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London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan horse


Abstract and Figures

This paper is a critical analysis of the urban geographies of London 2012, the socalled Regeneration Games. London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics on the basis that existing communities and cultures of East London would profit from urban regeneration; the promise of 'local legacy'. Using the analogy of the Trojan horse, we demonstrate that the benevolent empty signifier 'legacy' disguises the politically dubious aspects of mega-event and strategic planning, especially its controversial aspects such as escalating costs, privatisation and displacement. We zoom in on 3 empirical cases - a rowing club, cultural hub, and festival - in the neighbourhood Hackney Wick Fish Island in East London to demonstrate that there was (and remains) a disconnect between the rhetoric of politicians and Olympic planners, who promised both citywide and local 'legacy', and the actual legacies (after-effects) of the Olympics. With a focus on the process, construction, or making of legacy within the local context, our analysis reveals that Olympic planning creates irresolvable contradictions in scale, which cannot be resolved in favour of existing communities. The alignment of Olympic planning with neoliberal spatial practices means that neighbourhood needs can never truly be met.
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London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
Francesca Weber-Newth*
Geography Department
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Sebastian Schlüter
Geography Department
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
Ilse Helbrecht
Geography Department
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany
*Correspondence address: Geographisches Institut, Kultur- und Sozialgeographie,
Unter den Linden 6, 10099 Berlin.
This paper is a critical analysis of the urban geographies of London 2012, the so-
called Regeneration Games. London won the bid to host the 2012 Olympics on the
basis that existing communities and cultures of East London would profit from
urban regeneration; the promise of ‘local legacy’. Using the analogy of the Trojan
horse, we demonstrate that the benevolent empty signifier ‘legacy’ disguises the
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
politically dubious aspects of mega-event and strategic planning, especially its
controversial aspects such as escalating costs, privatisation and displacement. We
zoom in on 3 empirical cases a rowing club, cultural hub, and festival in the
neighbourhood Hackney Wick Fish Island in East London to demonstrate that there
was (and remains) a disconnect between the rhetoric of politicians and Olympic
planners, who promised both citywide and local ‘legacy’, and the actual legacies
(after-effects) of the Olympics. With a focus on the process, construction, or
making of legacy within the local context, our analysis reveals that Olympic
planning creates irresolvable contradictions in scale, which cannot be resolved in
favour of existing communities. The alignment of Olympic planning with
neoliberal spatial practices means that neighbourhood needs can never truly be met.
London 2012; legacy; community; culture
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
"The Olympics offer a pretext for waging war on the poor, an opportunity to
celebrate the segregation of humanity rather than unity, and a politics of forgetting"
(Springer, 2015, 636).
The Olympic Games as discussed in this journal are necessarily both
political and divisive, as neatly worded in the quotation above. With each new
cycle of Summer and Winter Games in which athletes achieve ‘personal bests’ and
animate crowds, there is also a new cycle of Olympic violence, urban colonialism
and divided communities. In the five years since the staging of the summer
Olympic Games 2012 in London’s East End, academic accounts have critiqued the
Games from various perspectives in light of housing (Bernstock, 2014),
securitisation and governance (Fussey, 2015), and from a local community and
cultural position (Cohen, 2013). Most recently in ACME, Andrew Foxall (2013)
and Simon Springer (2015) addressed the challenge for host-city residents to mount
counter narratives to the dominant visions of place projected by Olympic
authorities. The overwhelming response from the critical left is that the spatial,
social and political implications are what matters in an analysis of London 2012;
critical reflection must focus on structural inadequacies.
While critical scholars have demonstrated that questionable narratives are
part and parcel of Olympic urbanisation (Gaffney, 2013; Gold and Gold, 2013;
Weber-Newth, 2017; to name just a few) – it remains a collective task to strengthen
these accounts, unpack the complexity and ambiguity of underlying mechanisms,
and provide new empirical insights within particular settings. Our aim in this paper
is to continue the conversation started by Foxall and Springer in ACME about the
geographies of Olympic inequality, by zooming into case studies in London.
