Saturday, 19 July 2008

"The Olympics Scam"

From City Strolls:

"This is East London, four years short of that 17-day corporate extravaganza, the 'primary strategic objective' to which we are all so deeply mortgaged. Haggerston Park, E2, a modest enclosure replacing war-damaged terraces and the demolished Imperial Gas, Light and Coke Company, has long been an oasis. It was opened as a public park in 1958. Its scandals are old scandals and have no bearing on the current frenzy for makeovers, peppery paths, wooden obstacles for training circuits, laminated heritage notices. Spanking new carpets are woven for clapped-out football pitches, changing rooms erected to replace shower blocks opened in the dark ages by Wendy Richard of EastEnders. Back in the 1820s Gas Company funds were misappropriated, illegal payments made to council officials and stock accounts falsified. Now, in more enlightened times, when bureaucratic malpractice is exposed and celebrated every day, urban-pastoral reservations hidden behind high walls win prizes for visionary planting schemes and restored municipal beds. Unnoticed, rough sleepers in thin bags utilise the stone terrace of the park cafĂ© that has been shut for years. Late risers, having nothing much to rise for, burrow deep into dismal kapok-stuffed cocoons, while dog-accompanists use ballistic/prosthetic devices to hurl soggy yellow-green tennis balls for their hunt-and-retrieve pets. And the stoic Chinese couple, accomplishing their own version of the Long March, scorch rubber treadmarks around the padlocked novelty of the pristine football pitches. Artificial grass is better than the real thing, tougher, each blade individually painted. False chlorophyll dazzles like permanent dew, the permafrost of conspicuous investment. Some of the rough sleepers are not elective invisibles, victims of property mania or traumatised war veterans: they are construction workers, possibly Polish, saving their wages and choosing to kip down close to where the action is. The tsunami of speculative capital, wanton destruction, hole digging; the throwing up of apartment blocks, dormitory hives, warehouse conversions along the murky waterways. A new development calling itself Adelaide Wharf, and appearing very much like an aircraft-carrier that has ploughed into a wood yard, replaced a long-standing cold-store operation. 'With its 147 units (prices up to £395,000), this is a tremendous example of aspiration coming to fruition,' says Stephen Oakes, area director for English Partnerships. Inch by inch, the working canal between Limehouse Basin and the Islington tunnel has become a ladder of glass, connecting Docklands with the northern reaches of the City. Footballers, with loose change to invest, are rumoured to be buying up entire buildings as investment portfolios; many of these gaudy shells, low-ceilinged, tight-balconied, are doomed to remain half-empty, exhibitions of themselves. The look is mirthlessly playful, Ikea storage boxes gimmicked out of swipe-cards and toothpicks. The urban landscape of boroughs anywhere within the acoustic footprints of the Olympic Park in the Lower Lea Valley has been devastated, with a feverish beat-the-clock impatience unseen in London since the beginnings of the railway age. Every civic decency, every sentimental attachment, is swept aside for that primary strategic objective, the big bang of the starter's pistol."

Full article here and here

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