MyDaily Debate: Do We Need Another Westfield?

24/09/2011 12:24 | Updated 22 May 2015

Tickets for the Paralympics are now on sale. Having had no success in the first round, part of me is tempted to try to get involved this time – not least because my daughter is not going to be impressed when she asks in years to come what we did for the London Olympics and I say "Er, we couldn't get tickets...."

But another part of me feels like snubbing a process that seems unfairly skewed towards the better-off: if you could afford to bid for the tickets with crazy price tags you were more likely to get them, and don't get me started on the corporate jollies that our taxes will no doubt subsidise.

The adverts for the sparkly new Westfield that opened last week next to the Olympic village in Stratford, east London have done little to reignite my enthusiasm. Thin, young, attractive people, who have been carefully vetted to signal diversity, skip about in brightly coloured directional clothes having simply the best time ever. They park! They shop! They eat! They spill popcorn all over themselves! Makes me want to avoid the place like the plague.

Don't get me wrong. I like shopping. I am not a virtuous knit-your-own skinny jeans type of girl. I've even been to the other Westfield and had a nice time. It's also true that the £1.7bn Westfield Stratford City will bring much-needed jobs to the area: apparently 18,000 people have already started work – although for how long remains to be seen.

But isn't it depressing that we no longer seem able to conceive of urban regeneration without it involving a shopping mall? Unlike the traditional high street, these are private spaces where only a certain kind of people are welcome: people with money to spend and, preferably, people with cars. They are policed by private security guards who have little compunction in expelling those who don't fit in. Watch how quickly they eject the homeless, the disorderly, the young and badly behaved. Where are they to go? And what happens to the shops just outside those gilded sliding doors?

There was a time when the great and the good built useful things like libraries, swimming pools, parks – public spaces where people from all backgrounds could gather. Wow, how quaint those days seem now: this government apparently handed the Westfield company £200m of taxpayers money to build the roads, bridges and other infrastructure required for this centre. And you thought the coffers were empty?

Seven out of ten visitors to the Olympic village next year will be forced to walk through this 1.9 million sq ft monument to consumerism – a perk provided to Westfield for being London 2012's "official shopping centre sponsor". How many of those who went to watch some great sport will end up buying something they don't need and can't afford? Really, couldn't we have thought of something better?


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