Can London match Sydney’s “green games” legacy?
I recently paid a visit to Australia in a privately funded trip connected with my non-CSL business. Despite this I could not resist the temptation to take a look round the Olympic Park during my free time to see how the legacy is going.
I was impressed. The Park is located in the moderately affluent suburb of Homebush, 30 minutes train ride from the city centre. It does not have the green space as a centrepiece that London will have but it is good to see economic development in the area, with good rail connections, a major bank relocating 3,500 staff there and new housing developments planned in harmony with the rich biodiverse wetlands close by. The stadium is magnificent, a true multi-sport arena. Huge hydraulic rams are able to move blocks of seating on both sides to get the crown closer to the action for soccer and both rugby codes. The seats can be retracted to accommodate cricket and Aussie Rules Football. The athletics track was removed after the Games and relocated elsewhere in the Park. Lots and lots to do and see, even for the most dedicated sports-mad Aussie. The aquatic centre was a hive of activity during my Saturday morning visit, there was a children’s swimming event going on in the competition pool and kids having great fun in the adjacent leisure pool, containing water slides, fountains and lots of stuff to keep the non-sporting children active and amused. The building does not have the feel of the iconic Zaha Hadid swoopy roof but the London aquatic centre does not contain a leisure pool for children. This is a heinous oversight and I fear the supposed iconic venue for the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park may become an iconic white elephant if the right mix of uses cannot be guaranteed.
The former Olympic Village is now a new suburb called Newington, with shops, a school, doctors, community centre and everything you need for daily life. It is a low-rise, leafy development with a “university campus” feel to it. Very different to the high density urban development that will form much of London’s legacy.
Environmentally the site seems to be a success, the ambition to make the village self-sufficient in solar power was not fully achieved but there is evidence of solar PV everywhere. Water shortages are common in Australia and use of rainwater harvesting and blackwater recycling ensure there are no hosepipe bans in Newington. The site does not benefit from CCHP in the way London does but a new energy plan is in development.
Socially, the leafy suburban environment of Homebush appears half a world away from the edgy,highly urban environment of Stratford. The challenge to help create a truly integrated community in East London is all the more urgent given the dreadful scenes of rioting on London’s streets in the summer of 2011.
All in all I think London will surpass Sydney’s “green Games” in terms of environmental sustainability but not by much. I must admit to being a little dismayed at the lack of progress in sustainable thinking in the 11 years since the 2000 Games. Sydney is raising the bar with new plans for a sustainable city within the Park. The partners responsible for legacy have a tough challenge to retain the sustainability gold medal. The Aussies hate being beaten by the Poms at sport, it seems the same competition exists for sustainability. Long may it continue!