London’s Olympic Housing Legacy, an Olympic Housing Expo, The Regeneration Olympic, whose legacy is a wonderful place to live.
“At the centre of this Park will be the river Lea but not the river Lea we see today which is polluted and held between canalised walls. We are going to liberate that river into a new flood plain area. We’re going to remove all the contaminated materials and re-create the river out of the former Lea Valley area.”
Throughout the regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley area the planners will be looking far beyond the Games themselves. For example, The Olympic Village will be turned into housing with the newly built train line linking that community to central London in only seven minutes” London 2012 Press Office 08/11/2004
Over the next six years its going to be easy and I suppose natural to get carried away with the excitement of London hosting the 2012 Olympics. The media coverage will cover the “sexier” bits, the costs (and cost overruns), the political infighting, the star athletes (and their poor performances in the run up), the new stadiums. However the big story to me is something quite different. One of the major factors in London overtaking Paris was the fact that London’s bid tapped into words that have international resonance “regeneration” and “community”. London’s bid was one that majored on the bequeathing of a wonderful community, sports, employment, skills, housing, transport infrastructure legacy on previously used and degraded land in a “forgotten” sector of the capital, an area with unfashionable names Newham, East Ham, Manor Park, Forest Gate, Plaistow, West Ham and Canning Town. All within a few miles of the city centre. The stylishly shot and cleverly edited video presentation highlighting a multicultural society (and of course lots of cute kids) couldn’t fail to move the jury with its “by the people for the people” stance. This was an “I’d like to teach the world to sing” moment for the 21st century and it could be equally risible in 30 years if London doesn’t deliver on the regeneration and housing agenda. The difference is that fizzy drinks can’t be life changing but an Olympic legacy can.
Leaving aside the images of expensive stadiums with weeds growing through the terraces and tumbleweed rolling down the approach routes, the history of housing and community legacy from an Olympics is pretty mixed. Barcelona concentrated on public realm, with a new beach adding enabling Barcelona to add “resort” status to its many attributes. In Atlanta house prices rocketed, fact 5000 units were cleared, few new homes built and the homeless literally cleared off the street to create a sanitised view of a city with severe economic disparities. There have been mixed reactions to the Sydney Games legacy and it is early days but they were spot on in their thinking by allowing the Athletes Village to be designed by Greenpeace and by making it the centre piece of an extensive environmental plan. The Village, is entirely solar-powered and has been converted to housing. The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City did rather better in terms of attractive low cost homes. I think we should keep an eye on what the official “Worlds most Liveable City”, Vancouver is doing for the 2010 Winter Olympics. Vancouver seems to be acutely aware that it must prevent market driven displacement of tenants prior to the games. Prior to most major international events, many tenants are subject to substantial rent increases or eviction for minor cosmetic renovations. This displacement enables landlords to cash in on Olympic related temporary residents willing to pay inflated rents.
The real fear in the UK is that we deliver something by signature architects that is all show and that lacks “liveability” or more simply, we just deliver 17000 more mediocre houses set in yet more hard landscaping, that is snapped up by investors who are currently being bombarded with pre release hype on the potential profits to be made in the Lea Valley.
Recent CABE Housing Audits (http://www.thehomebuyersguide.org/audit/) back my firm held and regularly mouthed view that Britain is pretty poor at delivering new mass housing. The London Olympics are a real opportunity to show the world that we are moving away from being the housing and public space pariahs of the developed world. Its a once in a lifetime opportunity to use the euphoria, the media profile, and the fact that the world is watching, to bring great designers, thinkers, entrepreneurs and the wider creative community together, and bring them together on the cheap. Who wouldn’t want to give their all to take part in something that can leave a lasting positive legacy?
There is however a history of a build up to an Olympics that is then dissipated by anticlimax as the crowds and the athletes go. The world then starts thinking about the next Olympics, host cities have other fish to fry, investment and interest starts to dry up and the creativity moves elsewhere leaving good ideas that really should have been developed into great ones. What is needed is a reason to keep on developing, to keep on investing in the regeneration and the new communities.
I propose that the Olympic Village becomes a Housing Expo or rather The Regeneration and Community Olympics. When the sports tourists have gone, the design tourists, worlds housing, public space and regeneration community come to look at the great work of the landscape designers, developers, architects, designers, engineers and sustainability experts There could be access inside homes, talks by those that delivered the various elements. Their could be a “Community Olympics” with locals given access to play in the newly completed stadiums. The design detail, community thinking and regeneration that will be naturally overlooked by the sporting spectacle that is The Olympics would now have the space and platform to flourish in a way not possible since the still talked about Festival of Britain in 1951. The visitor infrastructure, the transport, will all be in place extending the visitor infrastructure by year should make financial sense, should extend sponsorship opportunities, create employment and crucially brand this part of London as a place to live rather than “where the 2012 Olympics were held”.
And why not extend it into the greater Thames Gateway, giving ourselves another reason to make sure that there is some joined up thinking and excellence in delivery on The Thames Gateway Programme.
Housing Expos can work at a variety of different scales. The smallest Housing Expo in recent years provided just 45 new houses and secured 93,000 paying visitors. The largest Expo was part of the Hannover World Fair in 2000 and secured 2,000 New Housing Units with 20 million paying visitors to the World Fair. My favourite was in Malmo, Sweden , the BO 01 which I visited in 2001 and have been a further 5 times to see how this magnificent docklands regeneration has reinvigorated this medium size Swedish city.
The physical development of the Expo was led by a strong, clear, Masterplan.
This provided a clear physical planning framework within which design and development opportunities could be offered via a competition. 17 Developers undertook 22 different developments, providing a total of 356 dwellings (an average of 16 dwellings per development). This ensured that the overall site displays immense variety and contrast, rather than a uniformity and monotony of design.
The process was essentially ‘design-led’ with a ‘brokering’ of designers and developers after the designs had been chosen. Not all of the winning designs were implemented however. Quality standards were established by a ‘Developers Group’ a tri-partite body made up of City Officials, Community Representatives and Developers. This established high standards of design for buildings, open space and public art and high sustainability standards.
The physical legacy of the Expo has been impressive. A new community has been established in a formerly derelict part of the City, as the first phase of what will eventually become a 2,000 dwelling neighbourhood. There were 500,000 paying visitors (£7 per head) to the Malmo BO 01 Expo in the three months of official opening. The site is now visited regularly by planners, designers and students from worldwide) and is a destination for locals using the waterside walks, and cafes.
London fought hard to win the 2012 Olympics but the fight is just beginning to transform the Lea Valley into a wonderful place to live. An Expo would be one more piece of the jigsaw.