Towards a good enough Legacy: the long term impact of London 2012

As London 2012 draws to a close the questions of Legacy and how to measure the Games' impact emerge as present tense issues. In this week's Friday essay Phil Cohen challenges the starting point of these discussions: the assumption that the population who use and will come to use the space all share the same vision as the narrowly selected development committee. 

The Post Olympic debate should neither be limited to an inquest into what went right or wrong in the delivery nor extend into a soap opera in which 2012 and its regeneration story never end. It should be a genuine 'values tournament’, in which the criteria we apply to judging such an event become the subject of a public debate which is as much about the kind of society we want to live in as it is about the Olympics themselves[i].

Many of the East Enders I interviewed in the course of the research for my forthcoming book on the Olympic Legacy surprised me by saying that their strongest wish for 2012 was that ‘nothing bad happened’. This was as true of those who were enthusiastic at the prospect as those who were anxious about it.  At the time I put this down to the fact that the terrorist bombing in London on the day after the announcement that London had won the bid was still quite fresh in people’s minds. But this apprehension persisted over the years and caused me to think that perhaps it represented something more than the fear of some catastrophic incident. It might be a defence against raising hopes for something better that might not be fulfilled. We are, after all, living in a period of rising aspiration and falling expectation. It might also be a way of saying that a 'good enough Games’ would be one which was remembered for the sporting action, or possibly its Opening and closing Ceremonies, and nothing else. It might be an implicit retort to those for whom what happens after the event is what counts in the long run.

We need to find a rational point of post Olympic closure, so that London 2012 does not turn into a shaggy dog story in which the tail does all the wagging. Short of that it is a case of Olympics in Wonderland. Like the Dodo’s Caucus race, it is never possible to know when it is over or who has won. So given that there is no ultimate arbiter – not even the IOC -  of the Games' economy of worth, and no final judgement day, how can some conclusion, however provisional, be reached? 

If you ask a professional story teller how they know when to stop, they will reply that every story has its own in-built principle of parsimony. The Olympic story is no exception. The periodicity of the Games furnishes an intrinsic punctuation point: every four years there is a new Olympiad and a fresh chapter to relate. So far as London is concerned then, 2016 should be the cut off point for the ‘Olympification’ process. Any new planning initiatives after that date should be regarded not as part of  the 2012 aftermath but as a new beginning, something to be narrated and evaluated within a quite separate frame of reference, so that the regeneration of East London can take new directions. For example in terms of the future of Olympic Park, its redevelopment plan needs to be finalised over the next four years so that the assets to be transferred to the host community can be precisely determined.  This does not mean, of course, the end of the 2012 story – its narrative legacy will continue to evolve as will its reputational status, and as long as  there is an interpretive community of Olympics researchers to sustain it, the debate about London’s Olympic heritage will go on. But it does mean that we put a narrative frame around the event and its legacy, which allows us to get them in some kind of historical perspective. We need to understand 2012 as a specific moment or conjuncture that can be  made sense of in terms of a  process of longer duration, namely the regeneration of  East London, without reducing its legacy either to the highest common factor, or lowest common denominator of this history. 

For most Londoners and even for most of the rank and file ‘twentytwelvers’, the Olympics will certainly be a moment to remember rather than a bench mark against which to measure the rest of their lives. Just as a ‘good enough parent’ is one who enables children to grow up and embark on life on their own terms with reasonable optimism,[ii] so a good enough Olympics is one that allows the generation of ‘twentytwelvers’ to build on their positive experiences and memories of the event  and move on to help build a world in which not everyone has to be an athlete or a winner to enjoy the good things in life. The medal winning  athletes, and  some of the Olygarchs who have dedicated the last seven years of their lives to making 2012 happen will find it hardest  to move on. For the rest of us  ordinary mortals it will be good enough to have been there and come away with a story to tell.

