Newham and the Politics of London 2012
Professor Todd Landman, Director of the IDCR
© 2012 Todd Landman all rights reserved.
As part of Universities Week last week, the IDCR launched its innovative ‘Olympic Dream’ web resource with a lecture at the University of Essex and good coverage in the BBC. The resource provides a set of interactive maps and other tools to visualise data on the countries sending athletes to London2012. In depth analysis showed that countries with higher levels of human development tend to win more medals. Human development is combined measure of wealth, health, and education in a society. In light of these findings, it is enlightening to cast our gaze on the socio-economic conditions surrounding the development of the Olympic Site itself.
Bidding to host: Security and Finance
London won the bid to host the Olympics in 2005, one day before the 7 July terrorist attacks and three years before the financial crisis. These events have thus tied the 2012 Olympics to security and finance. The history of Olympic hosting has been one of an increase in expenditure on the event as a whole and on security in particular. For external consumption, a hosting bid includes provision of full facilities for the games, comprehensive security, and a menu of associated attractions that celebrate the ‘nation’ of the host city. For internal consumption, bids promise urban regeneration (the paradigm case is Barcelona), better infrastructure, new housing, and a ‘legacy’ of tangible benefits for the local community and the nation as a whole.
This summer the combination of the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations have already yielded a dramatic influx of tourists and increased attention to London, while the events themselves will bring millions to our shores. One indicator has been the ascendancy of London as the number one city destination for tourists in the world, according to on-line ratings compiled by TripAdvisor. It is estimated that the two events will create an artificial blip in the overall economic position of the UK as it struggles during a double dip recession, according to some members of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee. These events of course are joined by Wimbledon 2012, making this one of the busiest summers for a very long time.
Calling at Stratford
As you ride the train into London on the Greater Anglia service from Colchester, where the University of Essex is based, you see the looming development at Stratford, with the tower for the flame, the stadium, and of course, the brand new Westfield shopping mall. The Westfield Shopping Centre is larger than the Bluewater development near Dartford and contains the UK’s first ‘super casino’. Westfield opened in late 2011 with a footfall of 250,000 on the first day of operations, has a total of 238 stores, and is the Official Shopping Centre of London 2012. Up to 70% of all attendees of the Olympics will pass through the shopping centre en route to the different competitions.
Surrounding the Olympic site is the local London borough of Newham. According to official figures, Newham has 243, 891 residents (although there is a large additional ‘hidden’ population living informally in the borough), 91, 821 households and is one of the most culturally diverse and youthful populations in the UK. The borough is 39% white, 38% Asian, 20% black, 1.6% Chinese and 2.6% from other groups. Thirty-four per cent of all people between the ages of 16 and 74 have no qualifications and the unemployment rate sits at 6.7% which is below the national average of 8.3%, which masks other indicators of deprivation.
For example, 39.2% of children live in poverty (compared to 29.2% for London), the benefits claimant rate has vacillated between just over 24% to just under 22% between 2000 and 2010 (London levels are 16% and 14% respectively), and 37% of pupils are eligible for free school meals as opposed to 26% for all of London. Overall, Newham rates as the second most socially deprived borough in the whole of the UK.
There are between 30 and 35 recorded violent criminal events per 1000 people in Newham (there are between 22 and 26 per 1000 for all of London). The recorded serious acquisitive crime rate is 42.3 per 1000 people in Newham and 25.23 in London, while actual bodily crime rates are 11.2 for Newham and 7.76 for London.
In addition to the development of the Olympic site and the Westfield Shopping Centre, this summer will also see the opening of the Pleasure Gardens development at Pontoon Dock in the famous docklands area of East London. The site promises events celebrating the cultural diversity of Britain, concerts, food and drink, all on a riverside setting near the Millennium Dome and London City Airport.
Healing the Gash
Newham thus contains the Olympic Site and Westfield developments to the North and the Pleasure Gardens development to the South. The popular ‘discursive construction’ of the development has been ‘healing the gash’, where the inward investment of £9.325 billion (although projections suggest it may rise to £11 billion) would bring new life to the East of London and the legacy would be new housing, the Olympic Park facilities for future mega-events, and an improvement in infrastructure. Overall expenditure includes £553 million for security, which is a mix of state security forces (police and military) and private security services (G4S), as well as the possible deployment of up to six batteries of surface to air missile sites in residential areas around the Olympic site. [See the Home Office report here]
As London 2012 approaches, it is clear that a sizeable investment brings with it many tangible and intangible benefits to London and the UK. The gash was known for industry relating to the noxious trade of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and the development of the brownfield site is a welcome change for the area. The nature of the investment and the related distortions that they may produce, however, do not bring long term benefits to Newham, which has been bracketed out of the investment in ways that are analogous to other urban mega-projects and the spatial exercise of power and privilege (see, Flyvbjerg, Landman and Schram’s new book Real Social Science). The case of Newham also raises fundamental questions about the nature of democracy in the UK and how publicly-financed projects interact with private capital, culture and security in ways that often do not bring benefit where it is most needed.