Sunday, November 16, 2003

Famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house
Number 2012 - The Olympic Stadium ii

your stadium here

An Olympic Stadium is a large circular-ish object, requiring space for a 400 metre running track, seating for the nations of the world and sufficient space round the edge for the selling of hotdogs and novelty fluorescent headgear. So, where to put it? It appears that the authorities have merely worked out how large a circle they need, found a map of the local area and hunted down the one location where that circle would fit without overlapping one of the many river channels round here. And the location they've found is a godforsaken industrial estate halfway up a boy-racer lane just north of Pudding Mill Lane DLR station. Middle of nowhere. This is Marshgate Lane, a 100% non-residential slice of East London, one solitary road cutting across the flood plain of the River Lea. If anywhere in London deserves to be regenerated, it's this unloved heap of warehouses, incinerators and industrial units. Up to 350 companies will be forced to relocate if the Olympics come to Stratford, but an Olympic flame would suit the area far better than the present smell of burning waste, fats and cooking oils.

meddlingI got myself a decent map and walked up Marshgate Lane to find the exact location of the centre of the stadium for myself. It's just past Knobs Hill Road, right opposite Parkes Galvanizing Ltd, where a couple of small roads run off the lane onto the Marshgate Trading Estate. Here you'll find a company that hires skips, a giant nondescript warehouse, the odd big family business, a company that prepares caviar and smoked salmon and, right in the middle, a Mercedes Service Centre. This is where the javelins will land, where 3000 perfectly-choreographed local schoolchildren will tapdance through the opening ceremony and where all the medals will be presented. I was disturbed to see three Mercedes flags flying over the exact spot - it looks like the Germans have staked their claim for the top of the medal table already.

polystyrene bowlThis weekend, as a genuine local resident, I've also attended one of the public consultation events for the Olympic masterplan. The Lower Lea Valley regeneration team have been setting up their display boards in a variety of community-type institutions, asking people what they think about the plans and the legacy to be left behind for the local area. It turned out that most of the display is available on the internet anyway, but there were some nice extras including some fantastically detailed maps of the minutiae of regeneration and a 3D model to bring the plans to life (pictured left). The organising staff seemed keen to welcome us all, but even keener to get at least one person present to fill in one of their less-than-thrilling questionnaires. I would have spoken to somebody official about the plans, except that one of them was being persistently harangued by a pessimist explaining how the Dome was a white elephant and the whole bid thing would undoubtedly be a financial disaster, while most of the rest of the staff were too busy trying to set up a Powerpoint presentation. At least it was encouraging to see my community's future being taken seriously for once. Whether the Olympics arrive here in 2012 or not, local regeneration is on track.

 Thursday, November 13, 2003

Famous places within 15 minutes walk of my house
Number 2012 - The Olympic Stadium i

olympicsideOK, so this may look like the same old photograph of the run-down Big Breakfast house that I've shown you before, and indeed it is, but what's new is that London's Olympic Stadium is now planned to be built less than a javelin's throw away on the other side of that row of trees. It's all bloody exciting, for us locals at least. This redevelopment depends on London actually being selected by the IOC as the winning host city for the 2012 Games, of course, but detailed new proposals announced this week bring that dream a little closer to reality. And much closer to my house.

Plans for London's Olympic bid have been a little sketchy up until now, with plans for a stadium sort of near Hackney Wick, upriver from Stratford-ish, in that run-down bit of East London probably. This week the plans are revealed in their full geographical splendour, and the proposed site for the stadium shifts half a mile south from (just) Hackney into (nearly) Bow, much nearer to major transport links. The new site is currently bleak industrial land, surrounded on three sides by the Bow Back Rivers, which apparently makes the area pretty secure from international terrorist attack. You can view a fine and detailed map showing the Olympic regeneration of the Lower Lea Valley here, whether you're an international terrorist or not.

warming upTo your right is another photograph showing the heart of the proposed Olympic zone. This is the Greenway, a footpath slicing through East London atop the legendary Northern Outfall Sewer. Today a tree-lined haven for local wildlife, tomorrow the focal point of global consciousness (maybe - terms and conditions apply). Just to the right of the photo will be the warm-up tracks where the world's finest athletes will prepare for their few seconds in the spotlight. And just to the left, opening ceremonies, Olympic flames, 100m finals, track and field, drug scandals, medal ceremonies, marathon finishes and 100% total history. Bloody hard to picture it all at the moment, though.