With focus on 3 empirical cases which we call ‘encounters’ we argue
that there was (and remains) a disconnect between the rhetoric of politicians and
Olympic planners, who promised both citywide and local ‘revitalisation’ and
‘legacy’, and the actual legacies (after-effects) of the Olympics. Our wider goal is
to bring to light the dubious relationship between neoliberal political tendencies
and their workings within the London 2012 apparatus, and also the pressures on
planners to serve this system. Our analysis is particularly relevant to debates within
critical geography, sociology, planning and urban studies; more specifically we
integrate themes that will interest gentrification and mega-event scholars. As
touched on above (and expanded below), existing work has made the link between
legacy rhetoric and the Olympic mega event. What remains unclear is how exactly
legacy is produced, who decides what legacy is, and who benefits. Our focus lies
on the process, construction, or making of legacy within the local context of
Hackney Wick Fish Island. In doing so, we combine three key debates (legacy,
mega-event and strategic planning) with detailed empirical material ‘on the
ground’. Our contribution therefore rests primarily on elaborating and bolstering
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
existing critical debates, and using the metaphor of the Trojan Horse to frame our
empirical examples.
We start with a brief review of existing literature on the urban geographies
of the Olympic games. We then develop a theoretical understanding of London
2012 as a staged mega event and a project driven by ‘legacy’ goals – but ultimately
a paradigmatic exercise in strategic planning. Thirdly, we introduce our case study-
area, Hackney Wick Fish Island, and outline our methodological approach.
Fourthly, we empirically examine three situations where the Olympics interacted
with a specific local context, which we understand as ‘encounters’. The first
empirical section (encounter one) focuses on how ‘community’ is imagined and
contested through a newly constructed bridge. The second empirical section
(encounters two and three) examine how local ‘culture’ has been conceptualised
firstly in the White Building, a new cultural venue, and secondly how it was
overshadowed through the cancellation of Hackney WickED, a grassroots festival.
To conclude, we discuss our fundamental concerns: how exactly can we understand
the shifting category of ‘legacy’? How has ‘legacy’ been negotiated and
constructed within a web of existing power relations?
Urban Geographies of the Olympic Games
Commercial interests have long overshadowed the vision of Pierre de
Coubertin (founder of the modern Olympic movement) to promote cultural
understanding and peace. The Olympics now involve professional athletes,
tourism, television rights and corporate sponsorship, and most crucially for this
discussion, a competitive bidding process followed by significant material
restructuring of the winning city’s urban space. The ‘historic’ mega event is now
intertwined with local politics as cities hope to channel investments and promote
urban regeneration (Poynter, Viehoff, and Li, 2016). With these developments,
there is persistent critique that the Games as a brand have become overtly
commercial and part of ‘celebration capitalism’ (Boykoff, 2014). In conjunction,
the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) mission has evolved, with a demand
for the Olympics to generate positive impact – otherwise framed as ‘legacy’ – even
after the Games move to their next host city. The increasing importance of ‘legacy’
reflects the aim of producing tangible long-term benefits for hosting the games,
whether for local residents, a city or a nation.
The (growing) connection between Olympic Games and urban geographies
is well reflected in the current literature. Chalkley and Essex (1999) argue that
cities are using the Games to catalyse urban programmes and policies, with
significant local impacts. They state; “the scale of urban investment required for
the Games has become so great…that the concept of sport as a means of spiritual
renewal has given way to sport as a means of urban renewal” (1999, 202).
Andranavich and Burbank (2011) suggest that we are now in the fourth ‘urban
geographical phase’ of the Olympics Games; a phase in which local politics and the
geography of the games is tightly intertwined and where the Games must include
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
the idea of legacy. This existing body of literature is rich in drawing out various
aspects of ‘legacy’, ranging from historical lineage of the Games and legacy
(Leopkey and Parent, 2012), contextualising Olympic legacies cross-nationally
(Andranovich and Burbank, 2011; Lauermann, 2015), and analysing the connection
between legacy and urban development (Coaffee, 2012; Davies, 2012; Weber-
Newth, 2014). Despite the differing foci, the literature as a whole demonstrates that
‘legacy’ should be analysed as both multiple and fluid (Kassens-Noor et al., 2015).
In other words, there is no formula for determining the Olympic legacy”
(Andranovich and Burbank, 2011); the Games are largely used by cities in
reference to local space, as a mechanism to reposition themselves in the changing
global economy within a specific context.
