Spurned Olympic Cities Wonder, 'What If?'

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Hey, New Yorkers, cheer up: Imagine if instead of going to your usual local bar after work tonight, you were planning to fight your way through packed subways to get to a billion-dollar stadium on the West Side of Manhattan for the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 New York Olympics!

That was almost the reality, until that fateful day seven years ago when the International Olympic Committee rejected a American bid to the 2012 Summer Games and gave them to London instead. Or it could have been Paris, which narrowly missed out one of the closest votes ever. New York actually came in fourth, partly because the citizens' enthusiasm for the bid was less than overwhelming.  

Reading about London's traffic snarls and taxi strikes and anti-aircraft guns on top of apartment buildings today, we're sure that most New Yorkers have no regrets about not getting that bid. Still, it's hard not visualize how the city might be different today had that vote gone another way. The New York Jets would be waiting for their massive new home on the West Side rail yards to open.. The Barclays Center in Brooklyn might be bigger and already finished and not even named the Barclays Center. Willets Point might have a fun new kayak course sitting next to Citi Field. Williamburg hipsters would be lining up to watch beach volleyball matches, and Long Island City's new luxury waterfront condos would be the more spartan dorms of the Olympic Village. And yes, the traffic would just as horrible as you can imagine.

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Chicago is also left wondering what might have been. Had they won their bid for the 2016 Games, they would right now be in the hardhat and shovel phase of their Olympic makeover, as Mayor Rahm Emanuel (or would he still be Chief of Staff Emanuel?) would making hotel reservations in London, preparing to accept the traditional city handover at Closing Ceremonies in two weeks. Now all their plans are collection dust, too.

Would it have helped our national economy at all over the last seven years to know that the world was coming over for a visit? It doesn't seem to have helped England's. Would our national pride have come through even a little bit, and maybe tempered some of the more partisan rancor that seems to be swallowing us this summer? Again, it's doubtful. The Olympics are powerful, but not that powerful. Londoners may or may not be excited, but they still have plenty of issues.

On the other hand, some of those condos and stadiums that we do have might not have been developed if the city had not hurried along new projects and changed zoning rules to impress the IOC judges. And the money Chicago raised for their bid got them some nice new athletic projects for kids. You might even argue that it's better to bid and lose, then bid and then actually have to go through with all the logistical nightmares that come from hosting a not very lucrative global sleepover.

Yet, despite all the evidence that having the Olympics in your town is a financial boondoggle, it seems that cities do still feel a small twinge of disappointment when they don't get chosen. And others still lineup to host in the hope that it will save their struggling fortunes. Despite not being able to pay its own bills, Spain still wants a shot at 2020. Madrid which also lost out on both 2012 and 2016, plans to give it another go, even as the entire European continent decides if their worth bailing out.

Will the Spanish be the ones wondering what they've gotten themselves into in eight years? Or will they be sitting in front of their TVs and silently gloating that they dodged a big bullet.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.