‘Itchicoo Park  it aint’

The Post Olympic debate is inevitably focussed in the short term on the transformation of the Olympic  Park being co-ordinated by the Mayor’s London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC). It is worth looking at the composition of the Corporation’s board of management, for it has its own story to tell about the priorities that are likely to inform the project. The board includes the usual suspects: some of the Olygarchs and key players in the 2012 delivery team, with a cross section of civic and corporate interests, supplemented by specialists in marketing, and events /venue management, plus the one mandatory local - black -media -business -woman. All the members of the board  are, in Robert Putnam’s terms, ‘ bridgers’, people who have  worked through partnerships in  pursuing their individual paths to success. The board has its fair share of power brokers  and fixers, a few kibbitzers  and even a schmoozer of two, but thankfully no mishugeners[iii]. The chairman, Baroness Ford, is from a banking background and despite the fact that this is a public sector organisation, the private sector dominates the board.

There is one social entrepreneur, Lord Mawson, whose career and outlook in some way exemplifies the approach to regeneration which has been adopted. He started out as a clergyman in an East End  parish, but became disenchanted with Labour’s welfare Statism which, in anticipation of David Cameron’s critique of New Labourism, he saw as creating a culture of dependency amongst the poor and weakening the bonds of civil society. Instead  he advocated a form of bootstrap capitalism with a communitarian emphasis, and unlike Samuel Smiles, practised what he preached, setting up the Bromley- by- Bow Health Centre and running training  programmes for the local unemployed to help them set up their own small businesses. He specialises in community engagement around large-scale regeneration projects and is a classic power broker cum fixer. He effortlessly bridged what gap there was between Thatcherism and Blairism and was literally and metaphorically entitled to act as a spokesperson for the ‘third sector’ in the counsels of New Labour. Now, of course, he is a fervent support of David Cameron’s ‘Big Society[iv].

The Tories' localist policies always sat somewhat uncomfortably within the dirigiste command structure  of LOCOG and the ODA,  although, of course, the Olympics aspirational agenda was right up their street. But now in the Post Olympics there is an opportunity for them to demonstrate how Cameron-style localism works, how bottom up regeneration can somehow be achieved through, or despite, a top down management structure. Unfortunately the LLDC has fudged the issue. It would have been entirely possible to invite representatives from the local Community Forum or the Stratford Renaissance Partnership, the local regeneration consortium, to sit on the  board, and this would have sent a message that more than lip service was being paid to local interests. Instead the emphasis has been placed on establishing deeper forms of  community consultation. For example, there is a Youth Panel drawn from schools in the five Olympic Boroughs whose members get a crash course in architectural, planning and regeneration issues, as well as in advocacy and presentation skills, and who have made substantive inputs into the  designing  of  youth provision  for  Olympic Park. There has also been an attempt at building sustained relationships with local community organisations, especially faith communities. Nevertheless all the strategic planning decisions about the Park are to be made by the LLDC, yet another unelected quango of the very kind that the Tories promised to abolish – and in the case of the Thames Gateway Plan – actually did.

Imagined Community

The American poet, Wallace Stevens, once famously said that people live not in places, but in the description of places, and since its inception the Corporation has gone in for some strenuous re-description of the Olympic site, drawing on much the same Panglossian vocabulary as the original  bid to promote their vision of the Park as offering  the best of all possible  urban worlds[v] :

Imagine the best of London, all in one place. Tradition and innovation, side-by-side, in a landscape of quality family homes, waterways, parklands and open spaces – anchored by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic venues. The future Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will offer all of this and more.

It will take the best of ‘old’ London – such as terraced housing inspired by Georgian and Victorian architecture, set in crescents and squares, within easy walking distance of a variety of parks and open spaces.

