Voices from the Village

An Audiowalk of a Regenerated Cityscape

Forum

Voices from the Village launched at the Hackney WickED Festival on Saturday 2nd August, and will now be constantly available.

The performance is about more than experiencing the Olympic Legacy for two hours; I want to use this website to create an online community so we can start to discuss what the Village means for the future of our cityscapes. The Voices from the Village website is just the beginning of an ongoing process examining the effects of regeneration on public spaces and on our imaginaries of the future.

Let’s begin. Leave your responses below and let’s get a discussion going!

1. What do you think the aims of the Olympic Legacy are?

2. Can you see yourself fitting into this ‘ideal’ model of living?

3.  Do shopping centres like Westfield have a positive impact in the communities they are erected in?

4. Should Hackney Wick be regenerated?

9 Responses to “Forum”

  1. k says:

    Um, not sure if anyone else has posted, but here we go:

    1) Legacy was a secondary consideration, the primary goal was to host the events themselves. Sochi, Athens, Montreal, these example show that the Olymics have been hosted in lots of places that didnt put a huge amount of emphasis on what happened afterwards.

    2) We’ve been here before, havent we? When the big housing estates were built, it was alway thought that this new ‘modern’ style of living would be a step into a bright future. It didnt work out. People wont fit into an ‘ideal’ model of living, they will react to the incentives placed in front of them. Cramming lots of people into an area with limited opportunities, overstretched infrastructure and limited room for growth and innovation (both creatively and economically) will just lead to a new generation of estates.

    3) Yes and No. They provide lots of employment for people in the local area. But any profits from that employment are whisked somewhere else. Without investment of those profits into the local area you wont see new ideas coming through, without new ideas you’ll stagnate, and if you stagnate someone else will build a bigger, shinier shopping centre and everyone will just go there. That, and there is a tipping point in consumer culture, where less is being spent in stores and more is being spent online. The likely model of future shopping centres will be ones that are more servie focussed (hairdressers, medical facilities, tarot readings, whatever). This could actually be quite exciting from an artists point of view. Imagine in 20 years time if Westfield starts renting out empty units as performance spaces or gallaries?

    4) Yes. Artists are migratory, they go where there is cheap space. If Hackney becomes more expensive they will go somewhere else. Modern technology allows for virtual networks of people to remain even if physical infrastructure disappears.

    • Joseph Dunne says:

      It’s interesting you mention the cyclical process of regeneration, and I agree with you that the aspects of the Olympic Legacy share parallels with other projects in terms of ideal imaginaries of the future. I wonder if we are running out of potential futures and are having to look at old versions for inspiration, with each regeneration project signalling a new re-write. I wonder why, if we have truly been here before, that so few alternatives are considered in the public sphere? What would these alternatives be? The notion that Wesfield might undergo a type of regeneration in the future is an encouraging possibility,although in all likelihood I believe it will just become another feature of what JG Ballard describes as a ‘permanent retail present’.

  2. Joseph Dunne says:

    Here are some videos of what’s happening in Newham. Focus E15 are currently occupying the Carpenter’s Estate to protest against the estate’s planned demolition. The council’s plan, as far as I understand it, is to replace the social houses with affordable houses. Many of Focus E15 are young, single mothers, who would never be able to afford to live in the new homes. What’s more the homes have been left empty at a time when housing is at a premium.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsPxancNiqk

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQbPEz98eVQ

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1s_4Sco81as

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmtm5gWK-ZI

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O0Dc5b3ilwo

  3. Joseph Dunne says:

    Here are two articles by Anna Minton, author of Ground Control: Fear and Happiness in the Twenty-First Century City.
    The first discusses the alarmingly rapid pace of privatised spaces in
    London, and in the second Minton outlines the effects of rising rents
    and declining wages on the capital’s social fabric.

    http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/dec/30/what-i-want-from-our-cities-in-2015-public-spaces-that-are-truly-public-boris-johnson-london

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/mar/27/reconfiguration-london-akin-social-cleansing

  4. hannah howrie says:

