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'After' (OED) the Games, the Park

It’s difficult to keep track of the changing size and definition of the much vaunted ‘largest new park, or new urban park, in Europe, or in London, for 200, 150, 100 years'. In fact it can't even claim to be the largest new urban park in London in the last 20 years. First it was 129 hectares, then it was 110, 102 and now perhaps just 100 hectares. And is a car park parkland? At one time, according to the ODA, it wasn’t but now apparently it is when it is in an Olympic legacy park and so is the field of play of the Main Stadium, even though it is in the middle of a large building.

The new park includes 45 hectares of ‘habitat’ but then that was the amount of habitat in this part of the Lea Valley before the Olympics. And 92.8 hectares of open space was already available, including the former Eastway Cycle Track, most of which has been incorporated into the new park. Plans for Stratford City, drawn up before the Olympic Bid, showed parkland on the west side of the River Lea where most of the new open space is to be located showing that this idea was already in the public arena.

Back in January 2009 I asked the ODA how they had arrived at the conclusion that the open space in the Olympic Park was the largest new urban park in Europe for 150 years. The ODA replied ‘CABE Space and the London Parks and Green Spaces Forum have assisted the ODA in preparing benchmark studies on parks around the world and in London including previous Olympic Parks. Our understanding is that the Olympic Park will be the largest urban park of its type in Europe.’ That ‘understanding’ hardly seemed conclusive when there were much larger parks in places like Katowice and Duisburg. But the ODA dismissed these as different ‘types’ of park.

A few weeks ago I decided to ask them again whether they had made any further checks on other European parks: ‘As you have now had several years to make comparisons with other European parks I would be grateful if you could provide me with the comparisons you have now made in order to establish that this is the largest urban park in Europe for 150 years.’ However, the ODA had not seized the opportunity. ‘We can confirm that no new comparisons between the Olympic Park and other European parks have been carried out. The statement made in the sustainability document you refer to in your request is based on the comparative studies we have already provided you with information about in response to your request reference EN00285 dated 22nd April 2009.’

Bizarrely, in that reply the ODA had referred me to the Oxford English Dictionary to explain how everything depended on the definition of the word ‘after’. ‘The focus of the London 2012 Games will be the Olympic Park in east London, which will house the new sports venues. After the Games the area will be transformed into the largest urban park created in Europe for more than 150 years.’

‘It is implicit in these sentences that there could be no “Olympic Park” (our emphasis) without the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games (the Games). The comparisons between the urban park created post the Games with other parks created post an Olympic and/or Paralympic Games is stated in the following sentence “After the Games the area will be transformed into the largest urban park created in Europe for more than 150 years.” The word “after” being used in terms of the Oxford English Dictionary definition “the time following and (sic) event”, in this case the event is an Olympic and/or Paralympic Games.'

It is unclear how this makes it the ‘largest new park in Europe for 150 years’ as opposed to the largest urban park created in Europe for more than 150 years ‘after’ (OED definition) an Olympic and/or Paralympic Games.

But that’s not all. The ODA went on to say they had ‘studied the most recent modern Olympic Parks which would be relevant comparators’, which included ‘Munich, Los Angeles through to Beijing.’ Of course, Los Angeles and Beijing are not in Europe as they went on to point out, so actually the comparison was with Munich, Barcelona and Athens. In fact they restricted their comparison to Barcelona and Athens, but I will be generous as they did also refer to Munich.

So that’s the largest new park by comparison with three European Olympic Games!

Rather confusingly they then said ‘while we have compared the London 2012 Olympic Park against other parks which were created post an Olympic and/or Paralympic Games, we have also considered other parks which were not created post a Games.’ But ‘The ODA does not have a list of parks which specifically compares their size against that of the Olympic Park as well as reasons why they do not “meet the criteria of the 2012 park”, nor are we required to create new information in order to answer your request’.

So they do not have specific comparisons with other parks and nor do they know the specific reasons why they don’t meet the criteria of the 2012 park. One such failure might be considered a misfortune, two looks like carelessness.

And what did they have to say about Katowice and Duisburg? Katowice is dissed because its development was ‘prompted by a voluntary membership of several cities’ while Duisburg is dismissed because it is ‘a regional scale park’. And, of course, they were not created after an Olympic and/or Paralympic Games. Yet the Olympic park also arises from the (possibly) voluntary membership of ‘several boroughs’ and the area of the park is run by an organisation called the Lea Valley ‘Regional’ Park Authority, which still owns most of the land and describes itself as governing a region. Indeed it closed the Eastway Sports Centre because it considered it a local not a regional facility. But it is true they weren't created after an Olympic and/or Paralympic Games.

Reassuringly with the ODA there is old fashioned bureaucratic obstruction. Defiantly they declare they are not ‘required to create new information’ to answer my request.

They do themselves an injustice. They have been very creative with their information,


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