News / Europe

Olympic Construction Brings Big Changes to E. London

Al Pessin
LONDON — The 2012 Olympic Park is in East London, a poor area that was largely ignored until the city won the right to host the games seven years ago.  Since then it has been transformed.  But some people question whether the changes were as positive as officials claim, and how the area will fare after the Games are over.

Rebuilding East London was part of the 2012 Olympics plan from the very beginning, with an environmental cleanup, new housing, stores and parks, as well as the sports facilities.  The goal was to make this a prosperous, integral part of London in a way it had never been.

So Olympics organizers created Olympic Park Legacy Company to plan for the future from the very beginning.  The company promises park land, access to first class sports facilities, thousands of jobs and a more vibrant local economy.

"This park has been invested in," said Peter Tudor, one of the senior officials behind Olympic Park Legacy Company.  "It used to be almost wasteland.  There were some factories here.  There were some disused areas.  There was a lot of junk that had been dumped here.  But now it's a beautiful park and it becomes a new park for the city."

Most of what is now the Olympic Park was either abandoned or occupied by factories and businesses.  One of them was the Forman and Sons fish smoking business, run by Lance Forman, who decided to build his new factory, along with a restaurant, art gallery and party venue, just a few hundred meters from the old one, in the shadow of the new Olympic Stadium.

"People come here now, people who lived in London all their lives, and they come to events or to our restaurant and they look out of the window and they say 'Oh my God, I didn't realize this part of London existed.'  Well I think that when the Olympics happens, you're going to have half a million people here on our doorstep every day.  They will love it and they will want to come back," said Forman.

But some local residents are not happy with the redevelopment that the Olympics brought, including Julian Cheyne, whose apartment building was torn down to make way for the Park.

"I'm not saying there hasn't been a transformation," Cheyne explained.  "The question is whether it's a desirable transformation in what they've done now, or whether it was so bad in first place.  The kind of language which is used, 'urban desert' and a 'scar,' is simply not true."

Cheyne believes the Olympic facilities will not benefit the people who live nearby and says redevelopment was beginning to happen anyway.

Much of the impact of the Olympics in East London will not be known for years, maybe decades.  But Peter Tudor of Olympic Park Legacy Company is eager to get started.

"We've been planning for this for a long time and we can't wait to get our hands on the park and get to work," Tudor said.  "We can make a difference with these venues.  Come back in a few years' time and we'll show you how we've done it."

With a string of broken promises in some past Olympic cities, many people will be doing just that.

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