It will take the best of ‘new’ London – whether in terms of sport, sustainability or technology – to create a new destination for business, leisure and life. Above all, the Park will be inspired by London’s long history of ‘villages’, quality public spaces, facilities and urban living, learning from the best of the past – to build successful communities for families of the future. [vi]

So it’s a familiar story of something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue (i.e. waterfront development), the tried and tested formula of what has been called ‘recombinant’ urbanism[vii],  drawing on  traditional vernacular architectural idioms in conjunction with state of the art construction and design technologies to produce a post modern mix of built forms. The motif of the ‘urban village’ is central to this concept:

Five new neighbourhoods will be established around the Park, each with its own distinct character. Some residents will live in modern squares and terraces, others will enjoy riverside living, with front doors and gardens opening on to water. With the right mix of apartments and houses, located close to the facilities communities need to develop and grow, the Park will have the foundations to become a prosperous, vibrant new piece of city.[viii]

The urban village is very much an invented metropolitan tradition and refers primarily to working class neighbourhoods in the inner city which have either become gentrified, or where  the ‘gentry’ have always, or at least since the 18th century, lived.[ix] Jane Jacobs, the American urbanist who was an apostle of ‘spontaneous un-slumming’ saw the urban village as a model of piecemeal urban renewal  in inner city areas threatened by  ‘slash and burn’  redevelopment – an alternative regeneration  strategy  led by small businesses rather than large corporations[x]. More recently, environmentalists have adopted the urban village as a symbol of historical individuality threatened by the culturally  homogenizing pressures of globalisation, as well as a model of local democracy and sustainable community development[xi]. Amidst cries of ‘there goes the neighbourhood’ as yet another Waterstones or Starbucks opens, the  ‘small is beautiful’ school of urbanism has made significant inroads into both popular attitudes and professional planning practice over the last decade[xii].

Even though it is not in fact an appropriate model for the Olympic Park given the very different circumstances of its conception,  something of this philosophy has undoubtedly rubbed off on the Park designers. One of the features that gives the urban village its distinctive cosmopolitan atmosphere is the presence of artists. The Development Corporation has the ambition to make the Olympic Park into a  new cultural quarter, ‘a bit of Hoxton and a bit of the South Bank’ was how one Olygarch described it, and, as such, a home and workplace for East London’s growing creative class  of artists, designers, and media folk. They are a relatively new phenomenon, not least  in their mode of attachment to place[xiii]. For although they are global go-getters, constantly on the move, and  definitely ‘going places' , they are as concerned with the cultural assets which make an area desirable as they are with the market value of their property; the aesthetics of a neighbourhood are as important to them as its  material amenities, transport connectedness and social status, and their mobile privatism is tempered by their environmental concerns[xiv]. As we saw in the case of Hackney Wick, cultural quarters that grow through a process of spontaneous unslumming, are initially pioneered  by an avant garde of young impecunious community artists and small creative enterprises who  tend, sooner rather than later, to be displaced as advertising executives and the bigger media companies move in. In the case of the Olympic Park it is difficult to envisage that the street artists displaced from ‘The Wick’ will be affordably rehoused in what used to the Olympic Media Centre but is now scheduled for commercial use.

The fact that gentrification is very much the name of the Olympic Park game is underscored by its residential strategy. The legacy plan promises a 70/30  split between privately owned housing for affluent  professionals and ‘affordable housing’ that in principle is  available to lower income groups. In fact recent  measures introduced by the government have stretched the concept of affordability upwards to include middle income groups whilst at the same time hiking  subsidised rents  up to 80% of market  rents which will put them well beyond the pockets of the poor. In some cases even the 70/30 cut is qualified by the cautionary ‘if viable’. In East Village, the first of the new neighbourhoods, the housing association has promised that it will be ‘nearly impossible’ to tell the difference between privately rented homes and the social rents and that its style of management will be ‘tenure blind’.  Unfortunately the signs and symbols of social distinction are not confined to architecture and the narcissism of minor differences can defy even the most egalitarian housing policy . No amount of ‘pepperpotting' can deprive door knockers, cars, prams, gardens, the presence or absence of curtains, and external decor of the tale they have to tell in a community whose social radar is attuned to differential status. Finally the eight to ten thousand jobs that it is claimed the Park will eventually create will be overwhelmingly concentrated in the knowledge economy, financial and professional services and the cultural industries giving a further boost to the gentrification process, with a smaller number of people employed in the low wage, low skill sectors, primarily in the local hotel, catering, retail  trades, or as office cleaners, site maintenance and security staff.

