The Olympic park: 2 years on

Student Life Travel

So I’ll admit it: I was a 2012 denier. And no, I’m not talking about the Mayan predictions that lead to almost $800,000,000 in box office takings for Sony pictures. 2 years ago today, while (what felt like) the rest of the country languished in post-Olympic blues, vowing half-heartedly to take up volleyball/fencing/{insert marginal sport here}, I sat grinning to myself, rejoicing in the return of a half-decent TV schedule and prospect of conversations at least marginally more stimulating than the shock at one person’s ability to complete a contrived and physically demanding task in a shade of a second less than some other.

As much as I was glad to hear about the positive impact the games were set to have upon East London, I struggled to hide my deep-seated belief that the biggest lasting legacy the games will have left in my life was Jessica Hynes’ performance in Twenty Twelve. That is, until this week.

Tired in equal measure of the tourist-packed desert that central London becomes for the duration of the summer months, and the deathly silence of the rural “idyll” that I call home, my godmother’s invitation to visit the latest addition to their local park scene (which already counts among its number Victoria park, host of the perennially popular Lovebox festival) was a welcome relief.

Bikes haphazardly strapped to the back of the car, we wound our way to Hackney

Armed with snacks (essential), rain protection (thankfully not), and bikes haphazardly strapped to the back of the car, we wound our way to Hackney, a constantly evolving borough within a stone’s throw of the park itself.

We cycle towards the entrance and at the first sighting of the green spaces my initial cynicism is washed away. Country bumpkin that I am, my eyes were inevitably drawn to the stunning array of trees and grasses that constitute the Parklands area, designed by Piet Oudolf, which plays host to an ever-expanding variety of native wildlife.

The whole of the Queen Elizabeth park area is accessible by bike, making it the perfect retreat for any car-weary Oxonian missing their two-wheeled friend in the 3 month long desert that is the long Vac, as well as allowing visitors to cover as much of the park as they wish at their own leisure.

Stadiums have been beautifully integrated into the park itself

While a few stadiums, such the basketball have been removed, the remaining Velodrome, hockey pitch and Aquatics park, amongst others, have been beautifully integrated into the park itself. This creates a space that locals genuinely seem to use and engage with, be it at regular swimming classes, hockey clubs, or simply as a children’s park.

PHOTO/Karlinski73
PHOTO/Karlinski73

For those who were unable to get their hands on tickets to the events, or who couldn’t get enough of it first time around, it provides a longer lasting benefit, and the increased popularity of the area is evidenced by a recent decision to promote Stratford to Zone 2 of the London Transport system. A local headmistress assures me that such developments are sure to have a positive impact on the local community, transforming what was once a marginal and polluted wasteland into the centre of an ever-expanding, progressive, new hub. Interestingly, it is precisely these changes that make the area so appealing for one-off visitors too. A train journey to Stratford from central London takes just 20 minutes, a journey rewarded with stunning views of the rest of the city.

A journey rewarded with stunning views of the rest of the city

We are, however, swung back to earth from the quasi-utopia of wide open spaces, leafy green enclaves and stunning architecture  as pass behind the aquatic park, confronted by a flashing sign advertising the Casino located within the Westfield shopping centre, a reminder of a commercialism that many consider to have tainted the games of 2 years ago. But such a memory is hardly the crash back to an unwelcome reality I expected. In truth, the park itself is mercifully free (in most places at least) of the industrial giant-sponsored hoarding that flashed across our screens at the mere mention of the Olympics; the little advertising we do see turns out to be pleasantly artistic boards publicising small, local businesses in the nearby hipster paradise that is Hackney Wick.

The result is undeniably successful

The result is undeniably successful. No doubt the big dogs we are all so familiar with played a significant role in making the games, and the stunning legacy possible at all, but any trace of their presence has been all but obliterated. The casino, if anything, is a reminder, not of the creeping commercialisation that haunts even the most innocent of spaces, but of the potential for these giants to co-exist both with smaller competitors, and pleasantly human, free spaces.

Unmissable amongst these small scale wonders is the View Tube community cafe, where imaginative flavours of homemade cakes make the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon coffee break. For the best views, grab a seat in the hidden-away garden at the back, amongst the raised beds of the verdant kitchen garden looking over Sir Anish Kapoor’s orbit, the tallest sculpture in the country.

PHOTO/Tom Page
PHOTO/Tom Page

I couldn’t help feeling that my previous scepticism may have been somewhat misplaced

Maybe it was the dark chocolate and stout cake talking, but I couldn’t help feeling that my previous scepticism may have been somewhat misplaced. There are few places in the city where you can see the happy co-existence of artisan coffee-wielding hipsters and rollerblading pre-teens, and it’s a real testament to the success of the park that it provides something that appeals to these radically different demographics and many others too.

PHOTO/Martin Pettitt

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