Getting Ready for the Olympic Games: Dispatch from London

Getting Ready for the Olympic Games: Dispatch from London

Camilla Ween (Loeb Fellow '08) writes from London: Yesterday I attended what is supposed to be the last public tour of the Olympics site before the 'lock down'. There is a 24 hours guard over the River Lee looking out for submersibles trying to infiltrate the security.

The site has come a long way since 2008 when I first visited - then it was mountains and mountains of contaminated soil that was being washed, it looked like a lunar landscape with hundreds of JCBs climbing up and down. Today it is a vast building site. Most of the buildings are 'almost finished' and being used by athletes to practice. The shaping of the landscaping has happened and the river looks clean and beautiful and the reed-beds must be attracting wildfowl by now. But the rest of the infrastructure is a hectic construction site of temporary roads, barriers and gates and diversions. It looks like a lot to achieve in 4 months.

The incredibly positive news is that they have not had a single fatality (the statistics would suggest they should have had 3-4).


AcelorMittal Orbit, photo from Olympic Development Authority website

AcelorMittal Orbit, photo from Olympic Development Authority website

The Stadium (Populous) sadly looks like it is short of its fine clothes (due to cuts) and the Aquatic Centre (Hadid) will look better when the temporary seating is removed after the Olympics. The Velodrome (Hopkins) is confident and elegant and the Copper Box (MAKE + Populous) is cool, but there is a non-sports structure that is an abomination. The AcelorMittal Orbit is so ugly it really is offensive even to acknowledge it (photo courtesy of the Olympic Development Authority website). It is an ill-conceived structure that has been manipulated to work so people can access an observation platform - the lattice structure is supposed to symbolise the Olympic rings - give me a break. The 115m (377ft) high steel sculpture is Britain's largest piece of public art and is planned as a permanent(?) legacy of the 2012 Summer Olympics. Anish Kapoor made the initial proposal but it has clearly been bastardised since then and is now a glorious edifice to the self-aggrandisement of Britain's richest man. What a shame.

The Landscaping Strategy and Arts and Cultural Strategy will deliver a lasting legacy - spear-headed by landscape architect John Hopkins and Curator Sarah Weir - 'RUN' is the theme - why not? The cleaning up of the polluted River Lee channel into a widened and beautiful waterway within the Olympic Park is fabulous. But whatever you think of Olympics, the huge cost of putting them on and whether it is worth it, the burying of the electricity pylons is the one thing that will guarantee the regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley – and this would never have been viable without the Olympics money.

Stratford as a place is one of the big winners; it now has arguably the best connectivity in London. It has gone from a small town centre towards the end of the Central line on the Underground that was barely on the transportation maps in 2000, to now having a transport hub with two Underground lines, the upgraded Overground rail service, the Docklands Light Rail system, an international station for the high-speed trains from Kent and Europe and a new bus station, and with the 'soft' modes well integrated.

London is anticipating a frenetic next few months not just to finish the Olympic Park but all the other works and preparations across London. Parks and squares are being revamped and spruced up for the great event. Special arrangements will be in place at all rail stations at the Olympic venues. The ‘Olympic Highway’ will be prepared; exclusively for use by athletes and officials. Hopefully all the streets will be clear and freshly tarmacked (new sewers and water mains across London and continuous expansion of fiber optic networks has meant chaos on the streets for years.)

Next month will bring the next update on the countdown…

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