2012 Geolog archive
The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Tomorrow, what was the Olympic Park will officially become the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the largest new park in London for 150 years. I doubt if there will be much of a fanfare. To be honest, if you were at the Games this summer, you would be sorely disappointed to see the state of the Park today. Gone is the buzz of the Games, the hundreds of thousands of spectators, the athletes in their array of national colours, the gamesmakers, the smiles. In their place are bulldozers, metal fences, piles of rubble and large windswept spaces where people once walked. This is the process of transformation to turn the Park from mega-sporting venue into a new ‘piece of city’.
By 27th July 2013, a year on from the start of the Olympics, the first section of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will open to the public and by spring 2014 the whole park, together with the main sports venues, will be open. It remains to be seen how important this new park will become to east London. Ian Sinclair, renowned psychogeographer and resident of neighbouring Hackney, believes the Olmypic Park is another ‘grand project’ doomed to be a (very expensive) failure. Others lament the loss of wilderness and old industrial neighbourhoods that preceded the park. The former residents of Clays Lane and allotment holders, who lost their homes and vegetable plots when the park was built, also have justifiable reasons for complaint.
I take a more optimistic view. New cycle and pedestrian routes in and around the park will open up the area to thousands of east Londoners who didn’t know the area existed – and probably wouldn’t have gone there even if they did! There will be new connections between four London boroughs – Newham and Waltham Forest to the east, Hackney and Tower Hamlets to the west – previously separated by the River Lea, as well as assorted railway lines and motorways. The new park and the sports venues will be an asset for tourists and local community alike, (although, it has to be said, east London is hardly deprived of green space, with Victoria Park and Hackney Marshes within a stone’s throw of the new park).
For the past five and a half years, a huge fence has ringed the Olympic Park with the objective of keeping people out. From 2014, when the fence comes down, the main objective will be to draw people in. During the summer, the park was successful, not just because of the amazing landscaping and iconic venues but, because of the millions of people who came. The same will apply in legacy. The long-term success of the park will be defined by who uses it and how well it fits into the fabric of east London.
What a year!
Last night’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year brought the memories flooding back. What a year it’s been! Most years, any one of the twelve contenders last night would have won the award easily. On this occasion, there were strong contenders who didn’t even make the shortlist. Normally, the contest doesn’t spark enough interest to make me pick up the phone. Last night I was itching to vote. The only problem is that I would have voted for all twelve and I wasn’t sure the system would allow for multiple voting. As it turned out, so many people wanted to vote they couldn’t all get through. Overall, one and a half million votes were cast, twice the usual number.
It’s a shame there had to be a winner, though I’ve got nothing personal against Bradley Wiggins. I don’t think I was alone in thinking, for 2012, they could have made an exception. But, that’s sport isn’t it – there’s always got to be A Winner? Well, there has and there hasn’t. Without exception, everyone who stood on the stage last night, from Wiggo to Seb Coe, said they wouldn’t have been able to do it without the team behind them. Even Andy Murray who, remember, hadn’t won a single major title up to that point, said he drew his inspiration from watching Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farrah in the stadium the previous evening. He went on to annihilate Roger Federer. So, if there had to be a winner, it really was the team who won. And I mean team in the widest sense, including coaches, medics, gamesmakers, teachers, mums and dads.
East London was not forgotten either. Normally, SPOTY is held at some fancy West London venue. On this occasion, they took over ExCeL, the Exhibition Centre beside Royal Victoria Dock, one of the Olympic venues in East London. Ten thousand guests were crammed inside last night. It was the final hoorah for 2012. Roll on 2013!
By popular demand, and as agreed by the LLDC (London Legacy Development Corporation) before it closed in May, the Viewtube is back. For those of you who did not visit the Olympic site before the Games, the Viewtube was the only building with public access inside the Park. Tens of thousands of visitors, including schools, passed through its doors during the two and a half years it was open until May this year.
The Viewtube boasts probably the best view of the stadium in the Park. Before the Games, when you saw a TV presenter in front of the stadium, the chances are they were standing at the Viewtube. Whilst enjoying the view, most visitors popped into the cafe or made use of the rather inadequate toilets. A few, more hardy types, hired bikes which they could use to circumnavigate the Park (if they were prepared to negotiate part of the A12). Schools often made use of the classroom upstairs above the cafe.
