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In search of legacies lost

The former Arena Field, site of the Media Centre, in 2008The former Arena Field, site of the Media Centre, in 2008

Runners are sent ahead to drum up excitement; the circus rolls into town, and the people pay. Show over and profits taken, the circus pulls out, leaving behind mere memories and mess.

The five ring circus works on similar lines over a longer eight-year timescale. Why did London agree to host this circus? The time to reject a London Olympics was during the bid stage, back in 2004-2005. But at the time, the No London 2012 campaign was tiny; the main political parties and mainstream media backed the bid; and cynics were convinced it would go to France, so they barely bothered to engage. Consent was manufactured on promised legacies – 'regeneration', 'health' and 'sporting'. These promises are turning out to be myths but by the time realisation began to dawn, it was too late for resistance. Olympic bids have been seen off, in part due to popular resistance, in Amsterdam in 1986, in [correction: Leipzig in 1992] Berlin in 1993 and, more recently, Chicago's 2016 bid and Annecy's Winter Olympics 2018 were defeated. However, only once, in 1976 Denver, have residents rejected an Olympics after the bid was won.

Cuisante défaite d'Annecy 2018 : les anti-JO exultent ! from La Voix des Allobroges Locals celebrating the defeat of the Annecy 2018 bid

I live in one of those 2012 'Host Boroughs' where the Olympics' parasite feeds and I contribute to the GamesMonitor website. Our strapline is 'debunking Olympic myths'. What fascinates me is how the stories change and the goalposts get shifted over time. Here are two Hackney tales.

London Fields Lido has become part of the Olympic mythology. Closure of the Lido was forced by Tory cuts in the 1980s and Hackney's plans to demolish were only stopped by 18 years of grassroots campaigning. Eventually, Hackney refurbished the Lido and it has been very popular since reopening in 2007. Three years later there were reports in the media that the US swimming team would use it as their base. Then in May 2011, Hackney announced that the US Paralympics swimmers would use it for training. This means that, although the Lido has long been a community resource or, when closed, the subject of a community campaign, it will almost certainly be claimed as part of the 'Olympics legacy'. Thus, history is rewritten in the form of 'legacy' myths.
'Hackney One Carnival': Streets lined with spectators as the 'Hackney One Carnival' passes London FieldsThe event formerly known as the Hackney Mare de Gras passes London Fields rebranded as the 'Hackney One Carnival'. See Cultural Olympiad or Olympics Cull?

The Media Centre is Hackney Mayor Jules Pipe's greatest claim to legacy. Originally proposed as a temporary facility in Stratford, in 2006 it was announced that the International Broadcast Centre and Main Press Centre would be permanently located in Hackney, giving a post-Games employment legacy. In previous Olympics the media centres had been temporary, so this new approach suited the rhetoric of a Games based on sustainable 'regeneration'. Jules Pipe and apparatchiks seized on the opportunity, trumpeting this legacy win as the greater good in mitigation for the loss of Metropolitan Open Land on Hackney Marshes (Arena Field and White Hart Field).

In 2008 the Olympic Delivery Authority confirmed the proposal to create a hub for the creative industries, but by then we were in the throes of the global financial crisis. Private funding collapsed and the scheme was bailed out from the public purse. In 2009 responsibility for the Media Centre was passed on and the Olympic Park Legacy Company was tasked with finding anchor tenants for after the Games. Chair Baroness Ford told the Greater London Assembly in 2010, “We are working to a Plan A, and Plan A is to try to deliver that vision of ... a cluster of media uses and related educational uses on that site.”

In September 2010, the London Assembly reported [PDF] that “The Government has stated its ambition that 12,000 jobs will be based in the Olympic Park after 2012, and it has been estimated that the Media Centre could provide two-thirds of these.”

However, in February 2011 emerged an "Off-piste bid for Hackney's media hub ... Basically, the company behind Dubai's Ski Dubai, the world's first indoor ski resort, wants to create a winter sports-anchored resort.” The fabled jobs legacy was missing, 'sustainability' had gone up in smoke, but the plan still stopped short of the unmitigated disaster of warehousing sheds.

In November 2011, bidding formally opened for post-Games use of the Media Centre. Guy Nicholson, Hackney Council cabinet member for regeneration and the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, was still claiming that the Media Centre’s infrastructure presented “a great opportunity to enable a wider community to take part in... prosperity”. The Hackney Citizen noted that “A proposal from the Wellcome Trust sought to buy up the entire Olympic Park and Village and build 'a world-class centre for technology and innovation, and up to 7,000 high-quality new jobs'.” Conversion of the Media Centre into a science research centre could have come close to fulfilling the original legacy promises. Instead, a Qatari bid to buy out the Olympic Village was favoured.

The Media Centre: from Eastway Bridge on 8th July 2012 at the end of the first Open Our Towpath protest against the closure of the towpath.The Media Centre: from Eastway Bridge on 8th July 2012 at the end of the first Open Our Towpath protest against the closure of the towpath.

The Media Centre's future was still up for grabs. There was talk of a bid to turn it into a data centre after the Games, but no acknowledgement that data centres do not create large numbers of jobs. Other possibilities included populating the Media Centre with a consortium of fashion brands, turning it into a sports retail hub, or creating a theme park. The Wellcome Trust were believed to be considering a bid and there were reports of negotiations with the BBC, which considered using the centre as a studio in which to film Eastenders and other programmes. The Olympics Park Legacy committee produced a list of potential occupants including Channel 5 and The Truman Brewery, but while these might take tranches of space at the Centre, they would not anchor the development.

Hackney Wick streetart: Across the Cut from the 2012 site is Hackney Wick, likely be the most highly-contested visual environment in the area.Hackney Wick streetart: Across the Cut from the 2012 site is Hackney Wick, likely be the most highly-contested visual environment in the area.Then there were hopes that multibillion-dollar Google would lease the Media Centre, hopes reported dashed in January 2012. Three months later a final bid was due from Oxylane, but they pulled out. Two rival bids were shortlisted: iCITY (an ‘Innovation City’) and UK Fashion Hub.

Now, ‘Games Time’ is upon us, and there are no firm details on the employment legacy of the Media Centre. The same is the case with the Main Stadium, where the bidding process has been extended again. We are left guessing what ‘the legacy’ might be; at GamesMonitor we refer to it as ‘the aftermath’.

The above text first appeared in the July 2012 print issue of the Occupied Times of London, online version of OT15 here. My own photos, captions and links have since been added.

UPDATE:
On July 17th, it was announced that iCity was the preferred candidate

The iCITY bid anticipates creating 4,600 jobs directly on the site with a further 2,000 resulting from a local supply chain, shops and cafes, based on a report by Oxford Economics.

(That suggestion of 2000 new jobs in the local sub-economy seems quite a bold claim?)
Of course, Mayor Jules Pipe is delighted!


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