There is a crude enough spatial logic to this dual economy. The professional services class thrown up by the new economy needs another kind of service class  to look after it; it needs people to wash, cook and clean for it; to mend its equipment, service its cars,  mind its children and pets, minister to its recreational needs, staff its shops, wine bars and restaurants, improve its houses, fix its drains, and populate its neighbourhoods with a little local colour. This is precisely the role assigned to the post-industrial working class for whom the Olympic Park will provide  some limited  accommodation.[xv].

The persistence of class distinctions is glossed over in the LLDC prospectus in a number of ways. Firstly by the re-iteration that much of the housing will be for families and that ‘family values’ will prevail in the design of public amenities. In fact in the context of the housing market a family home is simply a large house that has  three or more bedrooms and which may just as easily be occupied by a single childless but  affluent owner. The possibility that many of the apartments will become company flats, as happened in the Barbican, another prestigious housing development linked to a cultural centre, or that the new housing will become a buy to rent investment opportunity, as has occurred in the Royal Docks, cannot be ruled out.

Secondly there is a great deal of talk about social inclusivity, but what this turns out to mean is that the site will have disability access and housing designed for life time occupation, including special provision for senior citizens.  While this is admirable, it rather dodges the issue that socio economic status will continue to regulate and restrict access to these facilities; there is no sense in which this project could be regarded as redistributive in its effect on  local  housing classes. It is wheelchair access, not social access that is the priority here. The outcome is more likely to be yet another example of what has been called ‘splintering urbanism’, offering a further  prospect on global opportunity structures for those who are already fully paid up members of the  ‘network society’, while those who are dependent on the local, or informal economy or the State  remain a marginal, even if not actively marginalized, presence[xvi].  

The strongest feature of the plan is its neighbourhood structure which owes more than a little to Ebenezer Howard’s vision of the garden city, with  housing, schools, shops, health and community centres and public space, including children’s playgrounds, all closely integrated into the urban fabric. There is no doubt that, taken as whole, it represents a significant  advance on any previous Post Olympic site development. The only pity is that the main beneficiaries are likely to be wealthy investors and middle class gentrifiers, rather than local East Enders.

Welcome to heterotopia

Much is made in the LLDC prospectus of the fact that the Park is an important public amenity for locals  as well as a tourist destination for visitors to London. Here is how a day out in the Park is imagined :

A day in the Park might start with a coffee and toast, soaking in the views of the Park and the striking 2012 Games venues. Your morning could feature a trip up the ArcelorMittal Orbit – to see the remarkable panorama across London – followed by some retail therapy at Westfield Stratford City. Lunchtime could include some exercise at one of the sports venues or some street art in the open spaces that will feature an exciting line-up of activities and performance. Your afternoon could be full of sport, whether trying your hand at BMX at the Velo park or watching world champions at the Aquatics Centre or the Stadium. To finish the day, you could enjoy dinner at one of the Park’s restaurants – or head to Brick Lane, Green Street or other East London hotspots to enjoy local music and cuisine.

This ‘visitor’ is nothing if not an all rounder, combining the tastes of flaneur, sightseer, sports enthusiast, shopaholic, fitness freak,  gourmet and BMX biker all in one! But actually this little scenario is very revealing about what kind of public space is being envisaged. It is what  Michel Foucault has called a ‘heterotopia’, an ‘other’ space which juxtaposes in a single place a multiplicity of  sites that are in themselves normally  incompatible in scale and function and belong to quite different urban realms: the shop, the stadium, the garden, the observational tower, the terraced house, the pleasure ground [xvii].  Heteropias can be exciting and fun but not everyone wants all the different elements of city life compressed –or jumbled up – in one space.