The eighty-thousand-seater stadium will be at the heart of a compact area full of top Olympic facilities. Three indoor sports arenas will replace the Hackney Greyhound Stadium, and there'll also be a new all-weather tennis complex, hockey complex and velodrome. A huge aquatic centre (complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool, naturally) will be constructed close to Stratford town centre - this no matter whether the Olympic bid is successful or not. And the athletes' village will be built just to the north of the new Stratford International Eurostar station, leaving a legacy of 17000 homes for local residents after the Games have gone. Let's hope they're sports fans, otherwise all these fantastic state-of-the-art facilities will go stale pretty fast afterwards.

press centreThis miserable bunch of warehouses close to the Bow Flyover is scheduled to become home to the entire world's media throughout that extra-special Olympic fortnight. There'll be a huge International Broadcast Centre located here plus an only-slightly-less-huge Press Centre, both less than 5 minutes walk from my house. To think, I might catch Sue Barker nibbling a McChicken sandwich in the drive-thru by the roundabout, or bump into the Bolivian equivalent of Gary Lineker buying deodorant in the nearby 24 hour Tesco. I'll have the perfect Grandstand view.

To find out more about all these proposals, complete with more pretty maps, take a look at the official website for London's 2012 bid, or click through the masterplan for the regeneration of the Lower Lea valley. Alas, all of these fine five-ringed dreams remain at the planning stage at the moment, and many of the proposals may never come to pass. But there seems to be an unstoppable political will to make sure that something happens round here in East London, even if the Olympics don't. So, I'd like to thank all of you out there in the rest of the country for your imminent generosity in pouring millions of pounds of taxpayers money into my community. We'll put on a good show for you, honest. Just give us a sporting chance.

 Friday, November 07, 2003

Smoke #2

I've recommended two magazines this year. The first was Word magazine, a monthly mix of music, books, gadgets, entertainment and culture. Started off really well back in February, but I've recently been rather disappointed and disillusioned by Word's evolution into a music, music, DVD and music magazine. Pity. And the second magazine was Smoke.

Smoke is a kind of London fanzine, first published in June, successful enough to be out again this month, and scheduled to be quarterly in the future. Joy. Black and white with a tasteful blue cover, Smoke peers out at the capital from an obtuse angle. It drips quirkiness, design and detail, and it demands to be read, owned and loved.

This month in Smoke... the desolation of Shoreditch station; Christopher Fowler observes the squirrels of Regent's Park (and the rest of London's Nature Wonderland); Trocadero hell; London's campest statue in Temple Place; bus route of the month is the number 360; spotlight on Putney; the inconsistency of the Monopoly board; prodigy houses; a London Shipping Forecast (Bow Church to Island Gardens, wind easterly 4 or 5, visibility moderate or good); dancing with poodles... Oh go on, read some proper snippets here. And then go buy your own copy for just £1.70 here. Quality.

 Saturday, November 01, 2003

c2c 4£1

There's a special offer on the trains all weekend, meaning that every journey on c2c (the London-Southend line) costs one quid. So I went exploring. For a start, I've never ever been to Fenchurch Street station before. This must be central London's most obscure manline station, tucked away off the beaten track in a forgotten corner of the City, and is virtually deserted at weekends. It's also the only mainline terminus without a tube station, so goodness knows how it got selected as one of the four 'famous' London stations on a Monopoly board. Fenchurch Street station, which is 150 years old next year, is a small Victorian island in a financial sea of concrete and glass. It's built on a viaduct above a three-storey warehouse and below a stack of new offices, and is everything that the commuters of Southend deserve.

I could have gone to Southend, but the first train out of the station was going somewhere far less glamorous - Grays. Final Destination. My train hurtled past the giant Ford works at Dagenham, across the bleak Rainham marshes, past docks, containers and refineries, on into grimmest Thurrock. Alongside this underused line the new high speed Channel Tunnel Rail link is being built, now just a grey pathway of concrete edging and portaloos. In three years time international Eurostar trains will speed this way, hopefully with the windowblinds down. Grays itself appeared to be a cheap shopping centre surrounded by featureless redbrick estates. Proud shaven-headed dads stood outside Iceland watching their offspring perform in the local talent contest hosted by the non-entity who came third in Fame Academy. Fat grans in light blue towelling buzzed past on mobility scooters, hoping to snap up some fake bargain jewellery on one of the market stalls. I stayed in the town no longer than 19 minutes.

Just four minutes up the line lies another very different shopping centre - Lakeside. Here are all the designer stores that Grays lacks, selling dreams to the upwardly mobile of Essex. Almost nobody arrives here by train, the sun glinting off the windscreens massing in the IKEA car park. The whole retail cathedral was packed with happy shoppers, out spending time spending money. A swarm of designer teenagers swept by on an urgent quest for the latest must-have accessory. Proud shaven-headed dads pushed their offspring around in turbo sports pushchairs, their waddling wives dripping with expensive carrier bags. Only just over 50 shopping days remain before Christmas, but I suspect this lot need little excuse to get out and flash their plastic.

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