We suggest that long-term strategic planning for London (involving
infrastructure, transport and large-scale development) gained public and political
consensus by being smuggled in under the guise of the mega event London 2012,
specifically under the banner of ‘legacy’, which was translated on the local level as
‘community’ and ‘culture’. Put simply, ‘legacy’ was the Trojan horse that masked
the big vision for London 2012, especially its more contentious or controversial
aspects (such as escalating costs, privatisation and displacement). We translate this
conceptual frame to the local level, via specific empirical encounters,
demonstrating the finer process or making of legacy. In order to examine this
process on the neighbourhood level, we focus on ‘community’ and ‘culture’ two
concepts that were vital in converting ‘legacy’ to the local arena.
The so-called Regeneration Games (Macrury and Poynter, 2008) provide an
interesting case to explore legacy, because since the 2000 Sydney Games, bidding
cities are required to outline sports and non-sports legacies into their bid books (via
Olympic Games Global Impact Studies, OGI). Having bid for the Games in 2005,
London 2012 is therefore one of the first Olympic Games to formally integrate
‘legacy planning’ into its Olympic concept. The geographical arena of east London
would not just provide a blank canvas but also experience a local and inclusive
Olympic legacy. Hosting the 2012 Games was a way to create value for the urban
region of the Lower Lea Valley, by focusing on the “local urbanizing of the global
games” more than any other mega-event before (Short, 2008, 323). By scrutinizing
this ‘legacy’ as it is actually experienced in the neighbourhood of Hackney Wick
Fish Island, east London, we produce an account that is more nuanced than the
official one. Analysis of the empirical data demonstrates that ‘legacy’ was a
construction or empty signifier with a vast amount of symbolic value, laden with
positive connotations.
Taking a broader perspective, we argue that London 2012 sits in a
continuum with the top-down strategic spatial planning schemes that prioritise
wholesale city growth over localised needs. We demonstrate that the model is
being fashioned within the context of the re-emergence of neoliberal space
governance (Haughton, Allmendinger, and Oosterlynck, 2013, 231; Allmendinger
and Haughton, 2009).
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
London 2012: Framing ‘Legacy’ as a Trojan horse
The metaphor of the Trojan horse references a story from Greek mythology,
and is used to describe something deceptively benign; a trick that causes a target to
let down their guard and invite an enemy into a protected bastion. In this section
we demonstrate that ‘legacy’ can be considered a Trojan horse; a concept used to
disguise or conceal the most commercially crass aspects of London 2012 as a mega
event and the more radical strategic planning (broader political and economic
plans) that would transform East London’s urban environment. The metaphor is
useful to better understand that ‘legacy’ was made; planning professionals crafted
the neat legacy container as a transport vehicle for something far more complex
than its singular appearance reveals. The contents of the container (similar to the
soldiers inside the horse) were essentially hidden from public view as legacy was
widely celebrated as a victory for London. Like in Troy, sceptics were often
dismissed as spoiling the party.
As this paper demonstrates, the making of legacy was a deceptive
manoeuvre because it presented the Olympic legacy as an apolitical ‘gift’ bestowed
upon the people of East London by the government and the IOC (Macrury and
Poynter, 2008), while in practice the neoliberal agenda that underscored legacy
undermined and flattened local practices from within (lived community and
culture). Our frame provides the conceptual apparatus to deconstruct the evolution
of ‘legacy’ in this paper, but also provides the necessary tool for going beyond the
London case.
A web of actors and agencies contributed to crafting the Trojan Horse.
London 2012 was a complex and evolving planning project; it involved those
responsible for strategic coordination, monitoring and delivering (UK government,
the Mayor of London, LOCOG, and British Olympic Association) as well as
delivery bodies (such as the Olympic Delivery Authority and London Development
Agency). Planning for legacy began as early as 2003 in the bid phase, and evolved
to land assembly, master planning, and then planning of the ‘legacy communities’
(Brown et al. 2012: 236). The point to be made here is that the Trojan Horse
(legacy) was constructed and refined over a significant time span, from various
perspectives. However, one of the central agencies responsible for planning and
framing legacy was the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), which evolved
into the Mayor of London’s London Legacy Development Committee (LLDC).
