Shadow of the Gamesby Andy Davis / Images by Luke Daniel / 13.08.2012
The underground comes up for air in Stratford and belches forth a multitude of sports fans. Everyone in their respective national outfits, a stream of colour-coded humanity rocking their national pride, all being herded from the station to the Olympic Park via the plush new retail spaces. A massive billboard of Usain Bolt sprinting with a Visa Card. Team GB looming ominously overhead, strains of old communist propaganda posters in the art direction. This is the beating heart of the Olympics. In the square in front of the station, underneath the “school of fish” public art work, Muslim and Christian evangelists add their voices to the ruckus, preaching, handing out flyers, engaging the willing in theological tussles. Volunteers in pink Olympics uniforms try to direct the flow. One of them, a short Indian girl with a lip piercing is playing Carly Rae Jepsen on her phone and pumping it out through a loud hailer as a service to humanity. The tail end of the Olympic crush and it’s pretty mental.
Just across the bridge, over the tracks, is Carpenters, a public housing estate, that is literally, in the shadow of the Olympics. In comparison to the bedlam just across the way, Carpenters is quiet. Too quiet. The place has an eerie ghost town feel. Manicured lawns and empty basketball courts. TV stations like the BBC and Al Jazeera have built plush mobile broadcast studios on top of the tower blocks. Security goons with big muscles and pepper spray on their belts hang about conspicuously. Gillette have adorned the walls with massive adverts of ‘their’ athletes breaking through the walls. This is all a little too close to the bone, because against massive resident protest, the Carpenters Estate has been earmarked by the powers for demolition. Space must be made for the new, gentrified Stratford. We meet Joe at the local pub, spitting distance from the Olympics melée, but it’s picking up none of the passing trade because the authorities decided to close the road and cut them off from all those thirsty tourists and their wallets. It’s a full on FIFA style World Cup thing.
Joe never intended to be an activist. He just didn’t want his home and his community to get bulldozed for no good reason. He tells us the story of a glory-bent local mayor and how they’re using the Olympics to shoe-horn their development plans for the Carpenters Estate. The thing is, by South African standards of public housing, Carpenters is plush. And even though it was built in the 60s it’d be heralded as a model of low cost housing community development back home. Joe feels the same way. “There’s nothing wrong with the estate.” He says. “We’ve got the lowest crime rate of all the estates in London. This estate is not derelict or crumbling, although they’ve tried to make it look like that. It just needs a lick of paint and a plumber.” He looks out towards the Olympic hustle, just across the way and says: “You know, just to host the Olympics, we’ve got to pay 10 billion pounds of our own money. I mean it’s a great sporting event, but as for rejuvenating the city, or bringing benefits to Londoners, that’s totally untrue. We’re going to be paying for this for a long, long time. And the only people who benefit from all this are the big corporate guys, you know, the sponsors. So it’s just a massive vanity project at the expense of the poor athletes and local residents.”
On our way out, we stop and speak to a group of kids hanging about a parked car in front of their house, listening to hip hop and just doing their thing slowly, enjoying the rare London sun.
“Have you enjoyed the Olympics?” I ask.
“Yes and no.” Says Julie. “They could have included us a bit better. We enjoy it for what it is, but we don’t feel included. We live in Newham and the Olympics is just two seconds away, but you’d think it wasn’t.”
As we head back across the bridge, I look back at the Gillette billboard of Tyson Gay smashing through the wall of the housing block… It’s a staggering moment of advertising hubris creating unintentional but incredibly relevant meanings. Like some kind of marketing premonition of what’s to come.
*Read Part 3 of our London Olympic Series here.