The London 2012 Olympic Games didn't take place in Stratford.
Perhaps this was something you cottoned on to quite some time ago. Or perhaps you didn't then, nor now, give a shit. Either way, as a local resident living in the shadow of the athlete's village, I'm still waiting.
"The biggest show on earth has at last arrived in Newham," gushed Newham Mayor Robin Wales with silver-spun media hype last year: "It's an incredibly exciting time." But, like creationists and party-poopers, I refuse to believe it either arrived or was a brilliant time of transformational change. I mean, Stratford still doesn't have a swimming pool. Surely, if the Games had really been here, and grassroots Olympic sporting legacy wasn't just a Grimm-worthy fable, we'd have a swimming pool? Although we did sprout a crop of concrete ping pong tables by the canal last summer. Perhaps that was it.
London 2012 was obviously never going to be just about Stratford, its population or transformational change. The Olympics are about a number of things, including the international sporting community, big business, big branding, world-class schmoozing. London 2012 was also supposedly responsible for boosting British morale last summer, put the UK and London especially in the global spotlight, and took place at multiple sites in the capital and further afield.
None of those sites were in Stratford. The Olympic Park land grab transformed local deprived areas into a private enclave not in Stratford, E15, but in the newly allocated E20 postcode. Legacy is a complex thing; but from the worm's-eye view it's also, post-party, about fracture and division.
Olympic Stratford - the rebranded city of hope and opportunity - has Stratford City underground station, as it's now known, Stratford International station (for journeys to Kings Cross in 0.5 nanoseconds), Westfield Stratford City and East Village E20, the property-bagger's dream. "Our vision for East Village," reads the developer's website, "is for a place which will provide all the best bits of city living." The best bits, and all neatly contained in the former Olympic park. On the shitty side of the tracks - i.e., in Stratford - we still have the 60s shopping mall, betting shops (no super casino over here) fried chicken, litter and lots of smart street signs telling you how to get the hell out of here. We have a library, where you can fulfil a number of council functions or, if you really must, read a book. We don't have a swimming pool, although this will change when the redeveloped sports centre re-opens. In 2015.
Even if Legacy Is Coming, it would be naive to think that Stratford would be transformed overnight. But what is apparent is that transforming an area never starts with what's already there - except where it involves demolishing existing housing and colonising public land to attract new residents. Why can't Stratford, E15 - or any other deprived part of the capital - be the best of city living? Why can't it have vision, hope? Why are those values reserved for entirely new neighbourhoods and starting from the ground up? It doesn't sound like transformation; it sounds like an easier sell for estate agents.
Hope doesn't come from the inside out. Expecting residents to generate their own sense of hope through the power of self-development and positive thinking rather than by improving existing infrastructure is to short-change us. And anyway, it's pretty hard in the current psychogeography of waste land, delinquency and otherness outside the E20 bubble. Hope comes from not having to side-step dog turds and litter, at the very least. It's in feeling you can value the place where you live and want to look after it collectively. It's doesn't lie in more places to shop, or the criminalisation of locals, underhanded militarisation or stop-and-search weighted on race and class. It certainly doesn't come from being pushed further and further east and elsewhere as property prices edge up on the back of the Olympic re-brand. There has been massive property development on the fringes of the park and the mushrooming of glass-fronted towers - but aspiration is also about more than wanting to live in a high-rise. This isn't hope. It's hype.
The Olympics are done; they're old news. What's left are headlines about new property opportunities or why east London is an undiscovered jewel, which I guess it is if you're heading over to the likes of Victoria Park or Shoreditch. But this isn't the way it was sold to Stratford back then - as if we had a choice either way. There's still talk of opportunity, and new jobs and inspiration and so there is - for the middle class fantasy of property speculation and ever-trendier places to spend your disposable income. Other than that, I'm still waiting for something of substance.Suggest a correction