Today we went to visit East London in order to tour the Olympic site, where construction of the athletic facilities on the site of old industrial buildings is nearing completion. Our funny, charming tour guide Sean returned to show us what’s there and what will be. But to get there we walked through old factory neighborhoods and working class council houses, decrepit buildings and the like. The whole way around, Sean was selling us on the economic benefits to the Olympic redevelopment to the surrounding community, including public improvements that we got to see ourselves, but part of me couldn’t help but be sceptical (as they spell it here). It’s admirable that they are trying hard not to repeat the common mistakes of overbuilding that plague most international sporting-event host cities, but it seems to me that much of what they are hoping for is a long shot. It’s absolutely wonderful that that they are finally cleaning up such a badly polluted area – that is not in dispute.
But what gives me second thoughts was my visit after the tour, all on my own but at Sean’s suggesting, to the nearby area of Canary Wharf, which beginning in the Thatcher era turned into a gigantic temple to Big Money, banking, easy credit and conspicuous consumption, all monochrome sheet glass – putting the world’s financial elite right up against some of England’s most impoverished. It’s the same pattern seen all over our economically polarized world, and I came away from the overall experience both awed and depressed.