In any case what most people enjoy doing in a park on a fine summer's day is nothing much: picnicking, sun bathing, flirting. reading, listening to music, or just sitting around gossiping, while for those more actively inclined throwing a Frisbee or kicking  a ball about is the summit of their athletic ambition. There should be plenty of scope for all this relaxed (in)activity in the Olympic Park, especially in the ecological Northern Park which includes wetlands, woodlands and  meadows, at least until required for commercial development. Still it is  a bit worrying – and symptomatic of the aspirational ‘get fit’ Olympic agenda the Park is supposed to embody - that none of the  promotional videos or artists impressions actually show people just lying around on the grass. They are either striding purposefully about, doing or watching  sport, or jogging, no doubt egged on by Monica Monvicini’s giant  installation 'Run':

London 2012 arts programme

There is another sense in which ‘otherness’ has been given a local resonance in the LLDC publicity. The frequent mention of ‘East London hotspots’ with their local music and cuisine, and similar references to events which will ‘showcase local diversity  and  heritage’ suggests that if East Enders have a walk on part in the Post Olympic spectacle it is to add a little local colour to the Park ‘experience’ by performing their cultures for the benefit of passing trade. It is the familiar ‘order in variety’ formula of British style multiculturalism: a governing elite, here the Development Corporation, provides the order- in this case the planning framework -while the ‘ethnics’, the ‘locals’, the ‘people’, the ‘others’ furnish the variety in the urban mise en scene[xviii].

From a design standpoint the layout  of the Park, its configuration of venues and connecting paths and open spaces draws explicitly  on the tradition of English landscape gardening; but here order in variety is applied to the overall  planning concept: the variety is provided by the sports venues, each of which  has a  distinctive architectural identity and the order – or at least the  harmonious confusion- is produced by the landscaping. The Park’s chief design consultant, and now advisor to the LLDC,  Ricky Burdett, is quite up front about the fact that no co-ordinated ‘one size fits all’ design brief was imposed on the architects and that they were encouraged to  ‘do their own thing’. He describes the result as ‘fragmented but organic’, an aptly post modern model for the style of urbanism the Park represents [xix].

In this best of all possible worlds there is no tension between the local and the global. The Park is advertised as a ‘global attraction’ with the Orbital Tower as one of the ‘wonders of London’ and a must see for visitors, while in the same breath, or in the case of the promotional video, with the flit of a butterfly wing, we are sitting in a quiet quasi-suburban garden having tea. The possibility that residents may get a little tired of being constantly ogled and photographed as they mow their lawns by crowds of  Post Olympic tourists does not seem to have crossed the minds of the site imagineers, or perhaps they consider it a minor inconvenience, part of a price worth paying for being part of such a prestigious development on such a famous site. So too the proposed International Quarter, which  consists of a ‘gold plated’ development featuring office blocks, hotels and luxury apartments in Stratford City,  towers over the ex-Olympic village without  a backward glance at the prospectus  and its claim that the commitment to create intimate living space has not been sacrificed to economies of scale.  

Place making: from terminal architecture to dwelling place

The most ambitious and problematic aspect of the project is the attempt to integrate the legacy sports venues within an emergent urban fabric constructed around residential communities, and what are somewhat euphemistically called ‘employment  hubs’. Sports stadia by their sheer physical size, and the fact that they remain empty for much of the time, and then briefly flood  an area with a multitudinous and often vociferous  population of spectators, exert an unsettling and even uncanny  effect on their neighbourhoods[xx]. In the case of the Olympic Park, the fate of the Stadium, the biggest material asset, or in some views, liability, as well as  the symbolic flagship of the whole enterprise, has come to focus public anxieties about the long term viability of the 2012 project. The difficulty in finding a tenant, and a sustainable post Olympic use has conjured up visions of other Olympic venues which have turned into ghost towns, haunted by their former glory, their only function to serve as cautionary monuments to the public folly or hubris that built them. The spectacle of the derelict and vandalised remains of the Athens Games is still just too close for comfort. 

