Having recently returned to London and to the Commission I had the great and unexpected pleasure of stepping out onto the Parklands last week. While I had earlier worked with the Chair Shaun McCarthy in establishing the Commission, the intervening four years have delivered much it seems. Just two weeks into the job as Commission Manager, I didn’t quite know what to expect from such a unique opportunity: mud, clay and mayhem or nicely trimmed lawns and cucumber sandwiches? The truth was far from either of these clichéd tableaux and what a surprise it was.
The opportunity came as part of a series of events being held by the ODA to celebrate their progress in creating the Parklands for Games-time and beyond. Having been driven briefly around in the bus, there was much pent-up expectation as we pulled into a quiet area in the northern parklands to begin our meandering down to the picnic site.
I was struck initially by how closely the landscaping and habitat recreation resembled the imagery that accompanied the London 2012 bid. Wry amusement soon turned to awe as the park unveiled itself: carefully planted hillocks, fields, wetlands, woodlands and lawns create a magical experience. The wetlands are particularly impressive – very much alive and thriving, and the result of careful paring back of the steep banks from the River Lea. The twofold benefit of flood risk mitigation and habitat creation is such an excellent example of deep integrated planning for sustainability.
A few days later we were able to tour the inside of the Velodrome. It is one of the most extraordinary buildings I have ever visited and a triumph of design. Elegant, embracing, naturally lit and clad with sustainably sourced timber, it positively hums with its own success.
So, four years on the weight of possibility is now being balanced with the exuberance of real experience. Standing in the Park and taking in the enormity of the physical project makes me think about the opportunities that lie ahead for the people of East London in terms of jobs, homes, and a beautiful, safe, biodiverse and ultimately sustainable place to call home. The progress that has been made only serves to ignite the possibilities for its future as a new jewel in the crown of East London. Let’s hope that the legacy bodies will take these forward making the most of them. What an exciting place this is!