Green Olympics claims must be assessed

A long weekend of celebration was sealed with another internationally significant marriage at the 9th World Conference on Sport and the Environment in Doha, which came to a close yesterday. Though it lacked the same grandeur and sparkle of Mr and Mrs Future King, the conference – attended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – contained no less of the self-congratulation. The back slapping was mainly orchestrated by IOC President Jacques Rogue, who restated the IOC’s commitment to environmental sustainability as part of the Olympic Games, “We owe it to future generations to continue to promote our green agenda and ensure environmental sustainability in sport and I think we have taken a big step towards that with the Doha Declaration.” The declaration focuses on direct activities related to the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainable development in sport.

Rogge also insisted that efforts to make sport more sustainable, “set a new standard for environmental sustainability in construction practices, energy conservation and legacy planning.” It’s a bold statement, and a pretense which no doubt helped sway the Olympic bid decision. It comes back to the same word – legacy. As Spectacle has referenced numerous times on this blog, statements like this tend to go unchallenged and unnoticed. But thankfully, this hasn’t always been the case.

Wanstead Flats – one of the many public spaces to be transformed into concrete structures as part of the Olympics

There have been several reports and accounts of activities on behalf of the Olympic construction that have amounted to a very damning assessment of the Olympics’ green credentials. The biggest contradiction of the promised green legacy, is the slow disappearance of green public space in favour of concrete construction. Wanstead Flats, a vast open grassland in Epping Forest, will be an operational centre for the Metropolitan Police (you can see a short film of the Wanstead Flats protest here), Arena Fields and the East Marsh, a third of Hackney Marshes – which up until the Games was the largest amateur playing fields in Europe – will become a car park, Manor Gardens Allotments has also disappeared (you can also see footage and interviews of the Gardens before they were demolished here), Clays Lane – a self-sufficient green community – have been built over and their residents evicted, and a substantial amount of Greenwich Park will become an equestrian centre. This achieves the exact opposite of each of the activities listed above, as well as negative impacts on additional targets of sports participation, ecological biodiversity and opportunities for local residents. There is also a general fear that the facilities that the Olympics have promised to develop to replace the space lost will be inaccessible to many people due to private owners charging for use.

The Green Party have released a very critical report on the environmental impact of the Olympic Games, named Hurdles to Jump, which accuses the organisations behind the Olympics of setting very low environmental standards to begin with. Adam White, a spokesman for the Green Party, said that, “in many areas their future plans don’t go far enough.” Among the standards questioned by the publication include the slightly anaemic declaration that 3% of energy will come from solar and wind-turbine sources, and only 20% of the energy for the Olympic Village will come from renewable sources. To make a comparison with previous Olympic Games, every home in the Olympic Village in Sydney had a solar panel. The Greens also noted that the targets would not reach the more general environmental regulations that will be in place by 2012, as well as commenting on the allowances for car travel, “…the amount of car parking provided is too high for the goal of a 100% public transport, walking and cycling for spectators”. Traffic is forecasted to increase threefold in the aftermath of the games. Which if you’d promised less cars and not more cars could technically be spun as a surprise. Car parks have also, historically, proved to be a thorn in the side of environmentalism.

Olympics development on Hackney Marshes

One of the more high profile incidents has been the toxic waste cleanup operation which may well cost the taxpayer £12.7m, reported by the Guardian in November. Amongst other colourful chemicals released was vinyl chloride, which can produce microbes from solvents and remain in groundwater for decades. While this is a small drop in the ocean in comparison to the drastic overspend of the Olympic grand total, it is nevertheless money that could have been spent better elsewhere. Certainly better than a twirling steel tower. The discrepancies are stacking up, particularly with the revelations that the Olympics’ green targets aren’t particularly ambitious, and the premise of a green Olympics, a platform upon which the bidding committee stood proudly at the time of the announcement of London’s winning bid, looks to be slipping away.