The prophets of doom have an ally in W.G. Sebald whose jaundiced view of ‘grand projects’ belongs to a long tradition of gloomy prognostication about urbanistic adventures :

It is often our mightiest projects  that betray the degree of our insecurity. We gaze at them in wonder,  a kind of wonder which is itself a form of dawning horror, for we know somehow by instinct  that outsize buildings cast the shadow of their own destruction before them and are designated from the first with an eye to their later existence as ruins.[xxi]

Perhaps fortunately there is nothing awesome about the 2012 stadium. It is a good example of what has been called ‘terminal architecture’[xxii]  – a huge oval shed for accommodating spectators and athletes with the maximum efficiency and minimum of fuss; as such it is indistinguishable from dozens of similar structures, in combining the envelope functionality of the aircraft hanger with  the  palatial uselessness of  the architectural folly and the spiritual hydraulics of a  cathedral where people come to worship sport[xxiii]. It is a non place, a transit zone,  a space of flows[xxiv].  But it is a very special kind of non-place, because although it does not in itself generate any sense of local attachment, the Stadium is the epicentre of a global mediascape organised around the Games, while  for those who attend the events it hosts, it serves as a focal point of post Olympic memory work as well as a place of pilgrimage for Olympophiles.

The original plan was for the stadium to be ‘deconstructed’ after the Games, an operation which has nothing to do with its critical appraisal as an urban text but is a polite name for demolition. It was only subsequently that it was decided to make it into  a legacy venue. Now the problem is that it requires costly modification to make it fit for longer term purpose. A bad case of not thinking things through and ending up with the worst of both worlds.

Undoubtedly it was the primacy given to legacy in the bid that changed the stadium brief. The hard fact is that the  Olympics are a travelling circus but because they have to justify their role by establishing permanent assets for the host city, they cannot exploit the opportunity to develop a new style of  temporary architecture. It is entirely feasible to construct stadia that  are fully demountable. British architects lead the world in designing such structures, and ever since the advent of  the  ‘Archigram’ group in the 1960’s  with their project for a  ‘throwaway’ architecture, buildings that can be instantly erected  to provide temporary shelter, or stage one off events have been the focus of experimentation. From geodesic domes to pneumatic  auditoria, such structures have been at the  leading edge of new developments in design and engineering. They offer a strategic solution to a major legacy problem created by the  need to  put up buildings that really have little or no post Olympic use:  simply take them down and move them on to the next Olympic venue. The structures could be commissioned and owned by the IOC and leased to  host cities as and when required. To ‘ephemeralise’ the Olympic infrastructure in this way would not only  reduce the cost of staging the Games and put them within the reach of a far wider range of cities and nations, but restore to them their properly transient, inter-ludic, role.  After all, part of the excitement of a travelling circus when it comes to town stems from the fact that it creates an evanescent  environment dedicated to transient  pleasures. 

As it stands,(sic) 2012 Legacy Inc is in some difficulties. The purpose built  International Media Centre may have to be demolished, the Aquatic Centre cannot be transformed into a recreational swimming pool for local community use and the Main Stadium is pledged to remain as a field and track athletics venue, hosting the occasional mega event, plus concerts and  festivals, which means it will be drastically underused. London already has a world class athletics stadium in the National Sports Centre at Crystal Palace, and numerous other stadia, including Wembley, that can  stage large scale open air events. The LLDC still puts a brave face on its future :  

Everyone’s an athlete. The magic and spirit of the world’s greatest sporting festival will live on in the Park’s five sporting venues. In the South Park, the two main London 2012 venues – the Stadium and the Aquatics Centre – will be at the heart of an exciting new visitor experience.

To place the two premium sites whose futures are the most problematic at the heart of the ‘visitor experience’ would  seem to be  inviting trouble, but what is interesting is the way the notion of ‘Olympic heritage’ is here pressed into service to legitimate the fact that the legacy venues will in practice be monopolized by elite athletes, and with the exception of the BMX and mountain bike tracks, be of little interest to local communities, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary.

What is symptomatically missing from the  LLDC vision is any recognition that the urban fabric is made up of the stories woven into, around and about it by those who dwell there; yet it is through this protracted process that spaces become places with a  specific local meaning and identity.[xxv] For example planners may designate a certain space as a ‘public square’  but it may gain a public  reputation as a hang out for drug dealers, or youth gangs and become off limits to children and senior citizens. The proposed ‘British Garden’ may become, however temporarily, a carnal cruising ground: 'Meet you in the Gold' meaning something quite different from ‘see you in Bronze’.  Particular groups will in any case  establish little niches for themselves in the Olympic Park, usually in places where planners least expect it. Skateboarders may take up residence in front of the Aquatic Centre  because the street furniture there offers them acrobatic scope. The Stadium may become a magnet for  graffiti artists who want  to leave their personal mark on the Olympics in revenge for the appropriation of their art form for the 2012 logo…..  

