I have been intrigued by the media articles showing distraught West End shop keepers and restaurateurs bemoaning the Olympics for emptying their emporia of customers. It seems that the promise of economic prosperity for all driven by the magic Olympic rings has evaporated as quickly as Mark Cavendish’s medal hopes. Or has it?
I have spent part of every day for the past week and a half in and around Stratford or on the Park and the place is rockin’. It has been an absolute joy to see masses of happy people dressed in the colours of their nations enjoying their day on the Park. In particular the families, often several generations with small children experiencing something they can tell their grandchildren in years to come. “I was there”. One little boy I saw just wanted to watch the trains that ran under the main concourse..but that’s just a little boy thing. Most of us grow out of it, but a small minority grow up to be trainspotters.
For me London 2012 is still work in progress because it is a regeneration project interrupted by a few weeks of sport. The purpose of having the Olympics in the first place was to act as a catalyst to regenerate one of the poorest and most deprived areas in Europe and the evidence so far suggests it may be working. We are trying to create a new piece of city where people can live, work and have fun, a destination for visitors and a place where sport at all levels can be enjoyed.
People are coming to the Park, having a great time and enjoying their chosen sport (or at least the sport they managed to get tickets for). When their session is finished they are tending to stay in the Park. Who wouldn’t? It has fantastic green space, a wonderful green live site where you can watch all the action on the big screen and soak up the atmosphere, great food, and great entertainment. Alternatively they leave the Park and stay in the immediate locality. Why go to the West End when you have everything you need in Stratford?
I am going to say that again “Why go to the West End when you have everything you need in Stratford?” Ten, or even five years ago people would have laughed at that statement. Many residents in the area simply aspired to get enough money to afford to live somewhere else. Not any more, East London has arrived on the map as a destination.
The news that the Westfield Centre will be closed to non-ticket holders over the weekend broke yesterday. Given that 250,000 people are expected to pile into the Park every day this makes sense from a health and safety point of view and I suspect it will make little difference to the takings. Westfield simply becomes part of the experience – an extension of the Park where people can shop, eat, party and generally have a great time.
The West End will get over it. It has been a global destination for decades and visitors will return. I hope visitors will return to the East End too, bringing their families and their wallets to provide a much needed boost to the local economy.
The future is golden, the future is East. Go Team GB, go East London and kick some ass!