Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Olympic Legacy

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There is a longish piece in the Guardian today about what is expected to be the legacy of the Olympics on East London.  The title cites Newham and the Carpenters estate. In fact the article ranges further than that – discussing Tower Hamlets and Hackney as well. My interest is because I spent the first 18 years of my life in Newham – though somewhat to the east of the area in question in what for much of that time was East Ham. My family moved out of the area soon after I left for university, and I have not been back for more than very brief visits since. Even so I accept that if anywhere needs regeneration it is the area around Stratford, which used to be mostly railway facilities and a network of declining industries known as the Bow Back Rivers. It is also true that the man who ran the locks on the canal used to answer the phone by announcing “Bow Locks”.

Now the summer Olympics is a much bigger deal than the winter Olympics, and in London it is all on one site not split as it was here. But the immediate similarity struck me – the victims in our case being the unfortunate residents of a BC Housing estate on the edge of the Olympic site in Queen Elizabeth Park. That site was cleared – though BC politicians were vehement in their denials that the removal of the tenants was anything to do with the Olympics. And the expected development has still not yet happened.

The other Olympic legacies here are the Sea to Sky Highway – which lead to a variety of residential developments in and near Squamish based on the newer shorter commute times by car to Vancouver – and the Canada Line, and lots of high rise residential towers in Richmond, with again much displacement of waterside industry. Not to mention the Olympic Village in Vancouver, which at long last seems to be getting going as a community with its own grocery store opening last week.

The other influence on my thinking is this recent article from Spacing Vancouver about Tom Slater the “unabashedly subjective” gentrification researcher.

in the opening chapter of his upcoming book Fighting Gentrification, he realized that “a different picture of gentrification emerges if one takes the trouble to talk to those who do not stand to profit from the rising costs of land and real estate.”

So he made himself a promise. “I felt that I had a civic duty to be critical in the work that I was doing, and to present a story that captured the predicament of the people living at the bottom of the class structure. So that became, if you like, my mission,” Slater said.

And if you read what the residents of the Carpenters Estate are saying, it reads very much like what his interviewee says in that article – or what the residents of Little Mountain have been saying.

The Little Mountain Site

 “I think that the Olympics has lost me my home.” She has lived on the Carpenters for 40 years and is disinclined to depart quietly. “I think they’re gonna have to come in here and drag me out. Why should somebody be able to force you out of your home? A home that’s got nothing wrong with it, that’s standing solid? I do not want to go.”

There is also some very relevant stuff about what people want – and it isn’t high rises

She [London’s outgoing Olympic legacy chief, Margaret Ford] gathered intelligence for the masterplan on “mystery shopping” excursions – chatting to people in cafes and the old Stratford shopping centre. “They wanted front gardens, back gardens for their kids to play in, really good lighting, lots of storage space, nice green spaces, somewhere they can afford and a decent school – it’s not bloody rocket science.”

Written by Stephen Rees

June 13, 2012 at 11:42 am

Posted in housing, Olympics, placemaking

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  1. “The people living at the bottom of the class structure”..pretty soon it will all the ones that believe they are middle-class because the family income, with 2 adults working, is $ 50-80 000. Not enough to pay the mortgage on a semi-detached home and still have enough leftover to have a pleasant life without financial worries all the time…4 months out of a job and the whole house of cards collapse..

    “They wanted front gardens, back gardens for their kids to play in, really good lighting, lots of storage space, nice green spaces, somewhere they can afford and a decent school – it’s not bloody rocket science.” This is the type of houses my grandparents and other families of their generation owned. Not big but a nice sized lot and room with ceilings over 10 ft.
    He was a model maker for an aircraft motors factory (he carved wood models of motor parts based on engineers blueprints. Someone else used the models to make a mold, someone else casts the part).

    Grandma was light-duties maid for a true middle-class family (a doctor and a pharmacist–the wife) that owned a big home in the back of the pharmacy, the later facing a busy shopping street. On weekends they went to their country home. They had several full time staff in each home.

    My grandparents didn’t make a lot of money but paid-out their house quickly enough. Like everyone in their circle they had hardwood furniture, some of it with marble tops, and their “best” clothes, shoes, hats etc. were handmade by local craftsmen.

    Other families rented homes from their employers for an affordable amount, homes that also had gardens front and back, in what was called “garden cities”, found all over Western Europe and built after WWI, I think. Some were able to buy a small place in the country for vacations and their retirement.

    They all led a simple life and food came fresh, from the same region, not continents away. Quite a few families also grew some food in their garden. The more wealthy also had a simple life: no TV, phone used sparingly as even local calls were charged by the minute, both the nice furniture and the house passed from generations to generations, the car only used on weekends etc.).

    Our life is great in many ways but it is harder and harder to keep the head above the water, especially for young people in their 20s and 30s. Lots of things we took for granted when I was growing up…either aren’t available anymore or are way too expensive.

    Red frog

    June 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm


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