The LLDC’s unrivalled assets and powers in planning becomes evident when
considering that the agency is simultaneously landowner, developer and planning
authority for the Olympic site itself and the surrounding areas (until 2030). As such
the LLDC is central in this discussion. The LLDC were able to manoeuvre and
direct planning in the local arena; responsible for translating the bid book plans into
planning on the ground, with contact to local stakeholders. In the analogy it is local
residents and businesses being deceived often unaware of the strategy being
implemented that affect their everyday life. The deception, we argue, is part of
capitalist practices, in the sense that the urgency to attract global events (capital)
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
has the known logical consequence of displacement (accumulation by
Paul Watt (2013: 105) discusses how the 2012 Olympics can be understood
through the lens of accumulation by dispossession. He argues that Olympic
regeneration produced antagonistic class relations in London’s East End not only in
terms of individuals or corporations with wealth and power threatening the capacity
of lower-income groups to live in the city, but also in terms of creating discursive
categories and spatial discourses of class, place, community and belonging. In this
process, social injustices are becoming more visible to those who lose out, which
leads to a perception of the London 2012 Olympics being “not for us”. This
analysis is useful here, as it helps us to refine specific social, political and
economic practices rooted in London’s variety of capitalism. Linking this back to
the Olympic planning, Christopher Gaffney (2013: 3935) states: The discursive
frames found in candidate dossiers are ever more similar, eliding the nuances of the
urban and social fabrics in their hosts in order to appeal to the ideological
imperatives of mega-event rights holders” we see the ideological imperatives
based on a neoliberal growth logic.
Today, legacy debates are the defining discourse of ‘responsible’ Olympic
mega-event hosting (Miah and Garcia 2013, 142), drawing on core considerations
such as sustainability and social inclusion. This means the language of ‘legacy’ has
the power of political consensus and thus ability to change the frame of political
negotiation. Mapping the complexity of legacy is also important when considering
the paradigms that Olympic authorities, town planners and politicians within the
LLDC have no choice but to negotiate. More specifically it gives a sense of the
constraints that city and spatial planners are working under, such as tight deadlines
for infrastructure delivery.
The London 2012 ‘legacy’ was framed specifically with focus on the East
End, but also focussed on a broad range of indicators, from economic legacy
(growth of the city), to health legacy (youth involvement in sport) and physical
legacy (land use and built structures). The organising institutions of London 2012
promised a unique way “to improve the lives of the residents within the five
London boroughs who would be acting as hosts” (Sadd, 2009, 266). This local
focus was entrenched in the first bid-documents, which presented an image of the
2012 Olympics lifting the East End out of post-industrial decline following decades
of underinvestment (Poynter, 2008, 133 ff.; Wales, 2012; Thornley, 2012). While
the public rhetoric on ‘legacy’ left little space for criticism (Newman, 2007, 258),
1 Here we refer to David Harvey’s (2003) ‘accumulation by dispossession’ thesis. We understand
accumulation by dispossession as a description of how capitalism, in its quest for accumulating
profit, restructures urban space, for example via privatisation.
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
the reality at ground level is much more ambiguous. Research shows that the
Olympic Games and subsequent intensified regeneration in east London have
resulted in unwanted ‘legacies’ such as the displacement of local residents and
businesses from the areas where new sports venues were built (Davis and Thornley,
2010; Raco and Tunney, 2010), as well as rising land-values and forced
displacement in the areas neighbouring the Olympic Park (Bernstock, 2014; Watt,
2013). Empirical research reveals a gap between Olympic rhetoric and local reality
(Cohen, 2013), specifically a tendency for overlooking local creative communities
(Pappalepore and Duignan, 2016). Consequently, in scrutinising the London 2012
‘local legacy’, we follow Helen Lenskyj’s suggestion that ‘legacy’ should be
questioned in terms of who wins and who loses (2002, 107). The theoretical frame
we propose here is that the concept of legacy acted as a discursive glue precisely
because the core IOC value of ‘legacy’ represented everyone winning from London
The Mega event
Mega events are “large-scale cultural events which have a dramatic
character, mass popular appeal and international significance” (Roche, 2000, 1).
While mega-events are pursued as a strategy for stimulating local economic
growth, developing infrastructure and boosting a city’s image, commentators
suggest that these projects are pursued by city elites as part of a global capitalist
growth agenda (Newman and Thornley, 2011; Raco, 2014). Olympic Games are a
paradigmatic example of the mega-event, combining the symbolic ‘show’ aspect of
the Games themselves with significant international sponsorship and infrastructural
development of the host city through the construction of sporting facilities and the
extension of transport networks (Leopkey and Parent, 2012; Müller, 2015). As
Christopher Gaffney (2013) states:
Mega-event projects are typically of such a large scale and the
processes used to develop them so distant from the people who will
both finance and be impacted by them, that once the documents are
signed…there is frequently no chance given to those most affected
by them to give input or to organise and react (Gaffney 2013, 3935).
