London Games Legacy: Four Years On
As we watch the thirty first Olympic Games in Rio, it’s time to reflect on the emerging legacy of London 2012 and consider the longer term impact on all host cities once the fanfares have faded and the athletes departed for home. Having been involved in the selection of the East London site for our city’s games and then participating in drafting the brief for master planners, it’s very important to recognise the huge emphasis placed on two non-games factors in London’s bid; the joint objectives of achieving a successful urban regeneration project and delivering, at the same time, a sustained post games legacy.
The Lower Lea Valley, centred on Stratford was a part of London that the market alone wasn’t able to regenerate. Fragmented ownerships, a legacy of industrial contamination, poor connectivity and fractured communities all mitigated against significant private investment. The Olympic project and the wider transport infrastructure improvements meant these challenges could be overcome in a way that opened the door to private sector investment and stimulated a wider range of development activities, creating new homes, and new jobs.
The legacy promise is now being realised with the creation of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, thousands of new homes and digital industry employment opportunities at Here East. Education is provided too, Loughborough University is already up and running, the University College London campus, and UAL’s London College of Fashion as well as new primary and secondary schools are in the pipeline. The V&A and Sadlers Wells will also be moving to a new cultural and higher education district. The sporting legacy is also key, West Ham football club is taking residency in the main stadium, and the London Aquatics Centre and the Lee Valley VeloPark are now open to the public. Significant commercial development is underway too. New office buildings will be home to the FCA and TfL. CBRE figures indicate that office rents in 2010 were at £17 PSF, increasing to £32.50 PSF during the games. Today’s prime rent currently stands at £42.50 PSF.
This however is just the economics of the real estate market. Legacy for local people is a far more complex and sensitive area. It highlights the challenge faced by all urban regeneration projects, they need to be for everyone; otherwise they risk making housing stock unaffordable for local people, damaging fragile communities, creating greater division and increasing social isolation. During the Olympics we saw Westfield Stratford City, the largest shopping centre in Europe open, dramatically improving the retail and leisure offering in Stratford. Perhaps surprisingly instead of damaging the existing secondary centre, that too saw an upturn in its fortunes, proof that breadth of retail offer is what evolving and developing parts of London need to be successfully integrated communities.
If that was the challenge in London, imagine what Rio will face as a city where the contrast between wealth and poverty is extreme, against a background of very vocal opposition to the cost of the games. Legacy is a challenge for all host cities but what other social justification can there be for the cost of hosting the games unless the huge investment yields long term improvements for the communities it affects and the city as a whole. We’ll watch what happens in Rio with interest.
Developers, London, Regeneration,