Before you run away with the idea that the Viewtube is like any other building – it’s not! It’s actually made from recycled shipping containers and sits, perched on top of the Northern Outfall Sewer, locally known as the Greenway, an embankment that bisects the Park. It was only ever envisaged as a temporary structure, to serve until the end of 2013, by which time the Park will be close to reopening as the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
For the time being, the LLDC regard the Viewtube as one of its ‘dents in the fence’ – points around the Park where the otherwise, impenetrable perimeter fence is broken to allow minimal public access. Visiting yesterday there were just a handful of people – a far cry from the heady pre-Olmypic days in early summer, when the place was heaving. So, if you if you missed the Games and want to know what all the fuss was about, pop down to the Viewtube. It’s a short walk from Pudding Mill Lane DLR station, one stop from Stratford.
What do the fans think?
Yesterday we saw a demonstration of football fans’ anger at Chelsea, where Roberto de Matteo was sacked as manager last week and replaced by Raffa Benitez. Fans in the crowd carried banners in support of de Matteo and booed as Benitez was unveiled as new manager.
There is anger brewing in east London too, as the West Ham owners plot their move to the Olympic Stadium (see Brian’s blog below). I was in the local bookshop last week and bumped into a life-long West Ham season-ticket holder. She said she would give up her season ticket and would never attend a match at the new stadium if West Ham leave Upton Park. What’s more, she claims to be among a majority of West Ham fans who don’t want to leave their traditional home.
West Ham ignore the fans’ view at their peril. A 60,000-seater stadium is going to be hard enough to fill, let alone if they don’t manage to take their present supporters with them.
The Olympic Stadium legacy debate: David versus Goliath?
On the one side the mighty West Ham United and on the other Leyton Orient— two East End clubs. Both have put in tenders for usage of the stadium which will not re-open until 2015. Both have legitimate claims — West Ham located in the heart of the Olympic borough of Newham and Orient in neighbouring Waltham Forest, but with their original training pitches at Eton Manor which is in the Olympic Park.
As a West Ham season ticket holder I have watched the process with some amusement. I have witnessed the fierce debate among supporters of whether or not the club would be better to remain at Upton Park or to move to the Olympic Stadium. West Ham’s fanzine Over Land and Sea, suggests that most supporters are in favour of remaining at Upton Park and to re-develop the ground. The joint-owner, David Gold, whose early business was a carpet shop opposite the ground, obviously favours a move while deriding the Green Street area as being in great need of regeneration. Newham has a housing waiting list of twenty thousand so will he show generosity and leave the land, free of charge, to Newham Council to build social community housing? But even little Leyton Orient has a club owner in Barry Hearn , a well-known snooker promoter and are his motives purely for the good of the supporters of this small, community club?
One wonders if the motive for both bids is altruism with the supporters interests at heart or is it just another stereotypical image of East End spivs hoping to capture a large Stadium with an enhanced value which can then be sold on for a great profit to the new owners.
What difference can a postcode make? Quite a lot, it appears, if you live in Stratford. The old part of Stratford, including the town centre, Stratford High Street and the Carpenters Estate are all in E15, one of London’s less desirable postcodes. However, the Olympic Park, Westfield Stratford City and the new East Village (formerly the Athletes Village) are all in E20, the first new postcode to be created in London that I can remember. The boundary between E15 and E20 is the main railway line, into and out of Stratford Station.
According to the Centre for Economic and Business Research which provides economic forecast and analysis, the E20 postcode is destined to be one London’s new hotspots. CEBR concludes that the combination of transport links, quality of life, local services and access to employment opportunities will make E20 one of the more desirable postcodes to live in London. It scores a creditable 6.92 on the CEBR’s London Residential Fundamentals Index, putting it ahead of Hammersmith and the Isle of Dogs, and just behind Highbury and Camden. Meanwhile, Stratford E15 scores a miserable 4.94 on the same index even though it enjoys the same transport links, local services and employment opportunities. This seems rather strange.