Within these parameters, London 2012 was presented as a catalyst for wholesale
urban transformation in the East End of London (Vijay, 2015). While critics
highlight the negative short-term effects of mega-event transformations such as
displacement (Silvestre and de Oliveira, 2012), the framing of the London 2012
mega-event under the banner of a benevolent ‘legacy’ conceptualised it as a new
model of transformation with a long-term trajectory and a local focus.
Strategic Planning
Strategic planning is a process defined by its citywide approach, ordered
sequence of operations, and key actors (public and private) working towards an
overall goal. It focuses on certain geographical areas within the city and can exist
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
in various forms, including master plan, regional plan and mission statements
(Newman and Thornley, 2011, 10). A major flaw in strategic plans is that they
often ignore particular interests, localities, population groups and spatialities
(Swyngedou, Moulaert, and Rodriguez 2002). This is especially true for strategic
planning within a neoliberal context, where urban development aims to catalyse
real estate development, private profit and a competitive global economy (Imrie
and Lees, 2014). In the UK especially, it has been argued that the renaissance in
strategic spatial planning has been aligned with politics of unsustainable growth
and social exclusion, signalling the emergence of “neoliberal space governance”
(Haugton, Allmendinger, and Oosterlynck 2013, 231).
London 2012 can be positioned in a continuum with the top-down strategic
spatial planning schemes. This becomes increasingly clear if one considers the
Convergence Plan for London 2012 (The Mayor of London, 2011). The Plan aims
to “equalise” the east and west of London in social and economic terms within the
next 20 years. This city-wide scale indicates that London 2012 followed a strategic
planning agenda. The plans for convergence fit snugly into the aims of the London
Plan, a spatial strategy for London initially adopted in 2004, which fundamentally
provides a model for developing the UK capital as an exemplary world city with
strong economic growth. Although the London Plan does list “social-inclusion” as
part of its overall objective, economic regeneration remains a powerful theme:
“Every sector of the economy will benefit from the staging of the Olympic
Games… [T]he whole of the UK will gain from the prosperity generated by the
Olympic Games” (LOCOG 2004, 25). While this emphasis on economic growth
does not undermine the specifically local and community-oriented model of
Olympics discourse, it does show that east London neighbourhoods were not the
only agendas, or even the most important ones within the regeneration plans.
‘Legacy’ discourse is key to this ‘inclusive’ strategic planning agenda because it
legitimises vast expenditure and wholesale regeneration, justifying the impact of
the mega-event on existing neighbourhood structures. In the critical urban studies
literature London already has a reputation for its “‘growth first’ logic premised on
market expansion and encouragement of investment in land and property markets”
(Imrie and Lees 2014, 17).
We argue that it is through the relationship between legacy, mega-event and
strategic planning that this “growth first logic” is newly enacted. We use
‘community’ and ‘culture’ as a tangible way to understand legacy as the spatial,
imaginary and political agenda of London 2012. These two concepts are central to
the discussion of ‘legacy’ largely because London’s Olympic planning
professionals used these concepts to present the Olympic policy framework. The
next section briefly outlines the methodological approach taken to examine the link
between the conceptualisation of legacy in policy and ‘on the ground’.
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
We draw on empirical data collected in the neighbourhood Hackney Wick
Fish Island in east London. The neighbourhood was chosen because it is located
directly adjacent to the London 2012 Olympic site (see Figure 1) and is
consequently part of the so-called Olympic Fringe. Hackney Wick Fish Island
represents the disadvantaged local context, which the Olympic legacy was
supposed to remedy. Hackney Wick Fish Island can be divided into two, both
spatially and administratively. The northern part (Hackney Wick) is part of the
Figure 1. View over Hackney Wick from Overground Station with Olympic
stadium visible in background (March 2012). Photograph: Francesca Weber-Newth
London Borough of Hackney, and is dominated by two housing estates:
Trowbridge Estate and Wick Village. The southern part (Fish Island) is within the
administrative remit of the borough of Tower Hamlets, and was once a thriving
industrial enclave. Industrial decline and restructuring throughout the 1970s and
1980s resulted in artists creating flexible ‘live-work’ spaces in many of the ex-
industrial units (Brown, 2012) Hackney Wick Fish Island has been heralded as
the area housing “the highest concentration of (art) studios in Europe” (Budish et
al., 2009). While the topographies of the neighbourhood’s two halves reveal
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
distinct characteristics, there is a common neighbourhood experience: census data
(GLA, 2011) scores Wick ward and Bow East ward – of which Hackney Wick and
Fish Island are part – as two of the most deprived in London (40.8% and 47.5% of
dependant children are in out-of-work households respectively, compared with a
national average of 18.1%).
