It's been two months since the Olympic Park was sealed off and its occupants ejected. Two months since an impenetrable big blue wall was erected all around the perimeter, and a bored-stupid security guard posted at every entrance gate. Two months may not sound long, but it represents more than 3% of all the available construction time. So what's been going on here since July? Is the site still a ghost town of crumbling warehouses, or have the Olympic Delivery Authority and their big yellow bulldozers been busy? It's a bit of both, actually.
It's still possible to gain public access to the heart of the Olympic Site by following the Greenway. This sewer-top footpath has recently been resurfacedand upgraded in an attempt to make it more attractive to the local community, and newly installed lighting now makes this a slightly more enticing place to walk and cycle after dusk. Somebody's been a bit over-enthusiastic with the signage, though. Several pristine white signposts have been erected along this stretch of the Greenway, informing travellers that Hackney Wick and Bow are one way and Stratford and West Ham are the other. And then the same thing again 100 metres later. And then again, and then again, at similar 100 metres intervals, just in case you have the memory span of a goldfish. The southernmost signpost even manages to point the wrong way, directing cyclists straight ahead into a fence alongside the Great Eastern railway, rather than down the gentle slope underneath the nearby bridge and up the other side. Full marks for design, zero marks for practicality.
The security fence alongside this particular slope has been specially selected as home to 2012's first "branded hoardings". Alice, the ODA's Marketing Manager, is extremely excited by all this. Rather than leave passers-by staring at blue-painted plywood, her department have covered 100 metres of wall with shiny photographic panels and important brand messages. There are some appropriately uplifting images of athletes, and that technicolour 2012 logo we all love so much. There are big yellow warnings signs urging children not to play on site, plus some artists' impressions of what the finished development will look like. There's a list of the fourgroupsfundingconstruction of the Olympic Park, although no sign of the names of the 40 million taxpayers and lottery players whose money is really making things happen. And finally, as a sign of things to come, there's a gleaming list of official Olympic worldwide partner organisations and their corporate logos, just for added visibility. Coca Cola, McDonalds and Samsung have never taken a blind bit of interest in this industrial wasteland before, but the TV cameras are coming in five years' time and it pays to get here early.
Up on the bridge above Marshgate Lane, I had my camera at the ready. I've decided to try taking a photograph from exactly the same spot on the parapet every two months or so until 2012, in an attempt to document all the changes taking place down below. At this stage, with just twophotographs, the resulting slideshow plays like an Olympic Spot The Difference puzzle. There are huge changes already, but only on the left-hand side of the road. The large brick warehouse with the wedged-vent roof (built by the University of London Faculty of Engineering, and until recently a waste disposal depot) has been completely demolished. All the beautiful willow trees overshadowing the Pudding Mill River have been uprooted and chopped down. Vegetation on the banks of the river has been stripped away. Workmen with a big orange digger were busy dumping rocks and gravel to block off the concrete channel. A further army of diggers could be seen crawling all over the surrounding scrubland, where teenage motor-scooter petrolheads used to go scrambling, levelling the land ready for the Park's perimeter service road to be built on top. Meanwhile, on the right-hand side of the road, almost all of the factories, offices and big metal sheds still stand... but for how much longer? Be in no doubt, the Olympic Stadium will be ready bang on schedule, and nigh nothing visible in my latest photograph will remain.
Half a mile further north, yesterday was also closing-down day for the Manor Garden allotments. With the final harvest now safely gathered in, the last few allotment holders were forced to pack away their tools and have been escorted from the Park for the very last time. Their futile attempt to withstand the invasion of the Olympic planning process has come to nought, and an enforced five-year-plus relocation to Leyton is now underway. A big march and rally were held yesterday afternoon, as a last hurrah, with participants tying bouquets to the iron security gatesat the top of Waterden Road in protest. It won't do any good - the 2012 meteorite obliterates everything that lies beneath its destructive path, and no human force can stop it. The demolition of the Lower Lea Valley is already underway. Rebirth suddenly seems a very long way off.