diamond geezer

 Monday, September 02, 2013

LONDON 2012 → 2013
Athletes Village → East Village

Sorry, did I say that the East Village housing estate wasn't yet open? Appears it is. That's open in terms of being able to wander in from the surrounding neighbourhood and look around without being accosted by any security-type people, which I managed yesterday. Maybe that's because it was Sunday and most construction workers take a day off. Or maybe that's because a conscious and rather quiet decision has been made to connect to outside, because people are about to live here and they've got to be able to get home. No sign yet of actual residents, but buses are flowing through, and pupils start arriving at Chobham Academy next Monday. A few workers were fussing around some of the nearly-opened flats yesterday, along with proper security on roads within the estate that won't be open for some time. But a central patch of accommodation and recreation on Celebration Avenue is most definitely accessible, and nobody even blinks if you wander round with a camera.

My East Village gallery
There are 40 photographs altogether. [slideshow] [map]

A year ago the world's finest Paralympic athletes were living in these apartments, so someone's been extremely busy in the meantime transforming them for everyday use. Kitchens have been added and dividing walls removed, combining two athlete residences to create one saleable flat. You're probably too late to reserve one of the first batch, but there are nearly 3000 apartments all told and they're still flogging those. If you wander through Westfield's outdoor street, the marketing team have a shop unit where sales representatives sit waiting beside a 3D model in case anyone ever pushes open the glass door and asks for information. Wander around the estate itself and there are only hoardings, and a phone number to ring, and claims about how wonderful the whole place is. Not yet it isn't.

All the apartment buildings have a slightly different design, which helps to break up the uniformity, but most form square blocks arranged around the edges of a central courtyard garden. Each building is approximately ten storeys high, because you could pack in more athletes that way, and is entered via an automatic door at ground level. Where the insides aren't yet ready, a sign on the door urges visitors 'Blue shoes to be worn beyond this point'. The various buildings have eclectic names, and I assume some vague theme links them together. Tucana Heights, Ursa Mansions, Kaleidoscope House, Cavesson House, Patina Mansions... perhaps they were named by the same source who named all the East Village's roads with over-upbeat Olympic names. Medals Way has yet to open, but Cheering Lane and Prize Walk are now fully accessible, if somewhat twee.

A triangular expanse of grass is available for picnicking, frolicking and ball games - that's Victory Park - although the turf looks more like an also-ran at the moment. A long white wall temporarily shields the far side, where the apartments aren't yet ready, while a row of ugly concrete blocks prevents joyriders driving off the main road and churning up the grass. One hopes the developers have a more elegant solution to that particular problem in the final design. In one gap between buildings is a small wooden playground, currently pristine, with room for not many children to hang out. Other open spaces nearby tend to be piles of earth or potential construction sites, which means that certain views are distinctly less lovely, more like the outskirts of some Eastern European capital. A nicer touch are the colourful designs hung from several balconies, resembling the flags draped here when each block was home to a different nation's Olympic athletes.

The school's very quiet, as you'd expect before term starts. The main building's circular, and reached across the piazza of Ulysses Place. This peculiar space has part of an Alfred Lord Tennyson poem etched on the surrounding wall, presumably to inspire greatness during the day's lessons. Within this perimeter is a seemingly random arrangement of trees and crystalline blocks - I'd say octagonal-shaped chunks of pink granite - ideal for sitting on and nigh impossible to vandalise. Alongside is the academy's sports centre, a major undertaking, with an attractive selection of circular designs on one corner. When pupils have outdoor sports they cross a bespoke footbridge, attractively ribbed, which leads to an expanse of pitches and courts. Expect to see the Education Secretary turning up here soon for some major speech or press announcement, but he'll only be able to praise the facilities, and not yet the school's academic record.

It is strange wandering around a community that hasn't yet turned up. East Village's roads are entirely empty, apart from buses, construction vehicles and the occasional lost driver. Nevertheless the pedestrian crossing outside the school is already perfectly functional. I pressed the button, with zero traffic visible in either direction, and absolutely nothing happened for 30 seconds, at which point the lights changed, halting absolutely nobody, and I walked across. Various cycle lanes and advance stop lines were also entirely unnecessary, as any cyclist biking through could have had the entire road (or pavement) to themselves. But I wasn't completely alone on foot. A few Leyton residents had (correctly) worked out that this was now the quickest way to walk home from Westfield, so expect pedestrian numbers to increase.

It was also strange getting to walk along Temple Mills Lane for the first time in seven years. This used to a be a backroad ratrun leading to the Clays Lane housing estate, long since razed, whose cooperative residents could never afford the mortgage for any of the apartments on the new site. The northern arm of the old lane looks particularly bereft, still mostly development land, while the eastern arm links to the south end of Leyton. Only buses and taxis are supposed to cross the single-file bridge over the railway, which is one of the reasons the East Village isn't yet clogged with traffic. That and a lack of parking spaces - I don't think any of the future residents will be encouraged to be drivers.

This is just the beginning. Only a fraction of the East Village is ready, and there are five further neighbourhoods around the edge of the Olympic Park where construction has yet to begin. As Ken Livingstone planned, last year's festival of sport was merely the catalyst for the rebirth of this corner of London, a place where people will be proud to live and keen to invest. If you can afford to join the party, and you never really wanted a house with a garden anyway, E20 welcomes you.

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