The Olympic legacy is killing London's creative culture

London's Olympic Park, during the 2012 games. Image: Getty.

Ever since the 1992 games in Barcelona, the idea of “legacy” has played a crucial role in the process of bidding for, and hosting, the Olympics. It’s easy to agree that investment and development for the Olympics should deliver benefits for residents of the host city in the long run. And it makes sense that Olympic infrastructure is built in areas that need improvement.

But in practice, it’s not always locals who benefit from the Olympic legacy. All too often, strict deadlines for delivery of Olympic infrastructure give authorities and developers a license to push urban regeneration plans through to approval with minimal consultation. In Beijing, for instance, 1.5m people were displaced to make space for Olympic venues. Meanwhile, in Rio, thousands of favela dwellers experienced violent evictions ahead of this year’s games.

Similarly – but somehow less famously – the Olympic Park developments for London 2012 involved the largest programme of legally enforced evictions in England. And it continues to this day.

Welcome to Hackney Wick

Hackney Wick and Fish Island is a quaint, former industrial area in east London, right at the edge of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Old warehouses – many of which have been converted into spaces for living, working, eating and making – sit beside canals, and old-fashioned barges line the banks. Here, more than 600 artist studios and other small creative organisations have produced an ecosystem which nurtures innovation and creativity.

A creative idyll. Image: Ilaria Pappalepore/University of Westminster/author provided.

Now this area is part of a major regeneration project and most of these artists feel under threat. Currently, one group of creatives based in Fish Island is fighting an eviction letter delivered just six weeks before part of the building where the individuals work and live is due to be demolished.

The building – Vittoria Wharf – is one of many which were subject to compulsory purchase before the games by the London Legacy Development Corporation – the public company responsible for delivering Olympic-led regeneration in east London.

A petition to save Vittoria Wharf from demolition has so far reached more than 2,700 signatures. But this action is unlikely to save the building – at best, it will give residents a few more months to make their case public. A local musician said to me: “I feel they almost treat us as Conquistadors treated native Americans, with no respect for our philosophies.”

Putting up a fight Image: Ilaria Pappalepore/University of Westminster/author provided.

These residents are aware of the well-documented cycle of gentrification, which sees deprived neighbourhoods initially inhabited by young artists, who are later displaced by established creative companies and middle-class residents.

New creative enclaves are commonly formed in cities this way over time. But in London, young artists worry that soon there will be nowhere left for them to go in the city. One of the residents of Hackney Wick told me that artists' only option is to relocate to other parts of England – such as Margate on the east coast – or to go abroad, with Berlin the most popular option. With the average London house price pushing £472,000, and rent becoming prohibitively expensive in more and more boroughs, there is a real danger that low-income artists could be priced out.

Looking back at London 2012

Local artists’ difficulties with the legacy of the Olympics follows their disappointment with the games themselves. Research I conducted between 2010 and 2014 showed that the games had minimal positive impacts on local artists and other small creative organisations.

Many were disappointed by how difficult it proved for local artists and companies to take part in the cultural programme of London 2012. A key problem flagged up by my interviewees was the curators’ preference for internationally renowned artists over local ones. Unfortunately, this stems from the nature of mega-events, which are highly dependent on sponsorships and international media attention.

But as one cultural policy consultant interviewed for the research said:

[The cultural programme curators] saw themselves as trying to do something substantially different and of better quality and more international and a lot more contemporary than a lot of the practice they thought they were looking at in east London. Not to take seriously any of the talent that is on their doorstep, except around the edges and kind of cosmetically, seems to me to be fundamentally misdirected.

In Hackney Wick, organisers went so far as to remove graffiti by local artists, only to replace it with specially-commissioned pieces by international artists. In many ways, London missed an invaluable opportunity to promote local creativity.

Evocative art in Hackney Wick, by Edwin. Image: Mabacan/Flickr/creative commons.

For security reasons visitors were carefully marshalled between train stations and Olympic venues, which prevented them from wandering around the area. What’s more, the International Olympic Committee’s extremely restrictive copyright rules made it impossible for local artists to use Olympic-related symbols in their practice – although some did so anyway as a form of resistance.

A new cultural quarter?

Yet the Olympic regeneration programme did have a small number of positive outcomes for local residents. One of the very few aspects which seems to have been well received by the artists we spoke to is the plan for a culture and education district, to be built on the Stratford waterfront in the Olympic park by 2020.

This project – dubbed “Olympicopolis” by former London mayor Boris Johnson – was initially inspired by “Albertopolis”; the cultural cluster built in South Kensington following the Great Exhibition in 1851. The new cultural district will accommodate world class cultural and education institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), Sadler’s Wells theatre, University College London (UCL) and London College of Fashion. Both UCL and the V&A have already liaised with local Hackney Wick artists, with a view to develop creative collaborations.

The project is expected to create 3,000 jobs, and contribute to the wider cultural legacy strategy for the Olympic Park, which is “centred around developing east London as a creative destination with an international reputation”.

But given what happened at London 2012, there’s a real risk that this new development could, once again, create a “tourist bubble” – a sanitised cultural island, completely separated from the local neighbourhood. Indeed, the plans for the new district – which were unveiled very recently – have already been described as “a cacophony of luxury stumps”.

Previous research has shown that successful creative areas are characterised by a diverse built environment, a bohemian look and the coexistence of people who produce and consume culture. Yet all of this already exists in Hackney Wick and Fish Island, thanks to a community which has been there since long before the Olympics. The question is – will it still be there in five years?The Conversation

Ilaria Pappalepore is senior lecturer in events and tourism at the University of Westminster.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.