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What's New in London
The Changing Face
"London," so a local saying goes "will be nice when it's finished." You'll soon get the joke— it's hard to turn a corner in the city center without finding some work-in-progress crater so vast you can only imagine what was there before. This latest wave of development started in the 1990s and was accelerated by the 2012 Olympics. Meanwhile, new neighborhoods are brought into the limelight—currently, a visit to Hoxton or Shoreditch should provide you with your quotient of London hipness—and the creative fervor that has always swirled through London like fog shows up in art galleries, designer boutiques, and theaters.
More than £17 billion were earmarked for transport development in the run-up to the 2012 Games in this city that sees 20 million trips daily on the transport system. Served by five airports, London has the world's second-largest (and oldest) underground system, and recent years have seen the extension of the East London line and the Docklands Light Railway, and the upgrading and modernization of all Underground stations. Happily, the Congestion Charge, imposing a fee of £10 per day on vehicles entering central London, has reduced both traffic and pollution.
London under Construction
London seized upon the occasion of the 2012 Olympics to showcase some sparkling new architecture. With the exceptions of Canary Wharf, the Swiss Re Headquarters (the "Gherkin"), the Lloyd's of London building, and the London Eye, London's skyline has traditionally been low-key, with little of the brash swagger of, say, Shanghai or Manhattan. But a spectacular crop of new architecture—the 945-foot "Helter-Skelter" Bishopsgate Tower, 740-foot Leadenhall Building "Cheese Grater," and 1,020-foot "Shard of Glass"—is injecting fresh adrenaline into London's otherwise staid streetscapes and revitalizing its skyline.
Some laud the boldness of these brand new steel-and-glass skyscrapers, and Londoners tend to give a thumbs-up to the bulbous 30 St. Mary Axe ("the Gherkin"). Others lament the desecration of historic vistas and despair at designs such as the proposed Tate Modern extension, which resembles a giant pyramid folding in on itself. The verdict is still out on the Shard at London Bridge—designed by Enzo Piano, this irregular triangle of glass is the tallest building in Europe. Whatever critics and those who must look at these structures every day may say, London will never be quite the same again.
The Remains of the Games
The gorgeous Aquatics Centre, a curvilinear £303-million piece of eye candy, was the centerpiece of London's Olympics display. Designed by Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the center's wavelike form is impressive and inspirational, rising above the East London neighborhood of Stratford. The center will continue to serve as London's main venue for aquatic sports. The design of the nearby Olympic Stadium has been received with divided opinion, with critics making unfavorable comparisons with Beijing's iconic Bird's Nest. Supporters point to the 80,000-capacity stadium's ongoing use for football matches and other events, but for many the stadium's major plus point is its ability to be dismantled.
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