Over the last 50 years, East London has felt the extraordinary impacts of global economic change, losing hundreds of thousands of jobs with thousands of acres of land falling vacant. The Docks shut, industry left and, indeed, continues to leave. Since the 1970s, there has been a long effort to regenerate east London with the aim ultimately of renewing it at a scale sufficient to completely reinvigorate economic and community life. There has been huge investment in transport – road improvements, the Docklands Light Railway network, the Jubilee Line extension, the east London line extension, the international rail link and station at Stratford, with Crossrail still to come. Off the back of this, major developments have occurred. The City has built eastwards. Greenwich Peninsula has been cleared of polluted ground and the O2 is its flagship for change. Canary Wharf has grown to 100,000 jobs and that number is projected to double once Crossrail opens. Much development has taken place in the Royal Docks, including UEL’s pioneering Dockland Campus, with much more to come including a cable car link over the Thames and the Siemens Pavilion. With Stratford City opening, Stratford is on course to be the centre of east London. UEL with partner Birkbeck, University of London, is creating the University Square development in the middle of Stratford.
The next huge milestone in this story is the Legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. A very large area populated with low value uses, or indeed derelict, has been cleared and a vast quantity of polluted soil remediated. The extensive waterway system has been cleaned. The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the size of St James’ Park in central London, will comprise a large natural area to the north and a more formal plaza to the south fully open to the public. Around the Park, five international quality sports venues, the broadcast and press centres, the Athletes Villageand the giant Orbit sculpture will remain. After the Games, a large amount of high quality development land will be released for housing, amenities and business to be developed over the next 20 years.
UEL has been integrally involved in east London’s regeneration for two decades. We aim to contribute to the success of the Olympic Park in Legacy, using the venues for sport, delivering programmes in the Park, developing sport across east London’s communities, helping young athletes realise their talent and supporting elite sport and regular competitions including international events. We share the vision that the Olympic Park can become a great place to live and work, to watch and participate in sport and a great visitor destination. We also actively support the aim of the host Olympic & Paralympic boroughs, the GLA and Government that the outcome of regeneration should be the ‘convergence’ of east London with London in socio-economic terms. East London should be distinct for many things, but in terms of work, education, health, and so on, the lives of east Londoners should not differ in quality or expectancy from those of Londoners generally. As an institution with a unique, cosmopolitan mix of east London, London and international students, we see our aims of promoting educational opportunity, entrepreneurship and research as strongly aligned to the convergence goal.
There are many challenges to realise convergence. It is a long-term programme. The Olympic Park and its development land are though a tremendous asset to make that programme work. The site, unusually for an Olympic Park, is not on the outskirts of the city – Stratford is closer to the City of London than the M25 London ring road. It is in the heart of the capital and has the capacity to be one of London’s great places. In our view, by the 2030s, Stratford will be seen as the eastern end of central London for the 21st century.
The Olympics and Paralympics, and the redevelopment they have caused, are therefore part of a process of change and renewal at a world city scale which will ultimately last well over half a century. As one of the great milestones in that process, they bring the world’s largest peacetime event to east London. Their long-term significance though is adding to the momentum of regeneration through their place-making effects. The expertise of staff at UEL has been engaged with many aspects of that place-making from health and sustainability to housing and entrepreneurship.
By John Lock,
Director of the 2012 Office,
University of East London