Everyone's always arguing over whether the Olympics are a massive waste of money. As the world gets ready for Rio 2016, we headed to the Olympic Park in East London to ask the people there what they make of the legacy of 2012, and what they think about one the city's most distinctive public spaces – were the millions of pounds worth it?
Was building the park a good idea? Has the area around the park - a historically deprived part of London - been improved? Why do they visit? And, most importantly, why are so many people playing Pokémon Go?
Here's what the people we met had to say.
How often do you come to the Olympic Park?
“It used to be empty before, so we'd never come this way… there was nothing, except for the old mall, the old Stratford mall… and then, now they’ve done this all, we come here weekly, all the time…”
“It’s good for the eyes.”
“Yeah, relaxing. She was saying, I remember being in like, Arab countries, you know, the greenery, sitting in the park, bring food, relaxing… get away from the city life...”
Were the Olympics a good thing?
“A good thing for East London, because there was nothing here…"
Did you come here before the Olympic Park was built?
“Years ago, it wasn’t the best part of London… It’s all right now, it's got better.”
“I think there might be like a riot, or something. Yeah, I think there could be a riot, or there would be like, a lot of chaos, to be fair… this is London!”
“Yeah, there could be another riot. There was a riot before anyway. Because… we have to remember there's a lot of youth nowadays, and it’s London, so… there might just be like a massive riot, or a bomb, or something…”
There’s Victoria Park just by the corner, why not go there?
“It’s a lot more known here… more popular… I’ve never even heard of that park… and you'd want to take a picture with that thing [the ArcelorMittal Orbit], you wouldn’t want to take a photo in a random park… it’s more fun to look at.”
How long have you been coming here?
“I only started coming here when this was built. It’s alright, it’s a really nice area. Yeah, wicked. I like the scenery is all.”
What's the best thing and worst thing about Olympic Park?
“Best thing is that the shopping centre is right there. Worst thing… too many people. It’s good for business, but bad for people.”
What made you decide to come here?
“We didn’t plan to come here. We were deciding between going to Oxford Circus and coming to Stratford. They all chose to come to Stratford because of the fountain. They’ll rather come and play than go to Oxford Circus to shop. Places for kids to play, that’s the most important thing.”
Did you come here at all before all this got built?
“No no no… we only started coming because it looks beautiful, and it’s got a good feel to it…"
Some people say that investment in the Olympics is useless...
“I wouldn’t say it’s useless. I would never have come here if it wasn’t for the Olympic Stadium. So I think, to me, it’s not a waste of time, my kids love it here. Especially in summer holidays, we have nowhere to go, so…”
“I’m sorry for those who invested but... they’re probably not getting their money's worth… but it’s good for us, it’s good for us mothers, it’s school holidays and instead of staying at home, or going to places to pay more money for children to have fun, we come here and they have fun for free, and they love it.”
Best thing and worst thing about this place?
“I see so many plain lands, that haven't been developed yet, I think…”
“They should develop it, and let us have nice houses!”
“There should be more houses for us!”
“But instead of building houses, I would prefer a huge play area for the children… for free. I like free things!”
“Children, they are the priority… so that they can have fun, fun fun… yes… so that at least when we get home, they get tired, and they sleep, and mummies have their time, mummy’s time…”
Do you come here often?
“No, this is my first time. We’ve just come for a little holiday, and we’ve just thought, we’ll come and see this because I’ve never seen it before, and I thought it's something I should probably see… because it’s been here a while too, so…”
What do you think, was it worth it to build the Olympic Park?
“For some people I think it’s worth it… but for people that aren’t that interested in it, I don’t think that they’ll think it’s worth it… But I think it is… I think it’s quite cool.”
Best thing about this place, and the worst thing about this place?
“The best thing is… probably the swimming pool, because I want to go in it... And the worse thing is… all these workers, they're really loud!”
Did you come to this area much before?
“I didn’t come here before the Olympics. I used to go to the old Stratford centre, but that was it, I’d never come around to this side…”
Lots of people say that investment in the Olympics is useless…
“I understand what they’re saying, but at the same time… personally, it’s created a lot of job opportunities in the area, and it brings a lot of tourists in the area so… ”
Best thing about this place?
