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Planning Displacement: The Real Legacy of Major Sporting Events

Three Games, three eviction stories. In September 2009 Planning Theory and Practice Magazine published, in its Interface section, three articles on displacement caused by three different mega-events, the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The publication is attached.

They are introduced by an article from Libby Porter, Lecturer in the Urban Studies Department at Glasgow University.

'All of the stories demonstrate just how marginalising and dispossessing the daily grind of policy and regulatory implementation can be. Processes like compulsory purchase are daunting in the extreme. The sheer volume of paperwork, the time taken, the deep uncertainty generated: all take their toll on health, livelihoods and wellbeing. When we take into account the extreme inequalities of power in those processes, and the outcomes they generate, they are also exposed as deeply unjust. Furthermore, they are indicative of a much wider erosion of trust in the public sector as a result of poor experiences and the resentment that follows. Whether it be planners or police officers, the sense that trust in public institutions has been completely abrogated in these stories is very apparent.'

Whilst displacement for mega-events tends to affect those living in the poorer parts of cities those affected will not necessarily share the same background.

1. “Just a person in a wee flat”: Being Displaced by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow’s East End

The first story recounts the experiences of Margaret Jaconelli, a homeowner facing dispossession to make way for the Commonwealth Games' Athletes' Village. In fact, the process began some years earlier when Glasgow Council decided to 'redevelop' Glasgow's East End. The newly created wilderness was then discovered to be a suitable site for the Commonwealth Games. She has found herself left in sole occupation of a tenement block after all the other residents, who were tenants in social housing, had been moved out.

'We were only in the house a few years and the Housing Association came in and bought it back off us. Then we had to be in it another 15 years for me to go back in to buy it [back] from the Housing Association. We started renovating it for the long-term, because we’ve got four boys and we thought one of them would have wanted it. We had only owned it again for a few years and that was when they came [in 2000] and said the building’s coming down. When they came to tell us the building was coming down, they took my details and asked about what we would need in a new house [a new scheme was being built nearby], and I said I would like an apartment. They said that’s okay, and put me down for that. But then later they said we can’t give you a house, you’re not entitled to it.

You’re an owner-occupier. See if they’d given me a wee house down there, I would’ve been quite happy to go. I wouldn’t be here.

Anyway, that was us. We just had to sit tight then, and wait.'

Her account deals with the difficulties an owner faces when dealing with a local authority which fails to negotiate a deal for her removal and abandons her in a wasteland of its own creation.

'the next morning I had a letter from the Council. My lawyer wrote back and said we were willing to negotiate. Never heard any more until last week a neighbour round the corner came in and said, “Margaret, they’re compulsorily purchasing you, I’ve got the letter here with your address listed on it.”

I’ve never had any negotiations [with the Council], we’ve never sat down and talked about
money.'

'I’ve been here six years myself . . . . six years alone. The last person before me, my neighbour upstairs, she went away in 2002, round to the new houses in Dalmarnock Road they built. And I’ve been here for six years alone.'

2. Olympian Masterplanning in London

The second report is by Julian Cheyne, a social housing tenant of the Clays Lane estate, formerly a housing Co-operative taken over by a housing association, the Peabody Trust, which was demolished to make way for the London Olympics. He recounts what it is like to be confronted by authorities who rig the rules to ensure a mega-event will be delivered on time and how lying is just another weapon in their arsenal of persuasion.

'The first thing the London Development Agency (LDA) said, when they came to talk to the Clays Lane community at the end of November 2003, was “your estate is going to be demolished even if the Olympics don’t come to London.” They even showed us a plan setting out what was in store as part of a non-Olympic scenario. We did a little research and asked a Freedom of Information question of the LDA and were told there was no plan! Later, we found in the evidence to the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) Inquiry of the Olympic masterplanner, EDAW, that this non-Olympic plan had only been commissioned in June 2004. This was six months after the LDA visited Clays Lane, and the plan was then abandoned as unviable. They had deliberately lied and this set the tone for what was to happen from then on. They just wanted to demoralise us and convince us opposition was pointless.'

Promises flow abundantly in the lead up to the planning applications but bear little resemblance to reality. But a vast publicity machine backed by all levels of power swings into action to persuade the public that the Games will deliver benefits to all. In the meantime, while promises are made to support local communities the one facing demolition receives little or no help in its fight to stay in existence.

'The LDA declared its intention to support and sustain communities. One of the questions asked in the survey concerned the possibility of moving as a community. However, despite the fact that the survey discovered that half the residents might be interested in this option no action was taken to make this a reality from the time it was first suggested in 2003, before the survey, until the spring of 2006 after the relocation programme had started. A new survey in 2005 omitted the question altogether.'