One of the few legitimate arguments for the Olympics being a nomadic event is that it would act as a catalyst for sustainable investment and development, otherwise why not keep the Olympics in one location? Surely if the Olympics 2012 are judged to have failed to provide this investment – a huge opportunity for London and England to lead by example – then the travelling nature of the competition must be reconsidered in light of the sacrifices needed to stage it. The most interesting aspect of the argument is whether or not the various agencies behind the developments of the Olympics will be (or can be) held accountable, if indeed the legacies they promise do not materialise. The premise of a green Olympics was posted on this blog in the last few weeks, the trumpeting of positive grassroots sports and participation impacts has abruptly ceased due to reports that stated a contrary reality. Will the IOC and the London Development Agency (LDA) be allowed to quietly walk away if they fail to meet their green targets? If inaccurate claims on this scale are not challenged, then increasingly grandiose, unfounded promises will continue to be made to secure contracts that allow unchecked – and in many cases unlawful – planning and construction.

Sources: Raising The Bar, published by the Green Party; The Guardian; Londonoutloud.com; ODA’s Sustainable Development Strategy & Olympic.org (Official website of the Olympic Movement)

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Olympics 2012: Legacy, Land Grabs and Liberties

Olympics 2012: Legacy, Land Grabs and Liberties

Mark Saunders presentation at HafenCity Universität Hamburg department of Urban Design.

Thursday 13 Jan 2011. 7.30

In the Fog of Games the first casualty is the truth.  The Olympics, like other sporting spectaculars, are only brief and transitory television events that disguise and justify Mega projects of vast urban restructuring that permanently distort our cities for the benefit of a few business interests . The common features of these Mega projects are unprecedented land grabs, the peddling of myths of “regeneration”  and the “legacy” benefits for the host community, the sweeping away of democratic structures and planning restraints, the transfer of public money into private hands and “information management” to hid truths and silence critics.

Mark Saunders will be showing some “work in progress” extracts from Spectacle’s film on the London Olympics.

Zeit:
Donnerstag, 13. Januar 2011
19.00 Uhr

Ort:
HafenCity Universität Hamburg
Averhoffstraße 38
Erdgeschoss, Raum 16 b

Eine Veranstaltung im Rahmen der UD-Vortragsreihe “Feste feiern. Kollektivierungen urbaner Praxis”

For more details and maps

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London 2012 Olympics saved from cuts in Comprehensive Spending Review

Drapers Fields trashed for an Olympic depot

Grass roots sports lose- Olympics win

Schools and community sports will be the biggest losers under the Comprehensive Spending Review while the London Olympic project is likely to avoid major cuts to its budget or contingency. Losses of local sports amenities like Hackney Marshes and Drapers Fields as a result of the Olympics will now roll out across the nation as non-Olympic cuts hit.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is understood to have reached a settlement with the Treasury that will see about 30 per cent cut from its annual £1.6 billion budget. However London 2012 will  escape significant cuts to its £9.3 billion budget, and is expected to have its remaining contingency fund left largely untouched, partly out of necessity and partly expediency.

It is claimed that most of the major Olympic contracts have been awarded, so it is too late for major savings. The games are predicted to be completed with surplus contingency of £700 million. However the DCMS and the Olympic bodies have argued that is politically better to leave the contingency in place rather than take it back, and risk having to pay out in the event of an unforeseen crisis in the project.

The cuts to the DCMS budget will make it unlikely that the government can deliver on its promise of an abiding participation legacy from the London 2012 Olympics.
Sports minister Hugh Robertson will prioritise protecting funding for elite athletes in the run up to the London Games, and grass roots initiatives and projects run by UK Sport and Sport England’s will be cut.
Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell who told the nation the Olympics would only cost £3bn when it was nearer £10bn now claims she is concerned school sports initiatives will be hit by the cuts. So clearly nothing to do with her.

The details of the Olympic funding will not be announced by the Government on Wednesday. The cuts are likely to be made public on Thursday.

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Basildon is latest signing to Disgruntled First XI

Residents of Basildon are beginning a petition against yet more prospective public land sales to private developers in the wake of the agreed Sporting Village project. The public-private partnership between the council and construction company Morgan Sindall is part of the ‘Olympic Games’ Legacy’, and has already claimed a substantial piece of Gloucester Park, the town’s gymnastics club and Markham’s Chase Leisure Centre.

However, despite funding from sizeable organisations such as Sport England, there is an outstanding £19 million of the £38 million projected cost still to be paid, which means that other public areas have now been targeted by the council as expendable, notably including the Pound Lane Recreation Ground which is used by local clubs and youngsters.