New Directions Home?

Olympic legacies have in the past become the subject of bitter dispute and recrimination[xxvi]. If the assets of the Olympic Park are not to turn into a liability –  become a  poisoned chalice or  a bone of contention - then the fact that their transfer is in the gift of the LLDC and that the community’s claim to entitlement remains at best provisional, should not be allowed to  interfere with developing a robust ‘bottom up’ regeneration strategy. If 2012 is truly to earn its laurels as the ‘Legacy Games’ then the creation of a political framework within which its terms of reference and the issues arising can be can continuously discussed, worked through  and decided upon by those most directly affected, would seem to be a  sine qua non. A good enough legacy is one which is actively owned and controlled by its legatees.

What the Stadium saga tells us is just how important symbolic stake holding can be in determining material outcomes. The LLDC plan for the Park  takes it for granted  that the population who move in to live and work there will share their vision. Their imagined community seems to consist of urban pioneers like themselves. Why else would they be there? So although the Park is conceived as an elaborate  piece of social engineering, no strategy of community development has been put in place. It is simply assumed that communities will spontaneously arise in each neighbourhood[xxvii]. This may well not be the case. Tenants and residents associations, bringing together all  tenure categories, will need to be actively encouraged  to counteract the culture of mobile privatism amongst the more affluent and the  social divisions that might otherwise surface. The growth of good inter-neighbourhood relations clearly requires more that the provision of concierges who know how to fix bicycles. The setting up of some broader framework  which can also address issues relating to the Park’s outward facing functions  is essential. But what form should this take?

One of the positives to come out of the Big Society debate  was a renewal of interest in mutualism and models of direct or participatory democracy. If the so called ‘Red Tories’ could so easily steal some of their best ideas from  the  Left, it was because the Left  had largely ignored  its own home grown tradition of  communitarianism[xxviii]. Now the works of  G.D.H. Cole and the Guild Socialists have been taken down  from the shelves in the Museum of Labour History, dusted off and given a new lease of life as part of a revitalized discussion about redistributive forms of governance. If the localist agenda is to be more than window dressing then it must involve strengthening intermediate institutions  between market and state  through  a real devolution of power to them. In what amounts to a new township with an eventual  resident and working population of nearly 20,000 there is an opportunity to experiment with a new participatory form of urban governance.

For this purpose the delivery of the Legacy Communities Scheme needs to be handed over to a Community Land Trust through which strategic management powers can be vested in an annually elected board, with all residents and workers  entitled to vote. Already there is a proposal that one of the neighbourhoods  should  be managed in this way, but this needs to be extended  to the Park as a whole. The Land Trust decides development policy and its AGM becomes a popular assembly with a plebiscitary function more akin to what the Guild Socialists had in mind than the glorified committee cum business meeting it usually is. Within this scenario the LLDC would retain residuary planning powers related to the development of the Park’s public profile as an Olympic heritage site and tourist destination as well as remaining responsible for the wider aspects of Olympic regeneration. But the essential issues affecting those who live and work on the site would be determined by no-one but themselves.


[i]  Values tournament is a  term  coined by the  sociologist Max Weber to refer to events whose latent  meaning or function is to stage a confrontation between competing belief or value systems.  For the application of this concept to the Olympics  see A  Guttmann The Olympics: a history of the modern games  (1992)

[ii] See D.W. Winnicott The Child, the family and the Outside World (1964)

[iii]    For the distinction between ‘bonders’ and ‘bridgers’ see R Putnam  Bowling Alone (2000).