The article also looks at others who lost out. The compulsory purchase process is about transferring resources and assets from one group of people to another. Almost 5,000 jobs were moved out of the Olympic Park, most of them away from the immediate locality. Of these 1,200 were moved out of the four East London Olympic Boroughs. Local businesses did not just lose their existing sites they also lost the opportunity to profit from the rising land values in the area, prices which were rising before the Olympics came as the area was proving attractive to housing developers.

'The sale of compulsorily purchased land to developers is supposed to recoup the cost of the Games. This, of course, required the destruction of the industrial sector around Marshgate Lane. The LDA presented this part of the Lea Valley as an extensive rubbish tip. David Higgins, Chief Executive of the ODA, called it “a scar”. However, this industry provided 1,200 jobs for local people which have now been moved out of the area. These jobs will be replaced by “clean” high tech jobs, which, for the most part, will not match the skills of local people. Existing businesses in the Olympic Park were selling land to housing developers before the Olympics came. Now the LDA will reap the profit from these sales and most of the land will have to be sold for expensive private development with a lower proportion of “affordable” housing.'

3. Closing Ceremonies: How Law, Policy and the Winter Olympics are Displacingan Inconveniently Located Low-Income Community in Vancouver

The third story is from Vancouver where David Eby, who is the Executive Director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, describes the impact of the Winter Olympics on the Downtown Eastside of the city. His account deals with a whole neighbourhood but focusses on the most marginal elements in the community who often have no home at all.

'My trip to work, almost exactly one year out from the Games, is interrupted as I watch a police car pull up alongside the homeless camp. The police officer who exits his car looks at a jumble of belongings, what many who work with the homeless informally call a “nest”. The nest consists of a shopping cart, a red gym bag, some building materials, cardboard, and some blankets. A plastic bag of soda cans, almost as good as currency in our neighbourhood, sits in the cart, on top of wire trimmings and various bits of scrap metal that will bring in some revenue from the nearby scrap metal dealer.

“Is this yours?” the police officer says to me, pointing at the nest. I tell him that they’re not my belongings. He canvasses two other individuals within fifty feet, and they both deny ownership. With due diligence complete, he makes a circular motion with his index finger towards the dump truck, directed at the city workers. They begin throwing the belongings into the garbage truck. At that point I pull out my cell phone and start recording, unable to believe that after 30 seconds on site, this officer was willing to throw away what appeared to be someone’s meagre life belongings.'

David Eby describes how, in response to protests about the likely impact of the Games on inner city communities, the authorities promised a legacy of affordable housing and action to prevent displacement. It made little difference.

'The ICI promises have been almost completely ignored. No security consultation with the inner city has taken place, despite increasingly sophisticated dress rehearsals of the finalized security plan by Olympic security forces. No amendments to the notoriously weak Residential Tenancy Act have been made to prevent mass low-income tenant evictions by landlords with dollar signs in their eyes. No new Olympic-related social housing units will be opened before the Games are here, and those that were scheduled to be located in the Olympic village are now unlikely to ever be occupied by any currently homeless individual due to cost overruns.'

Instead the usual experience of Olympics was reproduced in Vancouver with increasing harassment of activists and roundups of the homeless.

'All of these incidents have been completely unique in my experience in the DTES as a lawyer for the past four years, and they all occurred over a period of days. The homeless in the neighbourhood have almost always been left alone in favour of larger issues like drug dealing, open drug use, and associated violence. Not any more. This significant increase in police harassment, mostly taking the form of street checking and ticketing of the homeless for minor offences such as biking without a helmet, street vending, spitting and jaywalking, was accompanied by the public release of the 2009 VPD business plan (Vancouver Policy Department, 2009). The plan promised an acceleration of the crackdown, including a minimum of four street checks per block by each VPD member in the DTES, a 20% increase in bylaw tickets issued by the VPD in the DTES, and a crackdown on “chronic bylaw offenders” by forcing these individuals to court where they could face “no-go” orders limiting their access to parts of the neighbourhood.'

But the authorities insisted this had nothing to do with the Olympics. Or even that they were doing anything out of the ordinary.

'In a series of meetings I had, both public and private, with the VPD during and following the events I witnessed, they insisted repeatedly that their ticketing and street check tactics had absolutely nothing to do with the upcoming 2010 Olympics. They told me, “Please stop this Olympic rhetoric, you’re scaring the heck out of the community members.” They disputed even that their December ticket and street check totals, along with the business plan, constituted a crackdown on the poorest of the poor. They explained that they were just doing their best to keep order in a chaotic environment; it wasn’t anything different from their usual day-to-day policing.'

Finally, the Interface concludes with a commentary by Hendrick Wagenaar, associate professor of Public Policy at the Department of Public Administration at Leiden University.

'These stories may even come as a shock to those of us who work closely with public officials who exhibit the reasonableness and public ethos one can expect from being in the service of an open, democratic government. Instead what we encounter here are stories of duplicity, deception, outright manipulation of rules, and a cold-hearted, calculating willingness to ride roughshod over the lives of ordinary citizens.'


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