Another mystery is that CEBR praises the ‘highly-rated education at the new Chobham Academy and the East Village Health and Wellbeing Centre’ even though neither is due to open until next year. In this case their forecasting skills seem to verge on the clairvoyant! It might be that this bit of wishful thinking is because CEBR have been asked to help with the marketing of property at East Village where residents are due to move in next spring. It might also be an effort to attract the ‘right type of people’, in order to become a self-fulfilling prophesy.
I suspect the main reason for E15’s poor rating, compared to its pushy, new E20 neighbour, is that it lies on the wrong side of the railway tracks – literally and metaphorically.
Barcelona – 20 years on
Tonight, I attended the first of a series of lectures hosted by the London Legacy Development Corporation in association with University of East London. Speakers from the University of Barcelona talked about the experience of their city since the 1992 Olympics. There are clear parallels between East London and Barcelona as it was then – a run-down port, declining industry and urban decay. Having visited Barcelona in the 1980s, these are features that I can vividly recall. But, having visited again since, I’ve seen the transformation that came about with the Olympics.
In many ways, Barcelona is the Olympic city London most wants to emulate. It has transformed its international image, is now a favoured destination for tourists and has a thriving economy (or did until the recession hit). However, the speakers tonight cautioned that the Barcelona model was unique and might not be transferable. London is already a top tourist destination and, recession notwithstanding, had a thriving economy even before the Games. So, what will be London’s Olympic legacy?
If one thing can be learnt from Barcelona, each Olympic city has to develop its own legacy narrative. In the case of Barcelona, it was ‘opening the city to the sea’. Having previously turned its back on the sea and its old docks, the city now celebrates its Mediterranean frontage. Tourists are drawn to the city’s beaches and coastal property prices have boomed. East London is not Barcelona and it will have to develop its own narrative. That could be ‘a new sustainable urban community’, ‘the people’s park’ or ‘London’s centre of gravity moving east’. Perhaps, all three or, perhaps, none of the above. Barcelona challenges London to think what it really wants to come out of this summer’s Olympics.
Shopping certainly seems to matter in these post-industrial days. Everything, from the state of the economy to our psychological well-being can be judged from how we shop – or, so they say. No surprise then that this week we heard a report on how our shopping habits were affected by the Olympics. Despite early fears that no one was shopping in London, sales actually rose. Fewer people came to shop but those who did spent more. John Lewis reported a 15% rise in sales in London on the same period last year. The same was not true everywhere. John Lewis also reported a fall in sales outside London. I guess everybody was glued to the telly.
The real winner, as you might expect, was Westfield – gateway to the Olympic Park. They had 5.5 million visitors during the two weeks of the Olympic Games – almost 10% of the customers they expect to get in a year! However, they did not reveal any sales figures, so we don’t know how much these shoppers spent. Many Olympic spectators made a quick visit to Westfield on their way to or from the Park.
Yesterday, I was working with a GCSE group who were investigating whether Westfield would lead to the closure of the old Stratford Centre nearby. A lot of people expected that to happen. But, talking to a Centre worker, they too increased their trade during the Games. They managed a weekly footfall of 900,000 shoppers through the Games – not bad for a local shopping centre! As the students discovered yesterday, Stratford Centre appeals to a totally different market, of mainly local, older people. One elderly woman I overheard in there said she was too scared to go to Westfield in case she got lost! When the students carried out a virtual shopping exercise as part of their investigation, in role as a parent, they found all the requisites for a kid’s party in the Stratford Centre in a matter of minutes. When they tried to do the same in Westfield they could find nothing (that they could afford!). They drew the conclusion that prospects for the Stratford Centre are good, with or without Westfield.
The word ‘smart’ crops up a lot these days when talking about technology. There are ‘smart’ cars, ‘smart’ TVs, ‘smart’ meters and more. Smart technology is much in evidence at The Crystal (see Bob’s blog below). One can’t help but be impressed by the cutting edge interactive displays there. I’m sure students will be. But, I was left with a nagging feeling that something was missing from all the high-tech and it has to do with people. Human behaviour is one thing that computer-controlled systems can’t really legislate for. Why do we drop litter when we know it makes the place look a mess? Why don’t we exercise regularly when we know it’s good for us? Why do we accept growing levels of inequality when it is grossly unfair (and counterproductive for our economy)?
