The Olympic Legacy (1)

I am immensely impressed by Oliver Wainwright’s Long Read (see below) on the failed aspirations for London’s 2012 Olympics. It was always intended to be at least as much about the urban regeneration of Stratford and the River Lea as it was about sport; and it was a bit of a surprise that London won it.

Wainwright documents the original hopes and aspirations of the local community for better facilities, particularly housing; how these plans, developed by Ken Livingstone and Tessa Jowell were hijacked by Boris Johnson when he became Mayor; and how most of what has been built is more for wealthy young professionals who can afford the high rents, instead of mass housing for the working population, as was originally intended.

Oddly, I am a bit more sympathetic than he is to what has been achieved. Much of the Olympic Park is well laid out and, at least so far, well maintained (although, as is pointed out, big roads bisect it unhelpfully). Chobham Manor is an experiment in a modern version of traditional housing, worth the attempt, although a bit sterile. East Bank will bring culture to East London, including the V&A. And V&A East, its massive storehouse on the west of the park, will, I suspect, be even more adventurous.

I have written about some of the same issues for the August/September issue of The Critic, and Iain Sinclair wrote about them in last Saturday’s Financial Times. I suppose everyone is waking up to the need to examine what the area is like after more than a decade of new development, and how successful (or not) it has been as the nearest approximation to a millennial New Town. The short answer is that landscape designers are much better at creating new environments than urban planners.


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