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London readies for its global close-up

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If there's an "it" city for 2011, it's London.

Not only will London see Kate and William's royal wedding — 30 years after Charles and Diana's vows captivated the world's heart — but that's also the run-up to two major events in 2012: the queen's diamond jubilee and the Summer Olympics and Paralympics.

The prince and his bride plan to tie the knot April 29 in Westminster Abbey in a ceremony that is being described as less than lavish, given the economic times. British tourism officials hope the wedding prompts royal watchers to follow in Kate and William's footsteps and see a "younger" London. (Put Boujis, Chinawhite and Pangaea clubs on your itinerary.)

Details about the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II's 60-year reign are still developing, but it will include an extended weekend of festivities June 2-5. (Expect lots of business closures then.) But that's not until 2012.

If you're in London in 2011, you can see some of the changes taking place for the Olympics, which will transform parts of East London from a grubby, industrial area into a wetlands bird habitat and affordable housing (courtesy of the Olympic Village).

Stratford, a fairly undisturbed community in East London, was selected as the site of the Summer Games for being just that: an untouched part of the city in need of investment, refurbishment and revitalization. The London Olympics Committee has faced considerable criticism from locals and the media on whether the displacement of businesses from that area will lead to new, more successful development and commercial activity.

At the moment, though, it's bustling. The Westfield Stratford City shopping center, a digital image just a year ago, is morphing into a massive structure near the Olympic Park that will house 250 stores, countless restaurants, offices, a movie theater, a London Underground station and perhaps even a casino. This one building will outdo the other mega shopping centers in London. And come September, when it opens, authorities hope it will encourage employment in the local community by adding as many as 9,000 jobs.

Small organizations are trying to boost appreciation for East London and its landmarks, giving visitors a peek into it pre-Olympics. Buzz Stop, a free app, has become a popular way to promote East London's businesses, artists, parks, sites, restaurants, cafes, pubs and more. With reviews by locals, Buzzstop hopes to bring some of that traffic to the area during the Games.

As an Eastender, I hope it does. East London is rich in stories; with any luck, the London Olympics will showcase the stories and lives of the community to its global audience.

— Esha Chhabra

Info: http://www.visitbritain.com, http://www.visitlondon.com, http://www.london2012.com, http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/honours/diamondjubilee.aspx

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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