Atlantic Cities
Olympics 2012

Olympics Clean-Up, London Style

Olympics Clean-Up, London Style
Feargus O'Sullivan

With less than a month to go before the games, East London is sprucing up frantically to look its best before the Olympic stampede begins. The Olympic park itself is still off-limits, but the area is already showing signs of the money invested here – plus a few rumblings of resentment under the surface.


Stratford, the Olympic Park’s neighborhood, may be vibrant, diverse, up and coming and so on, but it’s still about as pretty as the back end of a truck. Accordingly, the local borough council has decided to partially mask the 1970s beauties of its Stratford Centre mall with this shimmering fishy screen called the Stratford Shoal.  When people visit the Olympic Park by public transport, this is the first thing they will see.


Leyton, another neighborhood near the Olympic Park, is so out of the fashionable loop that this cheeky infographic recently dubbed it one of London’s least hip neighborhoods (closely followed by Stratford). Now, its main drag is being prettified to look villagey, its cheap signage revamped and its walls painted candy colors.  This could be the thin end of a very big wedge – London gentrifiers bible the Evening Standard has just done a property feature on the area – but there’s no denying the place looks better.


Not everyone is hurrahing the Olympics' arrival. I found this graffiti on a disused jerk chicken shop in East London, the last rundown building on a now expensive street. The message of contempt for the games is clear, though I’m not sure the representation of London as a stoned, incontinent pigeon is particularly flattering either.


Not all graffiti is so clear cut. I came across this stencilling on Fish Island, directly opposite the Olympic Stadium. 


Its strident message has been softened by a gentler one underneath.


Does this graffiti refer to the Olympics?  It does run right past the park’s perimeter.


Olympic brand policing is notoriously strict, but this Stratford bike hire company seems to have slipped under the radar so far.


This couple live on a boat moored right under the stadium. Like thousands of others they live rent-free on barges that roam London’s canals, a perfectly legal thing to do providing you have a license and change mooring fortnightly. The Olympics has seen a crackdown on these “continuous cruisers” however, and this boat has to leave the area by July the 3rd.


There are now other, more high tech ways to cross London’s waterways than barges, however. A cable car called the Emirates Air Line opened on the 28th of June, when these pictures were taken. Located in the Eastern section of London’s former docks, it links two Olympic venues, but will be in a fairly quiet part of town when the games are gone. In return for getting their name on the London subway map, Emirates Airlines footed most of the construction bill, but £8 million of public cash has also been donated so far, with the possibility that its future won’t be economically sustainable. At £3.20 per single fare, it’s good value for tourists, but a bit too expensive for commuters, who can make the same journey in around 10 minutes by train.


Still, you do get these amazing views. The tent building is the Millennium Dome, another publicly funded project only recently rescued from white elephant status by transformation into a successful concert venue.

All photos by Feargus O'Sullivan

Keywords: London, Olympics

Feargus O'Sullivan covers Europe for The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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