Thursday, 4 August 2016

Challenge for Stratford, four years after the London Olympics is to become truly interactive communal centre, not just an atomised moonscape

Standing in the centre of the concourse on the way the Olympic stadium is a good place to view the developing site that is Stratford city.

Four years on from the Olympic games there is much talk of legacy but what seems to have developed is a sky line of ultra-modern buildings - many of them towering onto the east London skyline, giving another worldly look and feel.

To be fair there has always been a strong element of other worldliness about the Stratford development, ever since its inception back in 2007 when London won the Olympic  bid.

Old Stratford centred around the shopping mall with its market running through the centre, the adjacent cinema and Theatre Royal – once home to Joan Littlewood, with that groundbreaking theatre workshop of the 1960s and 70s.

Then came the Olympics, which also brought the Westfield Shopping centre, on the other side to old Stratford but dumped down like an alien being on the east London landscape. Then gradually the constituent parts of the Olympic dream began to arrive. The stadium, which now becomes the home of West Ham United. The aquatic centre, which does a brisk trade providing swimming facilities to east London.

The old Olympic village has been converted into housing, with much more developing round about. The election of Labour mayor Sadiq Khan has forced developers to look to bring in more affordable housing – with his stipulation about developments having a 50% affordable housing constituent.

The way, in which the designers of the park landscaped the area using the waterways and flora and fauna, give the area a great natural feel – an offset to the moonscape stretching off into the distance.

So there is much to be admired about the Olympic site, it is an exciting vital place to be. It remains a functional living centre of community, not a moribund monument to a few weeks of sport in 2012.

The development of this site though says much about modern life - atomised and separate. Many people working in the area are on low wages, struggling to get by. Many working in the area will never be able to afford the prices of most of the property round about. Aliens in the city where they work.

The mayor’s affordable housing pledge is a good start toward a more integrated housing environment but there needs to be more. A proper living wage paid to everyone working in the area would further help iron out the inequalities of wealth.

Developments that encourage interconnections between the people living and working in the area. It is no good building what is virtually a new city if the overriding feeling is of passing through, whether that be in a living or working context.

Old Stratford had deep roots reaching back through the centuries – those antecedents were well illustrated in Danny Boyle’s excellent opening ceremony for the games four years ago. Many of those old roots still remain but there is also a need for the new developments to put down these roots. Those roots should spring from a cohesive close knit community, where people talk to each other and don’t just gaze into mobile phones, lap tops and other online applications.

The real challenge for Stratford moving forward is to create a living city in every aspect of that word. A just and equitable place that brings some of the designs and devices of the modern world but marries them to those deep roots going back. What it must come to reflect is true inter-activity and cohesiveness at every level of the community – not simply a moonscape occupied by atomised beings.

* "Will Olympic developers respect area's roots" - published Morning Star - 9/8/2016 

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