    I think the aims of the Olympic Legacy go far beyond sport. There is a
    focus on bringing revenue to London and to turning Stratford, and the
    surrounding area, into a much more commercial centre which embodies the
    ‘Olympic Legacy’ i.e. shopping. I also agree that within the Olympic Legacy (trademarked company, WTF!) there is an expectation for an idealised way of interacting with the world. Unfortunately this view of customerism blended with a distorted uptopianism really isn’t my cup of tea. I would find this idealised model of living difficult to live within. I think that while large impersonal shopping centres like westfield bring jobs to an area, they take out more than they put it. Most jobs that are created are often low paid, temporary and/or part time. Also any local independent shops will find it hard to compete. While they appear to act as public space, they are not – evidenced by witnessing armed guards patrolling westfield during the olympics… I have very mixed views on regeneration. I don’t think that all areas will regenerate in the same way and I think that there is a very big difference between an large corporation manufacturing ‘regeneration’ by building a few shopping centres and a small but growing artist community, like the one in hackney wick, slowing improving an area’s opportunities for development through small independent projects. I think hackney wick is regenerated, in the best sense of the word. The only absolute negative I would have for regeneration is when local people are pushed out of an area because of rising prices.

  5. Aa says:

    I agree with K that the legacy was a secondary consideration, certainly from the point of view of the Olympic Committee and Government. The local council and stakeholders may well have viewed things the other way – Olympics as a means of regeneration – but with these massive projects local needs invariably come second. I’m sceptical about the ‘ideal’ model of living, and don’t think that the community that forms in the newly constructed flats and units will be particularly close or cohesive. Neighbourliness has to develop and can’t be imposed. Like Hannah I’m concerned about the cost of regeneration in terms of pricing people out of areas they have lived in for years, in some cases for generations. Greater protection is needed for residents, both owners and tenants, but it’s difficult to see that happening in the current political climate. We’ve seen here and in other circumstances just how powerless people and local councils can be in the face of massive projects. The important question now is whether the economic boost of the games and the Westfield complex can be sustained, and turned towards the support of those who live in the area.

  6. Aa says:

    Can we discuss the walk itself? One thing I found interesting was that in the time between the recording being made and my walk the layout around the park and Westfield had altered slightly (fences had appeared, paths closed) so that I was forced to navigate a slightly different path and view different sights to the ones described in the audio. I would quite like to do it again a year from now and see to what extent I have to deviate from my previous path, whether I will be able to recreate the photographs I took last time. How long will it be until regeneration and changes in the environment make it impossible to follow the audio, or at least to complete certain sections?

  7. JOD says:

    Unlike a number of the other contributors I feel that legacy was always there in the project. The Games were sold from the outset at least in part as a redevelopment cash grab. Ultimately less of the money stayed in East London than might have been hoped and rarely in forms that would have been chosen democratically but the Olympic Park itself is interesting. The limited private space which is, at least intended, as mixed income set within a large semi-communal parkland is in a sense a version of a modernist dream of urbanism.

    At this stage it is very hard to say how successful this will be. The Olympic Village is undeniably strange and that is in part a product of its design and planning. Amongst other things the a-historical and at times vaguely Orwellian naming (Celebration Avenue, Victory Park etc. &c) and the Ballardian styling, particularly the focus on the
    shopping centre, have contributed to a profoundly unusual atmosphere but this also arises from the fact that it is so new. The park is yet to bed-in, the flats aren’t fully occupied. People using these spaces will, for better or worse, change how they feel. This links to Aa’s response walk itself the site is evolving and it is possible that a less dystopian future awaits though this is in no way certain

    The park is at least much less alienating than the new build, buy-to-let blocks of flats just outside. Whether you think that highly regulated “public” spaces are a wholly positive phenomenon or not they must be better than these products of a speculative frenzy supported by an ultra-light touch development regime. In a city where redevelopment normally means “poor doors” and “anti-homelessness spikes” and where an advert like this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcC8n2eLB1g can be regarded as aspirational even taking a stab at doing something more considered could be a good thing.

    Looking at Westfield itself, as the other contributors have pointed out, it’s impossible to be uncritical of it. There is something distinctly depressing about the fact that a highly branded centre like this is one of the great icons of early twenty first century Britain. On the other hand it is arguably better to have physical shops rather than non-tax paying, low employing online retailers and better to have them somewhere most people will reach by public transport than a site off the M25.

    Should Hackney Wick be regenerated is probably the wrong question the process is already underway it perhaps should be asked what form this regeneration should take. In many ways the art scene was a stage in the move from light industry to obscenely expensive flats. But if change is inevitable then it must be made to responsive to people it affects this not just problem for Hackney Wick the process must be democratised across London

  8. aka-kate says:

    1. What do you think the aims of the Olympic Legacy are?
    At the moment, it’s difficult to say. I moved here a couple of months after the Olympics and at the moment, legacy still feels primarily economic, with this vision of so-called aspirational living springing up around me with every new or redeveloped tower block in Stratford. That said, I do think the primary aims always were economic from the start – staging the games was merely the conduit for a programme of regeneration and I do think that the powers that be were reasonably transparent about that from the outset way back in 2005. If the site had been mothballed after the games, you can guarantee that the press would have jumped on it straight away. No government wants to be accused of wasting money.

