diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 08, 2008

London 2012  Olympic update
  Parklands and public realm

Olympic Stadium (from the Greenway)When the Olympic Park is completed, the "Park" bit will be little more than an afterthought. London's 2012 stadium will be surrounded by a plain of artificial astroturf, within an encircling moat of reed-free concrete waterways. Plastic trees will be used to provide instant greenery which looks good on the TV cameras, and a few transplanted rosebushes will be wheeled in so that Sue Barker's to-camera links have a decent floral backdrop. After the Games the Olympic Park will be sealed off for five years so that lots of new houses can be built, and then planners will drop in some riverside terracing and an adventure playground as an afterthought. The Greenway will be also closed off so that it can be transformed into a four-lane bicycle expressway, providing a floodlit cross-river route through the centre of a building site.

Don't worry, almost everything in the above paragraph is untrue. There are no plans to turn the Olympic Park into the Boris Johnson Austerity Housing Estate, but instead plenty of plans to create a world class environmental greenspace. I know this because the planners told me last night, at a consultation event in deepest Hackney. Don't worry, they purred, your 2012 parkland legacy is safe in our hands. And yes, the ODA's finely tuned plans for ecological delivery sound much more convincing once you've heard them direct from the mouths of the experts responsible.

For a start, London's Olympic parkland won't be a tacked-on feature once the Games are complete, it's being engineered into the project from the start. A surprisingly wide expanse of greenery will be at the heart of the central area linking all the stadia together, creating a place to gather while events are taking place inside. Planting starts early, with many shrubs and trees already growing elsewhere ready to be transplanted when required. There'll be six-or-so "frog ponds" to which various endangered species will be returned, and a variety of carefully engineered riverside environments ranging from wet woodland to reedy terraces. Biodiversity is the watchword. And this extensive central parkland should be open to the public very soon indeed after the Games are over, which is good news for all of us locals.

The Olympic Park will be divided into two main zones - north and south. All the pretty and natural-looking stuff will be in the broad parkland to the north, bordering the formerly inaccessible banks of the Lea. The plan is to use landfill from Olympic construction to create a series of interesting angular hills and valleys, with an emphasis on opening up views of the river wherever possible. It could look lovely, eventually, although it might take a few years to iron out the initial atmosphere of raw artificiality. If the post-Games park can attract visitors, this'll be the place to come for a woodland stroll, a game of football or a picnic. But it seems a pity to be spending millions of pounds to eradicate the entire Manor Garden Allotments and the rather adorable Channelsea River, only to replace them both with what might be swathes of under-used unnatural pseudo-landscape.

Olympic Stadium (four years to go)In the southern half of the park, the emphasis is rather different. The parkland will be more linear, restricted mostly to the riverside, and more somewhere to walk through than to relax. The aim is to create an "urban event" environment around the stadium, which I think is planner's code for "festivals, markets and cultural activities" (but I fear could mean "empty 99% of the time"). A particularly impressive feature should be the London 2012 Gardens - a long thin ornamental strollway planted out in themed sections with sustainable plantlife from around the globe. This'll be open during the Games themselves, and also as a reminder of 2012 for many decades to come. They're planning long term here, for the benefit of grandchildren yet to be born.

Then there's the Greenway, that Victorian masterpiece sewer with a rather smelly footpath on top. The stretch between Hackney Wick and West Ham is in for a major upgrade, and about time too. The plans are to lay two adjacent parallel paths with differing surfaces, one for bikes and one for pedestrians, leaving the remainder of the sewertop for grassy wildness. Additional access points are to be added, not least because 18% of arrivals at the 2012 Olympics are expected to walk in via this route. Two major discontinuities will be removed without the need for extra bridges - a new path will loop under the railway at Pudding Mill Lane, and there'll be a proper pedestrian crossing directly across Stratford High Street. But don't expect street lighting, because after-dark walking only encourages after-dark crime, apparently.

I always thought the Lower Lea Valley had a rundown character and derelict charm all of its own, and it's clear that this is now gone forever. But I'm encouraged that the replacement public realm is being designed by folk who know and care about what they're doing, and might just give the eventual Olympic Park a bit of soul.

Parklands and Public Realm update (pdf)
Further consultation meeting tonight at Stratford Circus, 6:30pm
The latest in my monthly series of Stadium shots
Olympic Park fly-through video
View the new Olympic Park webcams

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