diamond geezer

 Monday, September 09, 2013

London 2012  post-Olympic update
  One year on

It's one year today since the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, the day that London 2012 drew to a close. If you've been feeling a Games-related void in your life, it's now been there for twelve months. So I've been back again to three locations that sparkled temporarily during the Games, to see whether all trace has yet been swept away. One north of the river, two south.

The Olympic Park: When I walked out of the Olympic Park on that final night, passing through the security perimeter for the last time, I knew it would be ages before I got back inside. And the southern end of the park, yes, that's still very much cordoned off, with a scheduled reopening in spring next year. But the northern half is mostly accessible, has been since July, for those who care to visit. It's strange, but last summer millions would have given anything to get inside the perimeter and experience the Olympic buzz, but now that this is 'just a park' its allure is somewhat less. Although you can bet that the cafe and playground will be fairly busy, and rightly so, the numbers of people ambling around the rest of QEOP has been unimpressively low. That may be because not all the paths are yet open, and people don't like wandering into ornamental cul-de-sacs. But the waterside lawns rarely see more than a handful of slouchers, strollers and picnickers, numbers which can only drop as autumn approaches.

On Saturday things picked up thanks to the 'National Paralympic Day featuring Liberty Festival'. You may not have noticed the National bit where you live, but E20 played host to disability sport in the Copper Box and a celebration in the Olympic Park. The Liberty Festival used to take place annually in Trafalgar Square, which it filled, so looked a little less impressive spread out across several acres in Stratford. But some splendid community organisations had turned up, of direct relevance to many of the disabled attendees, along with theatre companies and the usual food stalls. If you were around at the right time you could watch bicycle ballet, experience the Cube of Curiosity or listen to Andrea who won The Voice this year. Waiting around in the drizzle, or rain, might however have been less alluring. But there were queues to enter the Luminarium, an immersive light sculpture (so I'm told), and even longer queues to meet the Paralympians. Yes, that really was multi-medallist David Weir signing programmes for the fortunate few. Reactions from attendees were mixed - one said she was disappointed how little there was to see, another said she couldn't believe she'd been here for hours. It was good to see the Olympic Park alive again, and being used for a relevant communal event. But there's only one more of these in the diary, that's next weekend, after which this east London greenspace will be rather emptier.

Olympic Stadium:
West Ham kick off not next season, nor the season after, but the season after. The floodlights are coming down soon.
Aquatics Centre: The wings are down and new glass walls are installed. Opens to the public in 2014.
The Orbit: Mothballed mid-building-site until next April, if anybody's still interested in going up.
VeloPark: Opens next April. Much digging is currently underway to create the outdoor circuits.
Greenway: Last summer's ugly tarmac remains unbroken between Stratford and West Ham, whereas the ODA had promised the legacy would be half-green, shrubby and flowery. Shame.

Greenwich Park: A large number of people were concerned that Greenwich Park would never recover from its Olympic assault, what with a massive arena plonked on the lower lawns and a cross-country course snaking through the trees. Back in January the signs weren't good, with the expanse in front of the Queen's House essentially a mass of mud. The occasional patch of turf had been laid, in over-obvious stripes, with all but a few paths roped off from public use. One year on from the Games the situation is rather better, with the main body of the lawn looking green and entirely picnickable. Closer inspection suggests the grass isn't entirely pristine, but it's only had one summer to bed in, and if it can survive this winter it should be fine. As for the rest of the park, I wandered around at the weekend without ever thinking "oh gosh, what a mess the cross-country course has left here." The Games-deniers at NOGOE were less convinced, and published a set of photos showing underlying imperfection before their website expired in June. Whatever, I'd say most tourists venturing into Greenwich Park this summer won't have noticed anything amiss.

Woolwich Common: Whereas this is ghastly. The lower slopes of Woolwich Common were appropriated before the Games for Shooting and Paralympic Archery. A series of blobby white boxes was constructed, surprisingly endearing, with sets of shooting ranges inside. I went along and enjoyed the spectacle, which included a free set of London 2012 earplugs. I have photos showing that last summer most of the site was green and grassy, that is those parts without a prefab plonked on top. It was a shock therefore to return in January to find the entire site empty but ploughed up, leaving a muddy expanse all across the common. I was expecting better by September, but that's not really the case, it's just that the earth is drier. Whilst the rest of the common is green, much overgrown with glorious plantlife, the London 2012 section remains stubbornly brown. Some sort of grass has tried to grow, but it's thin, dry and sparse, as if a lack of seed (or rain) has stunted growth. And then there are the stones. They're everywhere, as if someone from LOCOG came along and scattered them across the entire site like confetti. Instead the stones are properly local - the Woolwich soil is full of them, as you can see if you wander elsewhere on the common. But inside the 2012 Shooting Zone the stones still lie across the top of the soil, everywhere, they're not yet embedded or shifted away. The overall effect is awful, to be frank, as if attempts at restitution have been abandoned and the people of Woolwich can just lump it. It's like walking across a ploughed field - ugly and hard-going - and nowhere you'd want to go for recreation. Perhaps one more summer will help, and the former competition zone will merge into the proper common all around. But for now the legacy of London 2012 is a stony landscape, a scar across the common, one year on.

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