    But a real, enduring and sustainable legacy isn’t just about putting up pretty buildings (and of course, beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder!). It brings about social change, too. In my head, legacy should also be about improving social mobility, strengthening local communities and breaking down barriers, instead of making them worse in a borough where at one end of the scale, you’ve got people queuing up overnight to buy one-bed flats in the Olympic village for almost £400k (http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/house-hunters-queue-overnight-for-chance-to-spend-400k-on-a-one-bedroom-flat-9998005.html) and then just down the road in East Ham, this is happening (http://www.newhamrecorder.co.uk/news/gp_tells_newham_family_leave_mouldy_home_after_girl_7_catches_pneumonia_1_3942186). Pretty dispiriting, all in all, and it’s hard to not feel cynical about the concept of ‘legacy’ as a result.

    2. Can you see yourself fitting into this ‘ideal’ model of living?

    Yes and no.

    ‘Yes’ as in I want to give the development a chance as much as aspects of it aren’t to my tastes – like others have said, it’s very ‘green’ (new, rather than actually green) and not well used at the moment, particularly the parkland itself. I’ve visited several times before and after going on the walk, and I genuinely think it has potential to be a much-loved space if visitors are welcomed and allowed to engage with the park and each other on their own terms (while remaining respectful of other visitors, naturally). I did a lot of research work in parks in a previous life and they do build their own communities and organised activities outside of what the local authority plans. That doesn’t mean though that there can’t be conflict, and I think a lot will depend on how the park is managed and promoted – itself challenging with ever-tighter budgets for open space departments.

    ‘No’ as in the idea of a high-rise room with a view, where I don’t even know who my neighbours are, doesn’t appeal, because to me that kind of community lacks authenticity and sustainability and makes me feel very very anxious and paranoid. In my eyes, it’s not an ideal or something I would aspire to. Perhaps that view is influenced by tales from older generations of my family in Manchester who recalled how their communities were broken up by terrace clearances and the building of new flats. Eventually they built new communities, yes – but it also created a lot of disruption, ill will and resentment (in an age before the internet and mass communication became commonplace). Maybe it’s also minded by the fact that I live in a bit of town where I’m just starting to get to know the faces of the people who run the local shops, and where I can have a nice chat with my neighbour about her plants once in a while over the garden fence – even if we don’t know the minutiae of each others’ lives.

    3. Do shopping centres like Westfield have a positive impact in the communities they are erected in?
    Economically, it’s bringing jobs and trade to the area, yes – and will probably continue to do so – but it’s a place that to me, feels like it projects a carefully-crafted, calculated and depersonalised image at odds with a lasting and genuine legacy. And like so many others have said, where does that money go?

    Socially I find it a very stressful place to be and only visit if I have a reason to be there, and I imagine that some other people in the area (not all, obviously) probably feel the same. That alienation in itself probably has an impact on the community – and there are barriers for other people too (both social and economic).

    Mind you, different strokes for different folks. Viewing it a little more objectively, it’s probably brought opportunity to a lot of people that they never expected to see. That said, a bit more diversity of trade would still be welcome. The lack of that is probably what discourages me from visiting more often, and I would be more willing to visit if there were a wider range of local and independent traders.

    4. Should Hackney Wick be regenerated?
    I’m very much with Hannah in that I think it *has* regenerated/is regenerating right now – just in a less formalised, non-mainstream way. I would like to see it continue to regenerate organically, as it is, with any change led by the community who live there. I wouldn’t like to see it become the same as everywhere else.

    The place isn’t everyone’s cup of tea for much the same reasons that the Olympic village/Westfield aren’t to everyone’s tastes – we all like different things, after all. What appeals to me though is that the regeneration of Hackney Wick (at least from what I can see) appears to have been led by the people who are based there – so from those actually on the ground – rather than a vision that has been imposed/set out by those in power who may not fully appreciate the nuances of a local area, and who prioritise big political and economic considerations that don’t necessarily fit well when applied inflexibly to a community.

    Sorry this turned out so long! The walk and life around it over the past 2 years has given me lots to think about, and probably will continue to do so as I take root here :)

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