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An afternoon visiting the Olympic site

Evan Davis | 09:37 UK time, Friday, 25 July 2008

I didn't really know much about Iain Sinclair when it was suggested that I spend an afternoon with him walking around the large construction site that is London 2012, out towards the Lea Valley in East London.

As it happens, I have personally been something of an enthusiast for the London Olympic games, mainly on the grounds a) that a bit of wasteland will be made nice and b) that it tends to make everybody happy that their country should be the centre of world attention for a couple of weeks in their life.

Iain Sinclair, I quickly learned, was rather less enthusiastic about the project than me.

demolishdigdesign.jpgAnd he knows more about it. He is local to the area, a prodigious walker who knows the paths around the site, and combines a wonderfully subversive nature (he once breeched the security round the construction by taking a dinghy on the waterway through it) with a curiosity about the games and the construction.

Above all though, he is cross about the games spoiling the area he loves.

We had a wonderful stroll and recorded at least 40 minutes of conversation. (Spare a thought for Jasper, the producer, who had to edit it down to a broadcast-able length).

But the debate between us essentially amounted to one between what might be called naïve modernity (me) and world-weary scepticism (Sinclair).

Underlying it, was the fact that his very developed aesthetic sense could find far more beauty than I, in the old poisoned wasteland that was the site before the bulldozers moved in.

olympics2.jpgAnd his obvious doubts about the authorities in general exhibited itself in far more suspicion of the intent and competence of those running the 2012 show than I held.

It was a sunny day, we had a lovely walk. And at the end of it, I realised that Sinclair had won the argument.

But it was one of those interesting arguments where - despite the other person winning - you remain somewhat unconvinced of their case. He argued it just too well.. I rather came to think he could win any argument he made.

You can judge for yourself by listening, and by looking at the wonderful picture show of the walk we took.

But for me, the moral is never take on a true master of words unless you want to be defeated.


  • Comment number 1.

    My mum (also an economist) once told me about how Malthus and Ricardo used to argue repeatedly about something or other, and one of them always won, but hindsight showed that the other was right. Can't remember the details, but I always remember that when I lose an argument :)

    It was an interesting piece though. I think if you take Iain Sinclair's arguments to its logical conclusion, it was that our sense of beauty adapts to what we see (or used to see), and that a sensitive eye can find beauty in anything. If you follow those arguments, then there's no point in worrying about making an eyesore of the landscape, because however bad we make it, in years to come someone will still regard it with fondness and nostalgia.

    Not sure if that's a valid argument or not.

  • Comment number 2.

    "Legacy" my foot!

    Granted, much of the post-industrial wasteland that was the Olympic park needed a bit a loving care, but not only were allotments and many small business turfed off but many other things are being railroaded through without consultation with the local people.

    I am hugely sceptical that there will be any noticeable beneficial legacy, either sporting or in terms of social regeneration.

    It is just a golden opportunity for the big building firms to be given public money and told to waste it. The whole way it is being run, by the good and the great and by politicians who know they will be out of a job come 2012 gives me no confidence.

    We were told it would cost 2 and a bit billion - now it seems it will cost 12 - 16 billion if all the security is taken into account. (And where are they going to find the many thousands of security staff?) I predict that the aftermath of London 2012 will be just like Athens 2004, except at twice the cost. It is the people's money these people are handing out, be it lottery money ("a tax on stupidity") or tax.

    Empty stadiums that just like Wembley 1948 will be left to decay and rot as well as flats, converted from student hostels, that will be poorly designed and built, and will only survive a few years. The builders and the good and great having taken their cut and long gone- just like the city bankers!

    Is there yet a team actually responsible for the legacy?

    In the end the media and politicians are just too close to see the World though the eyes of normal people. No matter how sceptical you appear you are taken in by their blandishments.

  • Comment number 3.

    As a person who also likes to wander through the ever-changing landscape I appreciated this report very much.

    Although I no longer live in London I knew some of the parts mentioned and have previously regretted their passing, albeit that some of what has been destroyed was badly in need of a destruction.

    Time changes and the landscape changes but nature will always endure and will have the final say. Humanity has sold its soul and only has its vanity left.

    Key to Kipling's Recessional.....

  • Comment number 4.

    Change can be good but if planned badly it can be extremely bad. This Governments planning is bad. A lot of money is going to be wasted.

  • Comment number 5.

    Evan, you were right, Sinclair was wrong. I did that walk a couple of years ago. At the time, the Greenway was in the middle of an ugly, derelict, polluted and slightly intimidating wasteland. Good riddance.

    His sneering at the fact that the vision of the future looks nothing like the building site of today is just ludicrous - clearly he doesn't have the imagination to see how it's going to end up (a bit worrying for a supposedly imaginative author).

    I visited the Millennium Dome in 2002. It was incredible how rapidly nature had begun to reclaim this (at the time abandoned) site. So if Sinclair wants this to happen to the Olympic site, his wish is bound to come true...though it might take decades rather than a couple of years.

  • Comment number 6.

    Interesting article.

    Living in Scotland, I don't know the area at all. Having been told that my money spent on the Dome would regenerate this part of your capital city, I strongly suspect that even more of it will be wasted on this project as well.

  • Comment number 7.

    I like Iain Sinclair's work but at one stage there was probably someone decrying the building of the very underpasses/canals etc that he enjoys today. Building developments are like a tide - there are always places to explore that get left behind.

  • Comment number 8.


    I live on the other side of London and have never visited the site or have any wish to do so.

    I echo John of Hendon's comments at #2. The Olympics were deliberatley missold to us and as a Londoner I'm expected to pick up the tab. What redress do I have? I helped vote out Ken Livingstone but that is no compensation for having this project foistered on us by "the great and good", who are of course nothing of the sort.

    What I would like to see from Evan is a proper investigation of the economics of the bid, how it was put together, what the cost is likely to reach and a proper cost and benefit analysis of the whole project. So far as I can see Londoners are paying for all this but the benefits will be enjoyed by contractors and businesses. There is no return for council taxpayers living in Croydon, Sutton and Hillingdon to name just 3 random boroughs far away from the site.

    Regeneration of the area could have been achieved at a fraction of the cost of holding the Olympics.

    I was really annoyed that we won the bid. That was bad news for all of us.

  • Comment number 9.


    Much as I enjoy listening to your dulcet tones on the Today programme, please can you and your colleagues desist from thanking everyone, "very much indeed"? In most cases a simple "thank you" will suffice and save precious broadcasting time.

    The phrase (effectively verbal diarrhoea) is far too often applied to trivial contributions and even during presenter hand-overs.

    Your weather forecasters are clearly afflicted by this tendency to logorrhea, seemingly unable to utter the word "towards" without prefacing it with "as we head" or to tell us the rain is moving "its way" in a particular direction.

    Along with the shipping forecast Today is one of the few remaining programmes where English is not regularly mangled to a state of gibberish. Please try to keep it that way.

    On the plus side I'm sure many listeners are grateful that your producers have not succumbed to the temptation to introduce background drumming. This infuriating racket has seemingly become obligatory on most TV programmes - presumably to hype up otherwise tedious or trite material.

  • Comment number 10.

    I don't think cost comes into it. They will pay whatever is charged. Labour will be long gone in 2012, and the next government and the good old taxpayer will be left to pick up the tab, which we will be paying for, for a long long time to come.

    Canada is still paying for the Olympics held there.

    'Nuff said.

  • Comment number 11.

    So, more money for London. What a surprise. The sooner the BBC move out of there, and become less parochial the better.


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