[iv]  See the contributions to J Mackay  (ed) The age of voluntarism: how we got the ‘Big Society’  (2011)

[v] For a discussion of post Olympic urbanism see C  Rutheiser  Imagineering Atlanta: the politics of space in the city of dreams (1996). On urban Imagineering in general  see S Lukas The Themed Space: locating culture, nation, self ( 2007)  and K Hetherington   Capitalism’s eye: cultural space and the commodity (2008)

[vi] Source   Legacy Development Corporation website www.londonlegacy.co.uk

[vii]  See D Shane  Recombinant urbanism: conceptual  models in architecture, urban design and city theory  (2005)

[viii] Source Legacy Development Corporation website www.londonlegacy.co.uk

[ix]  See T   Butler  and G Robson London Calling: the middle classes and the remaking of inner London. (2003).See glossary for further discussion on gentrification.

[x] Jane Jacobs  The Life and death of great American Cities ( 1987) and for a positive appraisal of her approach A Alexiou  Jane Jacobs : urban Visionary (2009)

[xi]  See A Magnaghi  The Urban Village :a charter for local democracy and sustainable development  (2005)

[xii]  See  the contributions to E Charlesworth(ed) City Edge; case studies in contemporary urbanism.  (2005)

[xiii] See R Florida Cities and the Creative  Class (1995). The definition of this ‘class’ has proved as elastic as that of  ‘creative industry’. In some usages it includes estate agents and hairdressers, in others it is confined to those working in  traditionally defined areas of the arts  See also C Landry The Creative City.(1995)

[xiv]  The term  was coined by Raymond Williams.   See The Raymond Williams reader  edited J Higgins (2001)  

[xv] See N Buck et al Working Capital: life and labour in contemporary London(2002) and T A Hutton   The New economy of the inner city (2008)

[xvi]  See   S  Graham  and  S  Marvin  Splintering Urbanism  ( 2001)

[xvii]  See M  Foucault  ‘Heterotopia’  in The essential Works of Michel Foucault Vol 2 Aesthetics (ed P Rabinow (2000) and M  Duhaene  Heterotopia and the City (2008)

[xviii]  See P  Cohen   ‘ A beautifying lie?  On Kitsch and Culture @ the Olympics’   in Soundings 50 2012 and Open Democracy

[xix] See    R Burdett  Endless City (2007)

[xx]  For a general discussion of the role of the stadium in urban regeneration see  the contributions to J Bale and  O Moen ( Eds) The Stadium and the City (1995) 

[xxi] See W.G. Sebald  Austerlitz  2001 p 108;  See  also A  Vidler (1996) The Architectural Uncanny  ( 1995 )

[xxii] See Martin Pawley Terminal Architecture (1998)  - a concept  he uses to describe   structures whose design is entirely determined by  their function of containing large numbers of people or goods. For a critical  overview of these developments see A King  Spaces of Global Cultures: Architecture, Urbanism, Identity (2004).

[xxiii]  See  R Trumpbour The New Cathedrals: Politics and Media in the History of Stadium Construction (2007). For a detailed advocacy see  R   Sheard,  (2005) The Stadium: architecture for the new global culture ( 2005).

[xxiv] See M Auge  Non Places : an introdoction to the anthropology of hypermodernity (2008)

[xxv] For current research on place making and narrative landscapes see  the contributions  to S  Daniels et  al Envisioning landscape, making worlds: geography and the humanities (2011)

[xxvi] See for example  the discussion about Atlanta  in  C  Rutheiser  op cit

[xxvii] See B Elliott Constructing Community : configurations of the social in contemporary philosophy and urbanism  (2010)

[xxviii]  See P Blond  Red Tory :how the left and right have broken Britain and how we can fix it (2010). On Guild Socialism  see G D H Cole Guild Socialism(1934) and J Vowls   From corporatism to workers control: the formation of British Guild Socialism  (1980)

About the author

Phil Cohen is Professor Emeritus at UEL. His work over the last 20 years has focused on East London and has dealt with issues of racism and multiculturalism, public safety and danger, the role of the cultural economy in urban regeneration and popular participation in planning. His books include Rethinking the Youth Question, New Ethnicities,Old Racisms and Questioning Ethnographies (2009).