Thursday, January 18, 2007

Olympic bonfire of the vanities

The decision to bulldoze a unique East London allotment site demonstrates there will be no Olympic gain for Londoners – but plenty of pain. London 2012 organisers pledged to use “local, sustainable food in a document entitled “Towards a One Planet Olympics”. In practice this means: McDonald’s will be a major sponsor of the games and producers of local sustainable food for 150 East London families are being evicted from their 100-year-old site. The Olympic Authority plans to bulldoze Manor Garden Allotments in Hackney marshes to build a footpath leading to the hockey stadium. There will be a viewing screen for people who can’t get in to the events (maybe all the Londoners who won’t be able to afford the tickets). The facilities will have a useful life of just 12 weeks.

Manor Gardens is a green oasis, a source of healthy organic food, and – if Mayor Ken Livingstone is interested – home to rare wildlife including newts. It is part of the floodplain crucial to London as water levels rise as a result of global warming. Alternative plans put forward by the plot holders have been rejected. As plot holder Matt says, Manor Gardens don’t fit in with the games. The planners want shiny open plazas that look good on their cad-cams but have nothing to do with real people. Olympic priorities are clear. Laws protecting commons and metropolitan spaces have been swept aside but a new law gives draconian penalties for any business even referring to the 2012 Olympics unless it is an official sponsor. London 2012 will be the most soulless and corporate-led games yet. McDonald's, Coca-Cola, Visa, GE, Panasonic and Samsung are already on board as sponsors and more being sought.

But the cost of the Olympics is $8bn and rising, and the government insists Londoners will have to meet any shortfall. But what will it mean for local people?
  • Huge areas of wild open space – at Hackney Marshes, Hackney Wick, Bully Point and all along the Lee Valley - will be concreted over. These unique areas provide a habitat for Kingfishers, marsh marigolds, ancient plane trees and black poplars; they are also home to cyclists, runners, footballers of all ages and people out for a walk.

  • A massive increase in security operations and surveillance, including a proposal for microphones in the streets programmed to react to certain decibel levels and tones of voice.

  • Hundreds of small businesses and residents moved off the site won’t be moving back. They have been forced to sell their land at pre-Olympic prices but won’t be able to afford to buy it back after the games – this so-called “regeneration” is in fact an extension of corporate Docklands down the Lee Valley corridor.

  • High ticket prices making the games beyond the pockets of most Londoners.

  • Council tax payers will have to cough up around £20 per year for the next 25 years – a total of £500 per head.
And when the games are over and the corporates move on to the next advertising opportunity? As well as the increased flood risk, it’s not looking good. David Mackay, author of the original Stratford City Plan and lead architect for the Barcelona Olympic Village and Port, wrote recently: “..London has lost an opportunity … with the silliest architecture seen for years with no real concern for legacy… If carried out, and with only five years to go, the Olympic legacy is more like to be like a Hollywood set for a ghost town or an abandoned Expo site.”

The Manor Garden plot holders are fighting on but fear their site is doomed. They are being offered an alternative site on land at Church Road in Leytonstone – but not surprisingly residents there are objecting to the loss of their open space. It is more than time to take sport away from big business and create a new kind of international competition which is a democratic and drug-free celebration of the best aspects of human nature.

Penny Cole, co-author, Running a Temperature

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