The Crystal takes a positive view of our future. There is no problem – population explosion, peak oil, climate change – that technology won’t be able to fix. But, I think it fails to address one of the main problems we face, both here in London and globally, and that is inequality. There is nothing sustainable about the widening gap in pay levels, with top earners now getting fifty times or more than those at the bottom. Perhaps, I was expecting too much. After all, The Crystal is run by Siemen’s, one of the big players in the global economy.
The issue was brought home to me last night by an excellent new documentary, ‘Welcome to India’. It featured a community in Mumbai who had built their homes on the beach. Property prices in Mumbai are almost as prohibitive as London and inequality is even greater. Many people have no hope of owning a home, so they find a bit of empty land and build on it. So far, so enterprising. However, periodically, the city authority comes along with their (high-tech!) bulldozers and demolishes the homes, presumably to tidy up the beach. Almost as frequently as the waves roll in and out, people rebuild the homes. Of course, a huge effort is required to repeatedly rebuild a home, not to mention the human heartache involved. It struck me, there is nothing very ‘smart’ about this, and it’s certainly not sustainable. Does technology have an answer to this one? …… No, I didn’t think so.
Last Wednesday, John and I visited the Crystal. Located at Royal Victoria Dock (DLR station Royal Victoria), it’s a new building which is focused upon sustainability. It’s been built on sustainable principles, with data displays inside to indicate energy generation by the solar panels, or the proportion of water supplied which has come from rainwater. It’s owned and developed by Siemens as an exhibition and education centre. Hence the reason for our visit – could this be used as part of our fieldwork programme in east London, and, if so, how?
Inside, the building is visually interesting, and with plenty of displays there is ample to justify a visit here. Siemen’s have used what geographers sometimes refer to as the ‘three-legged stool’ approach – that is, they define sustainability in terms of its economic, social and environmental dimensions. I find this interetsing because, as a geographer, I’ve been critical in the past of teaching and learning materials that ignore economic dimensions. Without an economic justification or analysis, few sustainable technologies will ever be more than a pipe-dream.
For teachers and students, there are intereactive displays about all aspects of sustainable living, such as building design; for example, students can design their own building using architecture that reflects a range of sustainable principles, and can even print it out. Around the exhibition are interactive displays and questions / information that are differentiated between children, adults and experts. Josh, who took us round, explained how an ‘expert’ might be someone such as an older exam student studying sustainability. That of course means geographers, but it could also mean DT or Science students. On registration, visitors are each given a swipe card that enables them to target displays in different ways. The company has thought a lot about the process of teaching and learning; there’s a classroom available for hire as well as other spaces where students or teachers can assemble and discuss what’s being learnt. Siemens will provide a tutor for a fee of about £60 per session (60-90 minutes on average) per group of about 15 students.
John and I were impressed. What’s interesting is that a visit here can be targeted for geographers teaching a range of courses. I find it easy to imagine post-16 students getting a lot out of this, ranging from AQA’s World Cities stduents who are studying sustainable cities, to Edexcel’s A2 students studying the water, energy, and the technological fix as part of their A2 Contested Planet unit. A visit here which is well thought out could usefully help GCSE students make sense of sustainability (e.g. Edexcel’s urban environments option and the study of eco-footprints).
The centre opens formally on October 1st. To see what’s on offer, go to http://www.thecrystal.org/_html, but watch this space, as we’ll be offering teachers the chance to visit this centre as a part of our field trips.
And while you’re thinking about this, you can get there via the Emirates Airline, which is London’s newest tourist attraction – a cable car between the O2 on the south bank at North Greenwich (less than 5 mins walk from N Greenwich tube on the Jubilee Line) across the river to Royal Victoria. At £1.20 per adult (with Oyster or Travelcard – more without) it’s a ‘must’. Bring your camera! If you’re planning a field trip with us, you need only ask.
One word of warning, though; the gondolas are maximum 10-seater, and you are high above the Thames. Any students or teachers who are afraid of heights might not enjoy it. There’s an alternative if you want to split a teaching group, whilst one group takes the cable car; one station further on the Jubilee Line towards Stratford brings you to Canning Town, where you can change for a one-station ride on the Beckton DLR to Royal Victoria. The lengths of the two alternative journeys are about the same!
