London 2012: Shopping for success

February 25, 2009

The frame of the 2012 Olympic main stadium stands out from among the piles of mud.

The skeletal metal structure, which will hold up the roof, rises above the construction site, three years ahead of the Games.

The only thing to challenge it is three concrete blocks — the shell of a massive shopping centre planned for the Olympic Park.

The Westfield centre may not be the centrepiece of the park in Stratford, east London, but it will be the main gateway.

Most visitors will have to walk through it to get to the venues. Organisers had once promoted the 242 million pound aquatics centre as the eye-catching gateway. Designed by the internationally renowned Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid, it will feature a wave-like roof that is so complicated extra money was needed for its construction.

Now it appears it will only be seen after going past rows of shop window fronts.

Westfield will form part of the legacy, providing shops, restaurants and cafes for residents living in the 3,000 flats and apartments after the Games.

But to make a shopping experience out of the Olympic Park seems to confirm the notion that Britain is a country of shopkeepers. It also raises questions about potential competition with official Games’ sponsors. Will a shop be able to open its doors if it is a rival to an official sponsor?

But a year on from my last visit to the site, a lot has moved on. There is still a lot of mud, but the pylons have been taken down and cables laid underground, the rivers have been cleared of their shopping trolleys and the few remaining industrial units pulled down.

The outline of the velodrome is recognisable by a muddy bowl, and the hockey area and media centre flattened ready for construction.

The overall workload was so heavy that our bus was held up as a string of lorries and diggers weaved their way around the site.

The River Lea, which runs through the site, has been cleaned of pollutants and 800,000 cubic metres of soil have been decontaminated in what will be the largest new urban park to be created in the UK for 150 years.

It is still hard to focus on the scale of the site — it seems very compact, and it is hard to imagine how all the venues will fit in.

But we are promised a parkland legacy as well as a sporting one.

Just a shame you have to take in the high street before watching the high jump.

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