“It’s brought up the area, it’s a nicer area now… before it was… more working class, lower end, so there was a lot of broken things around here, and things like that… now it’s been improved, it looks really nice, it’s a nice area to be in, you feel safer around here now… it’s safer than before. It’s still dangerous, but it’s much safer than before."
What's this part of London like?
“Wherever you go, they’re just building, building, building…”
I’m trying to figure out whether building this Park and investing in the Olympics, was worth it...
“Most of this part within the next five years will be gone. Over there, they’re going to build flats, over there they’re going to build universities… more flats, more houses, and there’ll be virtually no park. I run around here often, but with more people coming in, the space is limited… which is a shame, because nature has literally moved in… You can see, how nature has come in… it will be chased away again.”
How was it around here before the Olympics?
“Ah, I remember donkey's years ago… I used to come here in the afternoon, I remember long, long, long ago… it’s better than it was, no two ways about it… however, you’ve got to get to a point where you have a balance of… you know, yes, we have houses, but you’ve got to have an area for people to walk around. What’s the point of everyone just sitting indoors?”
It looks fine now though…
“It’s fine now, but I’m looking four to five years down the line. They’ve already seen the plans of what’s coming in by the end of 2018… There’s a whole huge space across this bridge, on the other side, and that’s all going to be flats. All the greenery in there, is going to be gone. And there, where the Orbital is, all that is going to be campus for university. So we won’t be able to run around and walk around, because there’s going to be no fields in it… it’s just a complete building site.”
So we’re living in a happy time now, but that’s going to change?
“It’s just a brief interlude, I can totally see it coming. I remember 40 years ago, I remember what a dump this place was. It was left derelict for years. So what they’ve done to it is fantastic, and the legacy of the Olympics is good. However.. I mean, already if you go to Westfield, the amount of shops that are shutting down, because it's too expensive… it will be a ghost town one day, Westfield will be a ghost town.”
So was the Olympics worth it?
“Oh, it was a fantastic thing to have. The buzz around here, during the Olympics, it united the country... It was something that the country needed. With all this infrastructure they’ve got, they are getting more and more people into sports... My only worry is that those that just want to go for a leisurely jog won’t have nowhere to jog because it’s… you don’t want to run around housing estates, you want open space like this!”
“They created so much that wasn’t here… there was nothing here, it was a barren land… all the industries that were here were closing down, there was nothing, so what they built here is fantastic. My only worry is that they’re now going to build back on top of what they’ve already created, so they’re beating the open spaces for our children, and for our children’s children. And then we would be living in another metropolis.”
Let’s hope they keep it like this then…
“I hope they keep it like this. My worry is they’re going to build, and build, and build… and in the end it will become like the City of London. Just a concrete jungle."
What are all these people doing here?
“There’s four Pokéstops that happen to have lures on them in this one particular stop, and everyone is just drawn to them, they’re hoping that some good Pokémons will come out from this area!”
“There’s a lot of the regular Pokémons in this area… You’ve got the Weedle, the Pidgeys, Rattata, occasionally you get a Drutini, down by the river, just away from us… and some other more interesting ones… there’s people that have been walking around the Aquatic Center all day because there’s Charmander, which is one that is a bit rarer, literally dotted around the Aquatic Centre, so I’ve seen people walking around in circles all day to try to get them when they spawn.”
So you’d say the Olympic Park is a good Pokémon area?
“Yes! Because it’s got a lot of waterways running through it, ideally it’s going your Magikarps, and other water-type Pokémons around here, as well as the green grass.”
So the investment in the Olympics was worth it?
“Oh, definitely yes! It’s not just a stadium in the middle of nowhere like perhaps other countries had.”
Best thing and worst thing about this place?
“The best thing is that it brings so many people together, for so many different reasons, there’s so many different activities... the worst thing, it isn’t finished yet! It’s so annoying! And where they’re still doing some building work, because the Pokéstops were put here so long ago, it was before those building works happened, there’s some Pokémons we just can’t get!"
They’re like, forbidden Pokémons!
“Yeah, basically. It’s quite frustrating.”
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