It has been Open House week-end in London. Buildings, normally shut to the public, open their doors for one week-end only to the curious (and downright nosy!). I’m assuming other cities in the UK have similar events but, if not, it is certainly worth their while considering.
I am a regular participant in Open House. Each year I like to concentrate on a different part of London and this year I decided to focus on the borough of Camden. I have noticed, over the years, the best Open House experiences can be unexpected, even ones that weren’t planned. Yesterday, I found myself walking down Abbey Road (of Beatles fame) when I caught sight of a small queue outside a house on a road to my left. This was a giveaway clue to the presence of an Open House event. I decided to investigate.
Sure enough, it was a building in the Open House brochure that had escaped my attention. The Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate is the last large social housing complex in London, belonging to Camden Council. It is described as a low-rise, high-density enclave – a 1970s reinterpretation of terraced housing. One of the residents had kindly opened her home to members of the public. Her motive for doing so was interesting. This estate, with its harsh concrete exterior, has often been used as a backdrop for films featuring guns and gang violence, though the reality is quite different. She wanted to change public perception of the area.
In fact, it has many features of a model community. Neighbours look out over a communal street where children play safely and there are no cars (the cars park below ground). Several tenants have taken up the right to buy so there is now a mix of owner-occupiers and council tenants, living side by side. The only problem is, would-be buyers find it hard to get a mortgage these days, so private landlords are moving in to buy up properties for buy-to-let.
It struck me, the new joint owners of the Athletes Village – now to be known as East Village – could do worse than look at the Alexandra and Ainsworth Estate as a model of how mixed tenure could work in a London housing project. There has been some scepticism that private tenants paying high rents could live happily beside people in social housing. Yesterday, I saw the future…and it can work.
Threat to east London’s green belt?
We all had a good time at the Paralympics in a crowd that was much more local and/or national in flavour than the Olympics. However certain issues remain.
One of these is the perceived threat to the Green Belt in East London. A large part of it is Epping Forest which begins in the heart of the East End at Forest Gate, E7. The forest is protected by an Act of Parliament.
However part of the Act was amended to allow the Metropolitan Police to build a headquarters for the games on part of the forest on an area called Wanstead Flats. The headquarters covers an area of about 300 square metres and it is surrounded by an opaque fence about 20 feet high.
The Met has promised to dismantle the headquarters in October and allow the land to revert to former usage. In addition £170,000 has been set aside to improve a leisure pond on Wanstead Flats.
But many local people feel that a precedent has been set which could, in future, result in the destruction of this part of the Green Belt, in this multi-cultural and, still, working class area of East London.
It was back to work today. I taught my first post-Olympic school group. Stratford had a slightly ghostly feel about it. All the Olympic paraphernalia was still in place – signposts directing spectators to the stadium, tower blocks clad with sponsors’ billboards, even the odd Gamesmaker wandering about in their uniform looking rather lost. One thing missing were the hundeds of thousands of people. I think Seb Coe observed that, without the spectators, the Games would not have happened. And, he was right. Without people, the Olympic Park today was an empty shell. OK, it has a few interesting buildings but, nonetheless, a shell.
So, what was there to teach about? Well, as ever, there is no shortage of interest for geographers in east London. Today I was working with an AQA B GCSE geography group doing controlled assessment. The focus of the day was an ‘investigation of managing people movement and traffic in an urban area’ (look at ‘Cycling in east London’ on our programmes page). We chose to investigate whether the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme should be extended east to Stratford. Apparently, there are plans in the pipeline to do just that. We compared Bow, where the cycle hire scheme is already in operation, with Stratford. Using a range of fieldwork techniques – traffic counts, risk assessments and surveys, the students decided, yes, the scheme should be extended.
Fortunately, there are still some people left in east London after the Games – namely, those of us who live and work here! Most of the ones we talked to seemed to agree that more cycling would be good for us. The Olympics may have gone, but at least the spirit of the Olympics lives on.
Always look on the bright side
One of the strangest moments in the Olympic opening ceremony was when Eric Idle sang, ‘Always look on the bright side of life’. I’m sure Danny Boyle had it there for a reason. My interpretation is it was a rebuttal to our natural British inclination to always do ourselves down, to be prepared for the worst, to expect rain. As it turned out, we shouldn’t have worried, should we?
