Producing the Games
I am quoting from a forthcoming collection of essays, the result of the BCN-LON Work Party, held here in London last year together with the Fundació Ramon Trias Fargas from Barcelona, in an effort to re-think urban policy narratives in the two cities. In one essay, Lise Autogena, artist and NESTA Fellow in Residence at Imperial College in London, writes about a small park making way for a (footpath of a) Park.
“The Manor Garden Allotments in Hackney Wick go back to 1900 when a philanthropic landowner established the allotments for the local poor. Today there are eighty plots, providing food for over 150 families of Turks, Cypriots, Greeks, Jamaicans, Africans and Brits. Many of the gardeners have worked on their plots for decades – some since the 1920s when they had them handed down from their parents. This is a functioning and productive community, which has gardened through two world wars. It is now struggling to understand the Olympic planners’ intention to flatten their gardens in order to pave a footpath needed for the duration of the four-week Olympic event.
The irony is clear: in the midst of an area in need of regeneration, this is a sustainable land use which could feed into growing, learning and sharing food and culture, and which contributes to education, mental health, and sustainable land management. It is difficult to see the reasoning in removing it now that it’s very existence seems so entirely consistent with the philosophies of a green Olympic Legacy Park, which itself aims to deliver on environment, biodiversity and sustainable communities.”
A blog in support of the Manor Garden Allotments can be found here.
At Demos, we have been thinking about the Olympics for quite a while, consistently arguing that the Games will need to be a mass-collaborative activity. This is not just true for the event itself, but also for the production of its facilities. Now that the Lower Lea Valley is about to be transformed – the planning application has just been submitted, and somehow we need to hear again and again that it is ‘one of the biggest ever in Europe’ – it would be good to re-think the case of the Manor Garden Allotments before signing up unquestioningly to the Olympic delivery drive as ‘one for all, all for one’. There is little doubt that parts of the Lower Lea Valley would profit from the Olympic Legacy Park. But the symbolism of a 100 year old community park sitting in the way of a four-week footpath does raise questions. With any big show, symbolism is a key part of the equation. Hence it might be unwise to brush aside the allotments as marginal to the show we’ll see in 2012. They are a central part of the story.