The London Olympic Park certainly is ‘No Ordinary Park’ as dubbed in the marketing tag line – it just keeps getting smaller and smaller while sprouting bigger and more impressive cranes. Where once there were international sporting events there are now world class cement mixers, spectators have been replaced by phalanxes of builders in hard hats and fluro vests. The true London Olympic Legacy appears to be a never ending building scheme.
I still don’t understand the Westfield-Olympic Park retail gulag – just can’t process what it is. This sign and the plans for the new ‘east village london E20′ is making my cognitive dissonance even worse – should I be excited by the emergence of a whole new area of London rising out of the marshes just down the road? But why do feel a combination of fear, horror and anger.
I got drawn along the inspiring and imaginatively named Westfield Avenue towards the expansion of this miniature Singapore.
The new mega-ghetto is this high-rise block of student apartments. Clearly the student rental market is a more lucrative investment than when I moved to a terraced house just off the Romford Road in Stratford at the end of the 80’s when landlords were actively discouraging student tenants.
The cynical suspicion that ‘east village E20′ is being set up as a privately-controlled outpost of transient, well-off, passive consumers with MBAs rather than ASBOs is offset by this glorious view north across the top of the Velodrome to a dark smudge of distant hills.
Although there is a steady trickle of traffic, the fact the footpath is fenced off starts to make me feel as if the way isn’t formally open to pedestrians. This makes me even more determined to push on towards Hackney Marshes.
Soon there are not even bollards to separate me from the 4x4s who seem to be enjoying the smoothness of the newly laid tarmac a bit too much for comfort. A voice with a strong African accent calls out, ‘Excuse you can’t walk here’. It is a female security guard in her hut. ‘You need to go back the other way – I am worried for your welfare’. I take her careful advice. Beyond the hut there was not even a kerb to tightrope walk along, and the light was all but gone.
The park looks far from finished, and I shared a joke with the security guard that the the summer opening may take place in November but that they’ll call it ‘late summer’ somehow, like calling the new suburb ‘east village’. Whatever they call it, and whatever they build – the once mighty River Lea couldn’t care less, it’s just waiting for a chance to reclaim the marshes.
I couldn’t let my pre-Olympic skepticism allow me to ignore the fact that it is taking place right on my doorstep. I’ve been moaning about it for the last 6 years but now it’s here felt an obligation to see what was going on.
I’ve watched the Stadium and Velodrome mushroom at the end of the Asda Car Park – and via the Asda Car Park is the best route into the Olympic Park if you want to avoid the crush at Stratford. Since I moved to the area I’ve walked along the Eastway noting the gradual change.
So I bought a ticket for the Women’s Basketball.
At the end of Ruckholt Road there’s a gate at Eton Manor with a new bridge leading over into the park. This bridge and cinder track to the basketball arena crushed what was left of the Eton Manor Boys Club – a 19th Century philanthropic enterprise for the boys of Hackney Wick.
|still from a video I shot in 2007 – watch the video here|
Where there were a series of rugby pitches is now a coach park. Tucked away in the corner was a small blue hut serving as a box office – there was not a soul around. It seems people don’t fancy entering the Olympics from Leyton.
|The wild flowers are the real stars of London 2012|
|This reminded me of a scene from I Am Cuba|
I’d rather the Lower Lea Valley had been left alone to be overgrown with budliea, Japanese Balsam and Giant Hogweed. However, the landscaped banks of wild flowers are beautiful, and paradoxically possibly more in tune with the ‘natural’ habitat.
I was telling my wife how I preferred it the way it was and she pointed out that hardly anybody came down here when it was a post-industrial wilderness. I tried to make the point that that was the beauty of it but I suppose psychogeographers are a fairly narrow demographic.
The River Lea running through the park though is haunted by the absence of Iain Sinclair and Andrew Kotting in their swan pedalo. The end of their odyssey from Hastings to Hackney was truncated by barriers prohibiting passage along the Olympic Waterways.
|I don’t get the giant crayons poking out of the Lea|
Two of Britain’s great topographers pedaling past the stadium in a giant swan would have been the perfect opening ceremony.
Have a look at this clip from the Culture Show in 2005 with Bob Stanley wandering around the Lower Lea Valley as it was then.
Do you think it’s too late to recommend this for one of the songs to be belted out at the Olympics Closing Ceremony – a fine East End anthem
I’ve cut together some footage of the demonstration on Marsh Lane Fields in December. The video hopefully explains the issues, but in short the Olympic Destruction/Development Agency are planning re-locate the Manor Gardens Allotments in Hackney to one corner of Marsh Lane Fields.
The issues/objections are:
– the re-location of the allotments onto land that was used as a tip after the war will involve the removal of vast amounts of earth which will cause enormous disruption to this tranquil corner of Leyton (think of the diggers, trucks etc.). It’ll turn this quiet lane into a rat-run.
– it will involve the enclosure of Lammas Land that has been open, common grazing land since it was drained by Alfred the Great in the C9th. This is both a disaster locally but also on a larger scale it represents yet more common land being enclosed.
It’s instructive to note the two historical precedents of the 19th Century when the authorities intervened, both here on the Leyton Lammas Lands and in nearby Epping Forest, to fend of the advances of land grabbers and keep this vital open space in common ownership. But both these landmark rulings were triggered by the actions of a few.
There is a spirited campaign to save Marsh Lane Fields which is under threat of development by the LDA for the dreaded 2012 Olympics.
I received this message the other day on the excellent Games Monitor email list:
End Date 16 November 2006
Application number 2006/1627
Provision of an allotment site on the lower plateau at the Western end of Marsh Lane playing fields and to the South
of Marsh Lane. Development to comprise:
a) 81 individual plots, communal plot and ancillary sheds/buildings, storage and drop off area.
b) Associated earth works raising the level of the land with perimeter planting and fencing to a height of 2meters.
c) Associated environmental improvements outside the curtilage of the allotment site comprising improvements to cycle
and footways and landscaping.
Marsh Lane Playing Fields
Matt Sharp The Johnson Building, 77 Hatton Gardens, EC1N 8JS