London Admits It Can't Top Lavish Beijing Olympics When It Hosts 2012 Games

Facing an economic downturn, British officials are trying to keep costs down.

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Henry calls that a good idea, but says it is "worrisome" that, so far, no tenant for the stadium has been found. Many of the facilities built in Athens are now unused, fenced-in and weed-covered--not the kind of legacy London planners have in mind.

Organizers argue that the biggest beneficiary of the 2012 Games will be East London—a hardscrabble area where incomes are low and joblessness rife that can be revitalized by the games. "East London is very, very depressed by western European standards," Henry says, and the games could help change things for the better.

A big chunk of the money is being spent on upgrading subway and rail links and stations in the area. Also, the Bow Back Rivers, a warren of rivers and canals dating back to the 19th century but disused since World War II, are being cleaned up and reopened.

That's the kind of smart planning, Barker says, that really could engender an economic turnaround in East London. "If you create a pleasant waterway in a major, modern city, we all know what happens." He envisions a popular area filled with condos and houseboats, trendy restaurants and shops, and water taxis. "That's a long- lasting effect," Barker says, "that could be the real legacy" of the London games. British taxpayers can only hope he's right.