The ever changing face of the London Olympic Park

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The Olympic Park was abuzz with summer this afternoon. The BBQ area was puking out plumes of smoke like an Outback bushfire, a couple sat dripping wet on a wooden jetty after a swim in the River Lea. I enjoyed a drink by the boats on Stratford Waterfront wondering what Andrew Kotting and Iain Sinclair will make of the Swan pedalo rides that start next weekend.

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Stratford International Quarter

But of course the shadow of constant development looms over the surrounding area. The Manhattan Loft Gardens are finally rising into the Stratford sky – after existing solely as a series of projected images outside Stratford International Station for the last 5 years.

And the International Quarter will consume a large chunk of land between Westfield, the Aquatics Centre, and the Waterfront.

London Olympic Park map

The grey areas on this map mark out the development sites that will be completed over the next 3 years. By 2020 London’s newest park will be encircled by high-rise blocks.

Celebration Walk Stratford E20 IMG_2476Back in January this year I snapped the new blocks going up on the edge of Victory Park – on Celebration Avenue. It was a nice scene around Victory Park this evening. A few cafes and restaurants have opened and were busy, people played ping-pong on the outdoor tables, children ran down the Telly Tubbies mound. The development will cast one side of the park in shadow.

Opposite, the site next to Sainsburys is being developed – not part of East Village I was told.

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When I first became, if not quite obsessed then preoccupied by East Village and the Olympic Park about 6 years ago, I offset the creeping horror I felt by telling myself that it would take time to become ‘a place’, that people would have to annotate the newly laid streets with their narratives before we would could really know what it was. But until then it was a land-grab, a year zero scheme with a fictional E20 postcode borrowed from EastEnders, the erasure of the Europe’s largest tenant owned housing co-op at Clays Lane, an outpost of the Qatari Royal Family.

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However, we did have a good time in the Olympic Park today. I plan to go back and try the new cafes. And we’ll be riding the Swan Pedalos on the Waterworks River next week in honour of Andrew and Iain’s Swandown incursion.

 

Alien Invasion of East Village

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How am I supposed to process the latest arrival at East Village. I already feel unnerved by the looming presence of the monolithic blocks – this Mega City One in its infancy then these ‘things’ appear over night like something from an episode of Doctor Who – apparently benign and cheerful but containing an underlying threat of some terrible robot death.

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It seems I am not alone in my fear of this place – whoever was commissioned to create what I suspect is possibly ‘public art’ had a similar reaction.

Olympic Park Pedestrian Peril

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The mistake was to assume that there was a shortcut through the Olympic Park from the Eastway – a magic byway from the proud new Leyton logo sign that captures the Lea Valley sunset through to the Westfield behemoth (a PS4 game goldmine for my sons). I mean a shortcut on foot that is.

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Firstly we were turned away from the road beside the new bus depot that I had assumed led down to where Chobham Academy now stands – apparently it just ends up at the Velodrome, which like most of the venues sits in darkness. The view from the Eastway has changed little since I moved out this way in 2006-07 – the same metal fencing, the piles of sand move around a bit and there was that moment in the summer of 2012 they tarted it up for the TV show but soon after they put it back as it had been – a building site.

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I started to wonder if it will always be a building site – given that large chunks of the Olympic Park have been set aside for development, much of which has yet to start – thousands of new homes are supposed to arrive at some point. We thought we found the through road – the old Quarter Mile Lane leading into Temple Mills Lane, but the signage screamed at the unwary pedestrian not to enter.

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There was so many signs prohibiting travel on foot it was difficult to know if it was safe to even stand still – and if so where, following the signage to the letter would have meant finding a tree to climb then radio in for an airlift free from this autogeddon.

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Just as I started to prepare my two young sons and pug puppy for the likelihood of having to walk along the Hackney Cut then hop on the Greenway we came upon Waterden Road that seemed to have a serviceable pavement. Then the fences dissolved into sodden newly laid grassland.

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The pug gamboled down the path, the boys rolled down the grassy banks beside the river. A few joggers puffed past, but otherwise there were few people around. We took refuge by the calming waters of the Lea – spitting out clods of pollution inhaled from the death roads of the east.

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I’m sure they’ll get the footbridge over from Hackney Marsh into the park open at some point, just like they’ll have to start using the Velodrome soon and the stadium – but for now the priority has clearly been to get the motors motoring to the real destination – the consumer cathedral at Stratford – which is where we headed once we’d recharged our souls for the horrors ahead.

 

 

Twilight wander through the Olympic Park

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.

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Westfield Stratford City drift (with rotting meat and Olympic village vertical slum)

Yesterday evening I got a call from artist Bob and Roberta Smith asking if I fancied exploring the new Westfield Stratford City that had just opened that day down the road from Leytonstone. I quickly grabbed my minidisc recorder and a mic and off we went.
Bob then played out the entire disc live and unedited on his Resonance fm show, Make Your Own Damn Music. This is a sample of the broadcast.