We used methodological triangulation drawing on more than 40 open-ended
interviews, a focus group, and participant observation. The interviews were semi-
structured and conducted with a range of social actors involved in the process of
urban change: Olympic planners, residents, Hackney and Tower Hamlets
politicians, businesspeople and activists. A loose topic guide was used for all
interviews, focusing on how the interviewees perceived changes in the
neighbourhood. The guide was adjusted according to the position of the
interviewee, which meant the interviews took the form of ‘conversations with a
purpose’ (Cloke et al., 2004, 155), allowing space for interviewees to expand on
their own thoughts. The interviews were conducted in locations convenient for the
participants, ranging from office boardrooms to a community centre, cafés and
interviewees’ homes. All of the interviews were recorded on Dictaphone and
subsequently transcribed. Data analysis consisted of familiarising ourselves with
the information before drawing out themes and patterns (Dey, 2007, 167). The
themes ‘community’ and ‘culture’ can be seen as codes that emerged inductively
via the interviews and observations and during transcribing. These were recurring
themes not only in accounts of urban transformations as communicated implicitly
and explicitly by interviewees, but also appeared within policy documents, often as
a justification for urban regeneration.
We chose to analyse the complexity of ‘legacy’, in three specific micro
encounters in Hackney Wick Fish Island: Eton Mission Rowing Club, the White
Building and the Hackney WickED festival. There were various situations that
could have been chosen (e.g., the Trowbridge Estate, Leabank Square or Stour
Space), but the three encounters discussed here were selected because of their
relationship with specific aspects of the London 2012 ‘legacy’. The rowing club is
affected by the Olympic ‘legacy’ project of constructing bridges over the canal to
increase ‘connectivity’ between existing residents and the Olympic site. The White
Building, an LLDC-funded project, is representative of London 2012’s planners
strategy of marketing the neighbourhood as a ‘cultural quarter’, spurred by the
publication of the ‘Creative Potential’ report (muf architecture/art, 2009). The
yearly Hackney WickED Art festival, produced by local artists, is a concrete
example of grassroots community organising in the neighbourhood a kind of
‘localism’ that London 2012 planners had hoped London 2012 activities could
support and develop.
The aim of this paper is not to carry out a comprehensive analysis of
‘legacy’ in the neighbourhood but rather show how the trajectory of ‘legacy’ has
begun to unfold since 2012. We explore the deeper meanings of ‘legacy’ via
encounters, a perspective that acknowledges that these meanings are specific to
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
individuals and groups, and may change over time. There are clear limitations to
this approach, particularly the timing of our study so close to the Games
themselves, and our approach to ‘legacy’ as ‘bottom-up’ rather than in its full,
long-term trajectory. Consequently, we acknowledge that the three encounters
discussed in this paper the rowing club, the White Building and Hackney
WickED – are both selective and partial; the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of London 2012
are relative and will change over time. Yet local perspectives are necessary in order
to reveal the micro-scale effects of mega-events; only through a combination of
micro and macro studies on the legacy of London 2012 will it be possible to
understand the scope of its planning impact and societal meaning.
Culture and Community ‘on the Ground’
The examples we discuss (encounters 1, 2 and 3) give an insight into
communities and cultures that had the potential to be taken by planners as
exemplary existing ‘local practices’, but which were largely side-lined in favour of
a focus on a strategic citywide agenda. They provide valuable insights into fields of
interaction between local practices and legacy planning.