Olympic preparations are already reducing local opportunities for sports activities

With the land in the hands of private developers, it will not only be used for the promised top-grade sporting facilities, as planning permission has already been sought for 73 homes on the former Markham Chase Leisure Centre site, and also 25 new houses on Northlands Park playing fields. This story is becoming a familiar sub-plot in the narrative of London 2012, with Hackney Marshes and Drapers Field in Waltham Forest also conspicuous casualties of the Olympic legacy.

Although the actions appear reactionary in frantically (and apparently reluctantly) trying to raise money for the benefit of the local area, the significant gap in funding suggests the opposite; that these areas of public use have been previously marked out for redevelopment at the expense of affordable – and often free – opportunities for local residents to play sport with the ultimate product being private gain. Many residents are also anxious that the planned facilities will be too expensive for them to use, and will only be exploited by elite sportsmen and women.

500 signatures have so far been garnered by those organising the petition, underlining the top-down approach to so-called public land.

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Park to be tarmaced for Olympics

Drapers Field, a park in Leyton that consists of all-weather football pitches, playing fields and an arts centre, is to be tarmaced over to serve as a storage depot for the London Olympics. While Waltham Forest council admitted that this would be a significant loss to the community – the park is used by around 100,000 people every year, including the Norlington School for Boys as well as 23 clubs – it still went ahead with the proposal, in the hope that the community will be granted substantial compensation.

Hackney Marshes – one of several parks to be redeveloped for Olympic facilities

This decision has caused uproar with local people because of the glaring contradiction of trying to promote sport as a co-operative, public activity whilst reducing opportunities for actively participating in sport. It also seems to be nonsensical to turn a park into a depot, search for alternative sites for sports activities and then restore the original site after 2012, when all the council or the ODA (Olympic Delivery Authority) would have to do is find an already existing depot in the area. These admittedly are of course hard to find in East London.

This is not the first requisition of public green space in the interest of the upcoming mega-event; a substantial chunk of Hackney Marshes has already been pocketed for the development of a VIP coach park.

This must also be frustrating for residents in a location where local sport – particularly in the shape of Leyton Orient FC who make use of the amenities – plays a positive role in the community. In the meantime, Norlington School for Boys face an uphill struggle to find fields for activities, and most likely a further dip into the school budget.

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Hold Olympics 2012 in Athens

Grafitti Athens 2004

Graffiti Athens 2004

The Greek government spent €25 billion on the Olympics. The austerity package they are undergoing will save €30 billion. Their plight therefore seems to be an Olympic Legacy effect. They also have expensive unwanted sports facilities rotting away unused.

The just as debt laden UK government proposes to find £6 billion in cuts in the coming year. The London Olympic 2012 project is costing £9 billion and rising.

I would therefore suggest that the Olympics 2012 are held in Athens and the London project is stopped before they vandalise Greenwich park and rip up the Hackney Marshes. This would allow the Greeks to get some use out of their sports facilities and perhaps earn some money to pay off  some of their debts. Recycling the buildings would also make it a greener low impact Olympics.

By the way the London 2012 organisers have not got insurance to cover the loss of revenue if the Icelandic volcano erupts and disrupts flights. Would you bet against it NOT erupting during the games?

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Interview with Johnnie Walker online now

An interview is now online with Johnnie Walker from the Hackney and Leyton Sunday league about the effects of the Olympics on Hackney Marshes football. To view this interview and other clips from our Olympics project please visit the Spectacle website.



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Olympics ‘not worth it’ say Hackney footballers

Spectacle went to Hackney Marshes to interview local footballers on what they thought of plans to turn their pitches into a coach car park for the Olympic stadium.

The East marsh, has a reputation all over the world for being home to the largest number of outdoor pitches in Europe. It is not just this reputation that will be lost if Olympic plans go ahead says locals. The deep community spirit the football games bring to Hackney will also disapear.

As one female footballer pointed out, they could play in Walthamstow but why should Hackney women’s team play in Walthamstow ‘its not right’. Many were highly sceptical that once the Olympic games were finished their precious  pitches would be returned to them.

The East marsh football games have been taking place for over 50 years. They have been kept going through rain or snow by the local community and easy availability of space.  Anyone who wants to can play.  For many who take part, losing all this for a the Olympics, which will only last 3 weeks, is just not worth it.

For more information on Spectacles Olympic Project please visit our Project Page

For Spectacles latest film on the Olympics please visit our archive page.



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