diamond geezer

 Saturday, June 30, 2012

The BBC news website published a shocking article yesterday entitled "Rubble and ruins by Olympic Park". They sent a reporter to circumnavigate the park with a camera, photographing the neighbourhoods that immediately encircle it. And they discovered many an "unlovely spot" amongst the "scenes of urban decay". How ghastly it might be for spectators arriving from abroad to see London like this. I mean, some of us actually have to live round here. It must be awful for us.

Their prime photographic target was a collection of tumbledown buildings immediately alongside the A12 in Bromley-by-Bow.

"Old mattresses. Piles of rubble. A pulled apart children's safety seat. Derelict buildings minus windows, roofing and floors. A car, lacking its entire front section. You might be forgiven for thinking these scenes belong to one of the UK's most unloved and forgotten corners. But no: these photographs were taken less than one mile from the Olympic Park with just weeks until the Games."

The site they focused on is indeed a right mess. A former office block stands empty, its windows smashed, its internal structure open to the elements. The main staircase lies fully exposed to southbound traffic, the exterior topped off by colourful graffiti. Office equipment - anything not worth nicking - has been scattered across the floors inside. Someone has been sleeping in a downstairs office on a seriously manky mattress. And yes, the surrounding former workyard looks even worse. Which is odd, because if all had gone to plan this should have been a super-size Tesco by now.

Three years ago the supermarket giant announced they'd be transforming a patch of land between the road and the river into Britain's first Tesco Town - a mixed retail/residential cluster with its own library, primary school and hotel. First to go up would be a bigger-than-we-have-now supermarket and then they'd knock the old one down and build megaflats on it. Stage 1 was due to happen by March 2012, but hasn't. There's not even been an attempt at demolition... hence the existence of several crumbling abandoned buildings and assorted detritus all around. Indeed, earlier this month Tesco pumped money into their existing supermarket, recladding the exterior and removing the tower above the entrance, which suggests there are no plans to progress their Tesco Town vision for the foreseeable future.

What the BBC's journalist found by the A12 wasn't a lack of major planned redevelopment, but a failure of funding. They were also unimpressed by "an abandoned pub, swathed in graffiti and boarded up" in Hackney Wick - that's the Lord Napier by the station, which almost no Olympic spectators will walk past. They were dismissive of the Lea - "an entire stretch of river was clogged with sewage and weed, releasing a sulphurous stench" - although Thames Water said this was unusual and heavy-rain-related. And they were also underwhelmed by a derelict garage on Stratford High Street - very close to the Greenway Gate - although that had already been demolished by the time the BBC got round to publishing their story.

So, nothing too dreadful then. Nothing that'll make Games spectators turn round and run screaming with fear from the Stratford/Bow area. Indeed I'd argue that many of the blocks of flats erected around here in the run up to the Games are so architecturally vacuous that they're far more offensive than the crumbling post-industrial remnants the BBC's been complaining about. As more and more of my local neighbourhood turns into residential Anywheresville, wholescale gentrification is sucking much of this area's character clean away. While it's hard to describe many of the buildings around here previously as "lovely", it's equally impossible to describe what's replacing them as "interesting".

To round off their article the BBC contacted Graham Hales, chief executive officer of Interbrand London. "These images are disappointing," he said. "By and large the city has had a good scrub up for the Olympics - and these don't show London in the best light." Given the scale of the challenge, he said it was important to be realistic about what could be achieved through the Games. And he hoped everything else London had to offer "would mean its brand was undamaged by the scars of neglect that still litter the East End." Sheesh. It's not that bad in E3 and E15, Graham. Some of us even choose to live here. But if his idea of branded London means living in highrise stacks along shoebox boulevards, give me the occasional characterful derelict building any day.

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