Encounter 1: ‘Community’, the Bridge and Eton Mission Rowing Club
Figure 2. Eton Mission Rowing Club on the left with bridge to the Olympic Park
on the right (April 2017). Photograph: Anne Briggs
Clashing definitions and visions of ‘community’ have been the cause of
conflict between LLDC planners and members of the Eton Mission Rowing Club
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
in Hackney Wick. Who and what constitutes ‘community’ are the key issues. Eton
Mission is a small, privately run rowing club, which has had its boathouse located
at the Lea Navigation canal since 1934. A dispute began between the LLDC and
the Club, when an ‘Olympic legacy’ bridge was planned and constructed directly
next to the boathouse (see Figure 2). The bridge opened in August 2013, giving
residents in Hackney Wick access to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and
Olympic sports facilities. Vice-versa, in the future the bridge will also give
residents from the five newly constructed neighbourhoods on the Olympic site
access to Hackney Wick. The LLDC planners framed the bridge as part of a local
Olympic legacy based on community inclusion; they see the bridge as a means of
relaxing the hard borders defined by the canal, opening up Hackney Wick from
being an enclave of poverty. However, the bridge is perceived by the rowing club
members as a subversive act of displacement, they object to the bridge on the
grounds that given the public access and regular footfall, they will not have enough
space to manoeuvre their boats safely into the water. The rowing club members
argue that the bridge threatens their very existence; the club may be forced to close.
Analysis might point to the narrow concerns of the rowing club, and the
fact that its few active members – to date only sixteen – perhaps do not warrant the
label ‘community’. Arguably, the rowing club members want to retain the status
quo, safeguarding their secluded corner of Hackney Wick rather than embracing
change and democratising access. However, one member showed quiet optimism
as to embracing Olympic-led changes, specifically in regarding the new
communities of the Olympic Park development as potential new rowing club
members and seeing ‘regeneration’ in the area as an opportunity to expand and
renovate the boathouse. But these potentials were largely overshadowed by their
exclusion from the planning process:
Basically we need them to tell us what they’re going to do, but they
won’t, because they know we won’t like it. So they just sit there and
the months just roll by. We had a meeting with the LLDC two years
ago, and absolutely no feedback at all. Well that's good
communication isn’t it(!) (Member of Eton Mission Rowing Club,
interview 19.08.2012).
This indicates that the LLDC, who ‘plan for the future’, are leaving current users
excluded, which suggests that the LLDC falls short of its own claims for inclusion:
Development should…maximise opportunity for community
diversity, inclusion and cohesion; should contribute to people’s
sense of place, safety and security. [It should be] designed to meet
the needs of the community at all stages of people’s lives and should
meet the principles of lifetime neighbourhoods (LLDC, 2013, 10).
Our analysis demonstrates that – at least on an abstract or discursive level –
existing communities are very much part of the Olympic ‘legacy’ agenda. But
‘legacy’ in real terms, within a neighbourhood context, is subject to power
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
relations, producing winners and losers. The central aim of London’s Olympic
Legacy was to value ‘existing communities’ and encourage health and fitness
(Girginov and Hills, 2008), which means the Mission Rowing Club could have
been an ideal flagship project. However, the location of the bridge, threatening the
Club’s ability to operate, suggests LLDC planners are prioritising city-wide
strategic goals, most obvious in the aim for ‘connectivity’ via bridge infrastructure.
The fact that this overall goal is harming a particular existing community, indicates
that the language of ‘legacy’, initially couched on ‘local’ terms in order to justify
this regeneration intervention, shifted after 2012 to support a more traditional top-
down planning agenda.
Olympic policy and planning documents indeed reveal a shifting definition
of community, specifically in terms of scale which explains our empirical
findings and substantiates our analysis. While the original emphasis in the Bid
documents was clearly geared towards benefits for existing communities, the scope
widened over time, with the most recent documents emphasising a commitment to
‘community’ as conceptualised on a national rather than neighbourhood scale (The
Mayor of London, 2011, 7). This shift seems a manoeuvre by the planning experts
and politicians to suit a particular political rhetoric. It indicates that ‘legacy
benefits’ are not stable categories, but produced and distributed through power
regimes using politics of scale. This analysis suggests that the promise made by
Olympics planners that the legacy they were creating would benefit the existing
‘community’ of east London (LOGOG, 2004, 19) can be understood as a
rhetorical strategy to communicate the benevolent face of the mega-project to the
public, expressing that investment would have a long-term impact on real people,
and would not merely produce an abstract ‘legacy’ or infrastructural improvements
and facilities only for tourists and the whole of the city.
