Posted in London on Tuesday 14th August 2012 at 8:08am
This is something I posted on Facebook, largely in response to some of the negative comments I received following expressing my views on the London Olympics. It's not the post I'd like to have written which details my personal connection with the area, but it goes some way to explaining why I feel how I do about what's happened here over the last several weeks. It should be read as a hurried, rather fractious response to having to stay fairly quiet for a while!
So, it's over...
There have been some emotional moments over the past two weeks - from athletes shedding hard-earned tears of joy and pain on the podium, to people venting their spleen in my inbox! It's been a very strange and uncomfortable time to be an Olympic Sceptic, and I'm aware it's made me come across as more humourless and cantankerous than ever in the process. But was I anti-olympics really? I certainly think there were some amazing displays of endurance, strength, speed and humility - all the values which the Games were founded on. While I'm not a sports fan, and I didn't recognise most of the names which seem to have had everyone on the edge of their seats, I've never, ever commented negatively on Team GB or indeed any of the athletes from any nation. I wouldn't dare to have done - they're all astoundingly good at what they do and maybe the Games will propel a whole new generation of youngsters towards Rio in 2016 too?
My concerns about the Olympics are based essentially on two things - firstly, the big stuff: the whole circus of the bidding process, the role of the IOC and the financial risks to the host city, the security and militarisation which we may never now be rid of etc. Secondly, I'm really concerned about the specific effects on everyday life in a little corner of London - one that struggles and usually survives, but which is genuinely threatened by the 'legacy' if things go off course. I've not idly jumped on a bandwagon here just to be contrary. I've read many, many documents running to thousands of pages and learned a huge amount about democracy, planning and environmental issues. I've tried hard to see both sides and find the benefits among the drawbacks - and of course I recognise that there are benefits, but question where they'll land. I've repeatedly gone out and walked the park and it's environs as far as I've been able over the past seven years, trying to understand its changing role and character - and I'll carry on doing that. I don't do this for any reason other than finding it a fascinating and surprising, if perpetually liminal, place to wander. Not least, I worry a great deal about the acceptance of 'private' public spaces which are not for everyone - and the Park may well become one of these in time.
We may never know the real price tag - and the leaps in cost over time have casually and repeatedly multiplied a figure which was already so big that it was beyond comprehension for most of us. £2bn became £4bn, then £9bn then something closer to £11bn of public finance. This doesn't include the compulsory purchase of lands, remediation of polluted soil, or any contribution to the transport infrastructure or Westfield Shopping Mall. After all, these are being sold as Olympic Benefits! What is certain is that we can't afford this just now. As for Freedom of Information, the Olympic Delivery Authority is not a wholly public body - so we'll never really get the numbers.
The legislation which has entered statute around the Games is a really worrying legacy. It has seen global brands using the law to protect themselves from competition, has seen democratic and local planning processes sidelined, and has seen the individual rights of citizens limited. Today ministers are talking about retaining the relaxed Sunday Trading laws post-Games - in itself probably not a bad thing. But it illustrates how these laws will tend to remain in place, and how the right to walk certain paths, to protest peacefully and to choose which companies you support with your money has been eroded in the name of the London Olympics.
Life around the games was tough for people in Stratford, Hackney Wick, Leyton and Bow - from the start of "Dig, Demolish, Design" in 2007 right up to this morning. I number some of these residents as my friends and correspondents, and they've suffered upheaval with a degree of dignity because many of them thought this was a fantastic, positive expression of British hospitality and sportsmanship. However, it seems only fair then that these communities should share in the prosperity. Largely though, they didn't. They were treated desperately unfairly during the planning and building of the venues, were marginalised during the games, and the danger is that as the Olympic Park is transformed into its post-games state it will form a new, very separate neighbourhood which has nothing to do with the landscape it inhabits. For the people who were evicted from their homes and who saw their jobs moved away from the area though, they will defnintely not get to share in the local legacy of the games. And the term "legacy"? It has been strangely redefined during the games as something you can build in advance rather than something you leave behind. And again yesterday it was being hastily rewritten to focus solely on the sporting and cultural legacies, rather than the bricks and mortar and economic legacies which were a major component of the bid. I'll watch this process with interest over the coming months and years.
Finally the question comes - am I not proud to be British today? The answer is, yes I am - but some of the things I'm proud of are the facts that we can question the decisions of our authorities without fear of reprisals, can express our frustrations and disappointments alongside our triumph, and that we let local people have a say in what happens in their neighbourhoods. All of these things have suffered setbacks since July 2005, and not all of them due to the Olympics. However, it has provided the ultimate rug under which to sweep some pretty dramatic changes in the UK. It's time we stepped back from this mob-culture thing of "if you're not waving a flag you're clearly a terrorist" - it's lazy, dangerous and pretty damn silly.
I probably won't get back the lost Facebook friends and twitter followers - but if you actually know me in real life, none of the above will have surprised you one bit of course!
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.