The third of the Society's Saturday Morning Planning School talks was on Saturday 4th November 2017 with Dr Paul Watt of Birkbeck College University of London discussing regeneration projects: what is meant by ‘urban regeneration’ and an examination of what is referred to as ‘sports-led regeneration’ with particular analysis of the 2012 London Olympic Games. Barry Coidan reports.
Dr Watt’s talk - “London 2012 and the post - Olympics city - a hollow legacy?
” began with an overview of urban policy, and regeneration in the UK and Europe. We then looked at recent Olympic Games and their raison d’être besides being sporting spectacles, before focusing on the London 2012 Olympics and its stated aims, the geographical area it was to impact on and its outcomes.
is broad brush: focused on area or territorial impact, not geared to a specific clientele, service provision or benefits. Regeneration
seeks to bring about physical renewal as well as social and economic improvement to the area affected. This change is to be sustainable and achieved through a mix of private, public and voluntary sector involvement.
There was, however, little evidence that government decision making recognised that urban regeneration affected different people differently. This lack of recognition in developing a regeneration strategy - asking who it was for, who are to be the real beneficiaries - would impact on the desired outcomes.
Examples of regeneration programmes in action can be seen at city and local levels. At the citywide level, New York illustrates how a city can re-imagine and re-invigorate itself. By the 1970’s New York was seen as run down, crime ridden and failing - the effect of de-industrialisation, loss of identity and job losses. Through citywide and local redevelopment, New York has remade itself as a post industrial city - somewhere you’re proud to call home -”I love NY” encapsulated that change.
The establishment of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao acted as a catalyst - attracting vibrant service industries and with many of the former industrial areas being transformed into modern public and private spaces designed by several of the world's most renowned architects and artists.
In London there are examples of regeneration projects at the neighbourhood level. The redundant power station in a rundown part of London - Southwark - was transformed into Tate Modern Art Gallery - and in the process rejuvenated and invigorated the area around it. Shoreditch, once a run down, working class area, now sees its old industrial buildings house creative industries, flats and art studios.
There are considerable attractions in hosting a large sports or cultural event
. Besides the length of the event and its scale, they attract worldwide advertising and publicity. It can also help deliver other objectives. For example, Barcelona’s main drivers of the 1992 Games were regeneration, region building and reindustrialisation with diversity in tourism and other industries. For the Chinese, the Beijing Olympics in 2008 was exposure on the world stage through massive media coverage and through delivering a first class, well run event - international prestige.
This brings us to London
in 2012. The emphasis was on “the legacy” the Games would hand onto East London - the 6 “Olympic boroughs” (Newham, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest, Hackney, Greenwich and Barking and Dagenham) were amongst the poorest and most deprived in London. The legacy was to ensure that they shared in a regeneration which would, over 20 years, give their constituents the same social and economics chances as their neighbours across London. This “convergence” was to be measured and monitored against a series of indicators, including education, health, poverty and crime.
In terms of the immediate impact, the London Games can be seen as a success. There was huge tourist growth, and 10% of the 46,000 employed on the site that were previously out of work came from the area. The work, however, was short term. The physical legacy was impressive: new sports stadiums, new park, and a new neighbourhood - East Village. There were 2000 new homes (51% private, 49% social housing). The area was totally unlike the surrounding areas with wide streets and open spaces contrasting with the East End’s narrow crowded streets. With a state of the art health centre and 5 new neighbourhoods the build legacy was considerable.
When, however, it came to the convergence indicators the picture was less rosy. Analysis over the period 2009 and 20015, three years before and after the Games, showed that whilst the educational targets along with those for employment rates, cancer mortality rates and additional housing had been met or were on target, others did less well. Unemployment rates may have improved over the base line but weren’t on track to meet the 2020 target, the same applied to under 75 mortality rates, and levels of violent crime. In earnings - the gap had widened; the gap between median weekly earnings between the 6 boroughs and the rest of London in 2009 was 6.6% and in 2015 it stood at 7.3% - a long way off the convergence target of 3% by 2020.
In fact, since the Olympics debt levels in the area have risen, with Newham having the highest level of personal debt in the country. How had this happened? Half of the population rent privately with some 30% on social housing. In June 2011 rents on average were £800 a month, now they are around £1200. Whilst rents rose significantly income growth was considerably less. Levels of debt have risen because people have to borrow to meet increased living costs due to rental increases.
We next looked at the effect staging the Olympics in Newham had on young people in the area. A study of the experiences of young, homeless people in two Olympic cities (Vancouver 2010 and London 2012) between 2010 and 2013 and a London follow up in 2014 painted a less than rosy picture. The young people at a hostel in Stratford were asked for their views on the stated aims of the Olympic bid. There were positive views expressed - excitement at having the Games in London. Their area felt safer with the increased police presence, there was a “community feel.” On the negative side, the improvements didn’t benefit them, they felt targeted by the police, and neighbourhood resources became too expensive, with the prospect of having to move out of the area because of the increased rents. There was plenty of new apartments and offices but no affordable housing for these young people. Whilst there were comments about how the area had been “beautified”, others wondered why only when there was the Olympics did anyone bother: Stratford had been run down for years and nothing had been done about it.
Generally views were negative. The young homeless didn’t think the improvements were for them: for example, the local Mondo cafe which they’d used in the past, was too dear for them.
The Olympics promised jobs for local people, and several people at the hostel found work, although there was huge competition and in any case the work was temporary. Between 2010 and 2014 young people found it more difficult to get social housing - Council cut backs and council housing re-prioritisation reduced their access. Even the hostel was downsizing in 2014 and the youth found themselves back home with their parents or in expensive private renting.
A Housing legacy?
Two of the criteria of success the 2012 Olympics was to be judged against was additional housing and reduced overcrowding. Certainly there was and continues to be new building - except as more than one of the young people commented it wasn’t for them. It was neither affordable rent nor purchase. Newham and Waltham Forest - two of the Olympic boroughs - had witnessed double digit house price inflation in 2015. Newham was London’s “Buy to Let” hotspot. Stratford has been renewed but that renewal has bypassed those who were meant to benefit from the “Olympic effect”. 1 bedroom flats over £600k are for sale in a borough which has some of the most overcrowded properties in the country.
“Affordable” rents are not affordable as they’d take between 40 to 50% of take home pay in those in three of the boroughs. In the Olympic boroughs temporary accommodation and homelessness is higher than before 2012. Households in temporary accommodation had risen by 41% between 2012 -2015: this compares with an increase of 32% across London - itself a worrying figure. The London Borough of Newham houses 4100 plus households in temporary accommodation. Of those 41% are housed in other local authorities. A young British black found herself temporarily housed in a hostel for the mentally ill in Wandsworth. She was pregnant. After 6 weeks she was moved to a B&B in Forest Gate. Another black woman was moved out to Bexhill - the alternatives were Birmingham or Manchester. In some cases temporary accommodation turns out to be 4 in one room for 2 years. Cuts in Housing Benefit and housing provision, high rents and low wages mean local people can’t live in Newham.
We were left to draw our own conclusions about the “Legacy of the London Games” in 2012.