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Urban Regeneration? Where?

BY: Jade Azim | Category: Politics | Submitted: 2012-06-27 04:45:23
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Article Summary: "With all the promise surrounding the Olympics this summer, do those living in the surrounding areas of this new centre of commerce fill the benefits?.."


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Glistening under the mid afternoon sun is the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London. It stands in the centre of a park which has the price tag of 9.3 Billion and stands adjacent to Westfield Stratford City, which itself was built at a staggering 1.4 Billion.

It's an impressive sight, it really is.
Even from the 1960s 1-bedroom council flat across the road, although the family living there may have a different perspective.

There it stands, a grey Clement Atlee-era tower block, overlooking this grand 'redevelopment' of the infamous East End of what is one of the richest cities in the world, with the city's inner region's GDP per capita standing at $80,000 thanks to the affluence of the boroughs with 'W' and 'C' tucked snuggly into the postcode; officially the richest area in Europe.

Except, it would seem, the redevelopment hasn't spread far enough to improve the inhabitants of this flat, or any flat in Stratford. It stops just behind the poverty line.

A high street mere metres from the extravagant buildings of Stratford City, a project inspired by the profitable prospect of the Olympics, is on the brink of financial, and for the those that rely on it, emotional collapse. Independent shop owners hand in the keys for the last time as their outlets turn to dust in the shadow of giant corporations. Capitalism at its greatest.
The people within touching distance of the over-budget Olympic Park have yet to feel any of its benefits. All the investment that were promised to benefit east London, where more people are unemployed than anywhere else in the UK, and give it a 'face lift'? Another broken promise. (as if we're not use to that.)

It should be remembered though, that the new construction of the Olympic Park itself has provided many thousands of jobs.

There has been and will be a clear change to the surrounding areas in terms of urban vitalisation, too. Neighbourhoods in and around Hackney, for example, have seen improvements. Stratford's main high street is due to be turned into 'the new Manhattan' in a £10 million restore by the end of the decade, too, thanks in part to its hosting of the Olympics.

But what of the people turned away from a construction job on the site? What about the neglected Council homes standing beside these isolated areas of reconstruction? How many families will be living in poverty and surrounded by crime by the end of the decade, all thanks to the urban decay that surrounds them?

It would seem any development is far from widespread. Boris Johnson said these games would benefit people from all walks of life. It seems quite the contradiction, then, that they serve merely to emphasise the gap between rich and poor. Skyscraper opposite Estate.

Somehow in great correspondence for the timing of the Olympics, London is currently experiencing a boom in super-tall modern skyscrapers. The giant pointed building you can see from Church Hill? That's The Shard, conveniently completed this year. At a total cost of £1.2 billion, it seems almost patronising that the aristocratic residents who will soon reside in the penthouses at its peak will be able to see the antics of the unemployed walking in the rusted streets of Newham. A perfect metaphor for the inequality that has only seen an upward spiral since Thatcherism.

Of course, this may be quite an unfair contrast to make considering the size of London. With seven million Londoners, it's not possible for relative poverty to be non-existent. But sizing up the development of the Olympic Park next to some of the infamous post codes of Hackney seems far too much of a shock for the most economically powerful city on the planet, especially when our mayor, our politicians, promised hard working residents the opposite.

Indeed, there are still just under two hundred days till the Olympics begin, so should we expect rapid regeneration in that time? Turn your eyes to the fact it has been over sixty years since World War Two, and the Blitz still have a presence on the horizons of Hackney, Tower Hamlets, and, this writer's home borough, Waltham Forest. The tiny houses built in the wake of the war still serve as obsolete homes for the working classes, the wastelands in the docklands, standing bare next to the shiny steel of Canary Wharf and the O2 centre.

If such places still provide eyesores for London then how can a period of less than two hundred days, however convincing the promise, reverse the scars of a conflict long ago?

I can't feel a change, despite Waltham Forest council directly telling me through newsletter after newsletter of the great improvements it will make to the borough; a host borough. Instead, since the announcement of the Olympics, Waltham Forest has seen a drop of 6% in average wages, contributing to poverty on our streets in a year when the eyes of the world will be on our city.

Waltham Forest doesn't even know the meaning of the word; 'investment'. It's a foreign concept.
It's not likely to change for most of us in the foreseeable future, either. The Evening Standard recently stated that "Many places will continue to feel the pain of disinvestment." while the ridiculously expensive ArcelorMittal Orbit sculpture climbs higher. That's the red structure in the Olympic Park that looks as if a child has attempted to build a rollercoaster. That's the place our taxes have gone.

But who cares, right? Tourists will ignorantly stick to the path's Boris has cleared for them; the man that tripped over his own foot on stage who somehow musters up the cunning to steer them away from the true deprivation seen in the streets behind the aquatics centre.

The mayor will continue to cycle around on his blue bicycles with glee while we foolishly wait to see if any of the promises are ever fulfilled; If our local high streets are saved, if the streets circling the Olympic park are even cemented over, if the families living in those grey flats overlooking the stadium's construction will be given adequate, affordable living spaces.
So far, reality falls an entire Shard tower below expectation.

About Author / Additional Info:
An enthusiastic writer, I have a strong passion for politics stemming from an adolescence spent within an unstable political world.

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