londoners when it comes to pride and purpose. It’s in their DNA. Youth unemployment might be tipping 30 per cent in Italy. The economy, infrastructure and services might be a mess and Berlusconi might have scarred the national brand beyond belief. But the difference between the UK and Italy is immense at grass roots levels. Italians love Italy, the Milanese love Milan and they want everyone else to love it too.

Speaking with one of the team behind Milan’s 2015 Expo plans, comparing the situation to London’s Olympics, he said “We have big plans, which may or may not come together as we hope. But our starting point is better than London because we have the city and its population on our side.”

And that’s just our problem in London: we’re in a self-perpetuating, unprofessional, teenage funk. And the more that we’re chided and spoken down to by our government, our media and authorities in this way, the more difficult it is to rise above feeling anything other than churlish towards anything official – Olympics included.

A smart campaign to remind London and Britain what we have to be proud about would help. One that speaks to us, not just to visitors. It’s a campaign that needs to be about more than smiling and picking up rubbish.

At the moment we’re in danger of slamming the bedroom door and adolescently sabotaging our own opportunity to win anything from the Olympics.


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