“Who is the Olympic legacy in Stratford for?”

The Londonist site asked the question, “Who is the Olympic legacy in Stratford for?” This was my response:

There are many aspects to this question, not all of which are obvious. Could the regeneration of the Park have happened without the games of 2012? Well, yes, it could. But it is hugely unlikely. 560 acres of neglected and grossly polluted land does not get sorted out on the basis of “perhaps”.

2 million tons of soil needed to be cleaned before anything else could be done because the place was pretty close to uninhabitable as a health hazard. Heavy organic chemicals, toxic metals, dumped cars, tyres and CFC-full fridges and freezers needed to be dealt-with. These and the soaked-in effluent of generations of unregulated chemical manufacture up to and including the rendering-down of animal carcasses does not scream “spend money on me” to developers.

It’s exactly the same scenario as the Millennium Dome. Uninformed people whine that it cost nearly a billion pounds to build that when in fact it only cost 50 million pounds. Most of the rest was spent cleaning up the area first.

Having cleaned the Olympic Park, and generally tidied it up by tearing down over 50 electricity pylons and burying the power cables underground, the stage was empty, but ready. In my view there is no way that private money would have done that and spending that much public money without some sort of tangible public benefit would rightly have caused outrage.

So, we held the Olympics as the cornerstone of a carefully-considered and well-constructed regeneration and planned legacy programme. The concept of anticipated repurposing was used everywhere. Temporary venues prepared the way for future communities.

Three schools have already opened on the Park with several more about to, thousands of homes have been built and again, many more on the way. Tens of thousands of jobs are being created or moved into the area with the resultant kick to the local economy. The elite athletes’ medical centre is now a world-class NHS facility serving the wider local community. I know – my doctor is based there.

Six million visitors a year enjoy the parkland where before there was just dangerous stinking wasteland. The whole area has become the lungs of East London. 4,000 more trees planted in the last couple of years, wetlands, meadows, flowering areas all add up to a noticable drop in local pollution levels. Quality of life has dramatically improved, not just for people who live in the new homes but millions of others too.

We have world-class sports venues that are used by the public every day – over a million a year go for a swim in the Aquatics Centre, for example. Community engagement is a key factor. The Park volunteer system has over 600 people who help out with various elements of Park life – looking after parklands in conservation work, monitoring the growing wildlife population, helping at major events by assisting visitors and running the information point and one of the best park mobility services in the country.

Asking if the legacy has produced the expected results is always going to generate a lot of different answers. If you were employed in one of the smelly chemical plants then you’ll probably be annoyed at it closing. If you live outside London you may well ask what “your” money (which is actually London’s money, as we paid for it) has done to benefit you. If you were expecting a nation of lardarses to suddenly start doing weekly 10k runs, you were never going to find the results encouraging.

However: if you’re one of the six million people a year who bother to go there and find out for yourself what it is all about, I pretty much guarantee that you’ll be back.

There has never been an Olympic legacy like London’s. It is by far the most successful planned legacy ever.

The games were a huge success. The aftermath even more so, in my opinion.

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About Paul Harper
These posts represent the collected thought of Paul Harper. Usually rants, occasionally lucid, always easily ignored. Read, don't read, your call!

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