This has been the main road to Essex from London for the best part of a millennium - a well-rutted route taken by armies and revolting peasants and stagecoaches. Once a rural ride through fields and farmland, it's since become a heavily built-up arterial rat run beset by traffic jams and exhaust fumes. It's a really wide street, almost all the way down, once plied by shuttling trams but now blighted by bendy buses. It marks the start of one of the UK's main trunk roads, the A11. Along its length are scores of fried chicken shops but not one Marks and Spencer. Only a few stretches are bland cloned high street, much of the remainder has lingering commercial and residential character. It cuts through some of the very poorest parts of the capital, through an East End long inhabited by the displaced and disadvantaged. And it's the road on which I live.
In four years time, for a few short hours, this road will be part of the route of the Olympic Marathon. Runners have to get from central London to the 2012 stadium somehow, so the Whitechapel Road and Bow Church are destined for a few fleeting minutes of global fame. The world's fastest long-distance athletes will go puffing right past my front door, just yards from glory in a billion pound stadium, while hovering TV crews look down from their helicopters and beam pictures of run-down architecture to an audience of billions. Heavens, Paula Radcliffe may even stop and squat on my doorstep. It's all terribly exciting, if tantalisingly brief.
But plans are afoot to promote this East End thoroughfare for longer than a couple of brief running races. Millions of pounds are to be thrown at these four miles of roadway in an attempt to create a more permanent heritage legacy for the East End. It's a unique Olympic opportunity to improve and celebrate the road that connects Aldgate with Stratford. And the project's going to be branded High Street 2012.
I know I know, it's a dreadful name, isn't it? Tower Hamlets council were originally planning to call it "Olympic Boulevard", but it seems tedious bureaucrats stepped in and objected to the use of a protected moneyspinning trademark. No matter that this is a municipal legacy project, not a fast food restaurant, but brand pedants are nothing if not predictable. And so we're lumbered with the less-than-thrilling "High Street 2012". It may be snappy, futuristic and easier to spell, but come 2013 it's sure to sound depressingly out of date.
The High Street 2012 project is currently at the consultation stage. Talkshops have been held with local residents, and key strategic personnel are aiming to drive forward an agenda of architectural excellence and communal transformation. They've promised to create a really exciting blueprint that brightens up my local linear neighbourhood and acts as a catalyst for future regeneration. If all goes to plan, I could be stepping out of my front door into a thriving cosmopolitan community buzzing with excited tourists and re-energised citizens. HS2012 could be about to bring landscaped public spaces, dynamic transport projects and fully-restored historic buildings to an urban landscape currently devoid of coherent charm. Or else some overpaid consultant will simply tie a few coloured balloons to four miles of lampposts and paint the 2012 Olympic logo repeatedly onto the pavement. Time will tell.
So, for my annual local history month presentation, I thought I'd take you for a journey along High Street 2012. I've been for a wander with my camera all the way from Aldgate to Stratford, and I've divided up the walk up into sixteen daily chunks. While the 2008 Olympics play out in Beijing, diamond geezer will be tracing the East End heartland of London 2012. It's time to chronicle the current evolution of this ancient road before English Heritage and the planning bods move in. Trust me, there's much to see - including the source of American liberty, the Elephant Man's hideaway and a crucible of women's suffrage, just for a start.
And, in an interactive first, I'm inviting you lot to take part too. Do you know the area? If so, do you have something to say about a location, building or event along the High Street 2012 route? Do you go drinking in Aldgate or buy your trainers in Whitechapel? Do you remember how Stepney used to be? Did you ever attend university in Mile End or go to church in Bow? Or are you one of the ranting preachers who stands outside Stratford Shopping Centre and tries to convert the locals (or just one of the beleaguered locals)? Any location along High Street 2012 will do if you have an interesting tale to tell (but please stick to the main road only - no sidestreets, no diversions). Email me up-to-100 words, to the usual address, and I might (no guarantees) stick your input on the blog as my walk passes through. First stops are from Aldgate to Whitechapel, should the muse strike. We'd love to hear from you.
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.