Over the past couple of years, when schools visited the Olympic site, there was a lot of doubt (and it was usually the teachers, not the students!) about whether the venues would be ready on time, stay within budget, or even avoid a terrorist attack. O ye of little faith! Without wishing to tempt fate for the Paralympics, which start tonight, everything at the Olympics was about as good as it could have been. Everyone I’ve heard since has not had a bad word to say.
All of this augurs well for the legacy. Almost as important as the Games themselves, is what comes next. A lot of people are sceptical about whether the Olympics will really help to regenerate east London. Not without reason. Docklands, impressive as it might look, has hardly done a lot to lift deprived communities of Newham and Tower Hamlets out of poverty. Will the Olympics do any better? Well, call me an optimist, but I think they just might.
London won the Olympic bid on the basis that it would lead to regeneration. The government’s and International Olympic Committee’s reputations are on the line. £9.3 billion of public money has been spent (unlike the private money which funded Docklands). The London Legacy Development Corporation is up and running and will take over the Olympic Park and surrounding neighbourhoods after the Games. There might be a few hiccups along the way but, overall, I think east London will be a better place twenty years from now than it was before the Games.
So, to those of you still in doubt ….. always look on the bright side of life!
Playing fields for sale
It’s taken the Olympics and 29 gold medals for Team GB to turn our attention to school playing fields … again. Apparently, more have been sold off in the past two years than the government were admitting to. Rightly, they are embarrassed. We also hear that the track in west London where Mo Farah first started running is now derelect due to lack of investment. Owners, Hounslow Council, are looking a bit red-faced.
I can’t help but feel, once the post-Olympic fever has died down and normal life resumes, such treasonable actions against the development of our young athletes will, once again, become commonplace. After all, successive governments over the past twenty years have allowed – even encouraged – the sale of school playing fields. With schools short of money, and developers short of land, what school wouldn’t sell off its prize assets?
Well, actually, I could name a few and most of them are wealthy, independent schools endowed with vast areas of open space. Students at one school I know, calculated the combined area of their playing fields (and golf course) was larger than the whole Olympic Park (250 hectares)! They are fortunate their financial situation is such that they are not forced to consider selling off their land. If it did cross their minds, parents who pay the fees for their children to enjoy the best facilities would surely force them to think again.
No such luck for children in east London. Many attend schools with no playing fields at all. Students trapse off to the local park for their PE lessons, using half the time for the journey there and back. With the school population in the area growing rapidly, space is at a premium. The priority is to build enough classrooms to fit them all in. My wife teaches at one school where a rebuilding programme has used up most of the children’s outdoor playspace. The school has a number of Somali refugee children but, so far, no one has suggested knocking down the neighbouring houses so they can have a running track to find the next Mo Farah.
Inside the stadium – at last!
For the past four years I have watched the Olympic stadium grow from a hole in the ground to the 80,000-seater venue it is today. There have been doubts (was it worth £500 million?), controversies (was Dow a suitable sponsor for the wrap?) and questions over its future (will it convert into a football stadium?). But, no one was thinking about any of that last night as David Rudisha set the first world record on the new track in the 800 metres final, nor as they witnessed Usain Bolt become the first athlete to win back-to-back Olympic titles in 100 and 200 metres.
I was lucky enough to be there. I was also probably the only one thinking about what used to be where the stadium is now. Somewhere, around the start of the 100 metre track was Forman’s factory, a salmon smokery now located just outside the Olympic Park. It was one of many small businesses to be relocated. Below ground, contaminated soil had to be removed, some of it radioactive waste now buried elsewhere in the Park. But, the Olympic stadium also claims to be the ‘greenest’ ever built. Those girders supporting the roof were made from recycled gas pipes. And, if I looked closely, I might have noticed the steel frame was bolted together, rather than welded, so if they ever decide to dismantle the stadium it could be re-erected somewhere else.
Somehow, I don’t think that is likely to happen. After evenings like last night, there will be too many precious memories to ever think about dismantling the stadium.
London and Super Saturday
I went to bed at 1 a.m. this morning, unable to wind down till late after a wonderful day of medals and great sport. I spent my energies in cheering, shouting at the TV, leaping up and down, and shedding tears. As someone who used to scive PE lessons at school, I’m now an enthusiast and armchair expert on any Olympic sport you care to name. Well, maybe.
Actually, the main reason for this blog is London. In 2005, Nelson Mandela said of London’s 2012 bid “There is no city like London. It is a wonderfully diverse and open city providing a home to hundreds of different nationalities from all over the world. I can’t think of a better place than London to hold an event that unites the world.” The past few days have shown just how well London does that. My abiding memory of yesterday is Mo Farah. Somali-born, he came to London when he was eight, and went to west London’s state schools. He’s one of many hundreds of thousands whom London has welcomed and made its own. Sheffield similarly claims Jess Ennis as its own, daughter of a Jamaican-born father and Derbyshire-born mother. If you need any more links between sport and geography, Super Saturday gave us plenty!
A great feeling for our family to live near the Olympic Park in the London borough of Newham and then to walk to the Park to watch two exciting hockey games. To spend a day looking at the plants of the of the representative continents in Europe’s largest urban park was fantastic – especially as we know what the park area was like in former years.
The fact that we could walk to the park there and back promotes a feeling of greater exercise and this has been complemented by the local borough banning cars from outside the borough parking in our streets. Could this be the end of Essex commuters driving to our neighbourhood to leave their cars for the final journey to central London?
Also good for inclusion as our son was one of the many local sixth formers recruited to work in the park – he is having a great time working in the restaurants while, at the same time, getting to see some of the events.
The Games are here!
Back in 2011 … was it so long ago? … I found I’d been twice lucky in the first ballot for tickets for London’s 2012 Games. The chance to go to events in what are in my view THE two iconic venues of the Olympic Park (the Stadium and Aquatics Centre, in case you’re wondering) seemed like a great gift from above. It capped off what has for me been nearly 20 years of work focused around the Olympic and Paralympic Games, beginning with Sydney’s successful bid to host the world’s first ‘Green Games’ in September 1993, through to their Games in 2000, and the emergence of a bid from London in 2002 to host the 2012 Games. Unlike the Athens or Atlanta Games, for instance, there was a vision for both cities to bring about urban change, with visions of a better city, a fairer society, and environmental transformation from wasteland and dereliction into an urban park. As an incurable optimist and romantic, how could I fail to be drawn in by the vision of cities as better places, with spaces for people and promised legacies of housing and regeneration?
Whatever any of our feelings now about what has and hasn’t emerged from London’s Games, I still find myself even now, in August 2012, hopelessly enthused by the transformation of so much derelict land in east London into the new Olympic Park. I know all the drawbacks, the ticketing chaos and empty seats, the security hash by G4S etc. but for me these Games are one of the great highlights of my life. As a geographer, these Games have so much more meaning for me.
Up and running!
The morning after the Olympic opening ceremony and we are up and running – and so is the Olympics!
It was good to see young people and unsung heroes take centre stage at the ceremony, not just celebs. We won the Olympic bid with a team of young people from east London and it was the future generation of athletes who lit the flame last night. The show was full of references to ordinary lives, from the workers who built the industrial revolution, women suffragettes, through to the NHS. I’m not sure what an international audience would have made of this, but who cares? Danny Boyle produced an inclusive show, in sharp contrast to what lies just outside the stadium – the world of corporate hospitality and wall-to-wall advertising.
In case you are wondering who ‘we’ are, we’re a collective of geography teachers who have been working around the Olympic Park, these past few years, with schools from around the UK. I think it would be fair to say we have been critical friends of the Olympics. Whilst excited about the Games and what might follow, we’re aware there are many other powerful interests involved. We encourage students to ask the slightly awkward questions the Olympic organisers might rather we didn’t ask – was Stratford a good place to choose? will it really be the ‘greenest’ Games ever? who are going to be the winners and losers?
We’ll continue to ask the questions, long after the Games are over. For geographers it’s going to be a marathon rather than a sprint. It may be many years before we’ll have all the answers. In the meantime, I hope you’ll visit us in east London.
The Olympics start today and we launch our new website!
Today we are live – please feel free to look around and contact us with what you think!