What complicates the situation is that many LLDC planners and local
borough employees are themselves cynical of wholesale Olympic regeneration,
critical of the tensions between citywide strategic goals and local needs, and aware
of the contradictions of participation within planning. In other words, they are
attuned to the tensions and (power) dynamics inherent within our conceptual frame
– specifically the fact that the staged mega event of London 2012 and its top-down
strategic plans can dominate ‘legacy goals’ according to a ‘growth first’ logic. One
Hackney Borough Councillor candidly explains how these tensions become
problematic within the limited Olympic timescale: “The great thing is that
[development] happens in four years. The downside is that’s fucking shit because
it’s happening so quickly… You lose the soul, you come back to the world of
market economics” (interview 08.09.2011). He suggests that the solution is finding
the right balance between social, economic, cultural and physical spaces, but
maintains that London 2012 provided the council with a great opportunity:
I made it very clear to my political colleagues and council officer
colleagues that this is an opportunity of such a ferocity, of such a
scale, that it must be understood that…we are on this wagon and [if]
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
we decide to get off, we will never get back on it. If you try to stop
this wagon, it will squash you. You cannot stop it… [T]he challenge
for the people who are organising it is to try and always insure that
they never ever lose sight of the local in amongst the global
(interview 08.09.2011).
The councillor articulates a warning that the open and flexible nature of
‘legacy’ should not result in mega event goals and strategic planning losing sight of
specific neighbourhood needs, or as he puts it, ‘the local’. The fact that the
councillor describes this balancing act as a ‘challenge’ attests to the complexity of
‘legacy’ on the ground, and the political tensions. His perspective highlights the
ambiguous role of Hackney council, who must abide by the rules of the IOC, yet
try to use the Olympics as an opportunity to deliver and consolidate policies
developed before the London Bid was won. The tensions the councillor describes
between local and ‘global’ forces, which we understand as a ‘growth coalition’
(MacLeod and Goodwin, 1999, 509), are precisely the tensions evident in the
bridge encounter. The construction of the bridge in Hackney Wick suggests that the
LLDC planners had to weigh up and choose between interests, ultimately
projecting their definition of ‘community’ to align with strategic planning goals
and a definition of ‘legacy’ that goes over and above the needs of one particular
group in Hackney Wick (the Eton Mission rowing club). The councillor’s
comments at first glance suggest that planners were capable of making a choice;
either focusing resources on supporting existing community structures (‘the local’)
or being attentive to broader London goals that would reiterate London’s position
on a global stage. However, if we presume that the Olympic project as a whole, and
Olympic planning specifically, align with neoliberal spatial practices (in this case
concretely via ‘legacy’), arguably this creates irresolvable contradictions in scale,
which cannot – due to the nature of London’s variety of capitalism – be resolved in
favour of existing communities. Put simply, as a zero-sum game, Olympic planning
could never truly meet neighbourhood needs in Hackney Wick Fish Island. In the
councillor’s terminology then: “the challenge for the people who are organising
it…[to] never ever lose sight of the local” was perhaps more to do with small-scale
interventions and mitigating the worst excesses of strategic planning, rather than
presenting a genuine choice.
The difficult position of planning professionals in delivering local ‘legacy’
is also highlighted by an officer of Hackney Council, who describes himself as “the
now of strategic planning” in Hackney Wick. He explained the tensions between
people who want to keep the area as an island within itself and “an awful lot of
urban designers and planners people doing the long term visioning who are
desperately trying to stitch it all back in” (interview 22.09.2011). His own
frustrations with the process and speed of planning are revealed when he describes
the lack of transparency and communication with the existing community as “the
tragedy of planning”, indicating that state employees are not only concerned with
the implications of planning policy on the ground but are also critical of planning
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
structures. The ambiguity of participation is revealed when he describes the
council’s attempt to engage with community members, who he perceives as often
disinterested in public consultation: “I mean it’s a unique situation in Hackney
Wick. Wick ward has amongst the most diverse demographic in London, but that
bit in Hackney Wick is really quite old and really quite white, so it’s quite
interesting, a lot of people are quite inward-looking in many ways“ (interview
22.09.2011). This perspective reveals the complexity of planning for local ‘legacy’,
specifically when ‘the local’ or ‘the community’ is not always as engaged, dynamic
or open as hoped by planning professionals, some of whom are trying to loosen the
dichotomy between the winners and losers of urban regeneration. Nevertheless, the
example of the new bridge in Hackney Wick exemplifies the planner’s re-scaling
of the concept of community, from an existing community (in real terms, the
rowing club), to ‘community’ imagined on a strategic global city level. Our
analysis demonstrates that this stretching of the ‘community’ definition is part of a
flexible conceptualisation of London 2012 ‘legacy’, primarily serving a
competitive neoliberal growth logic2.
Encounters 2 & 3: ‘Culture’, the White Building & Hackney WickED
‘Culture’ was presented as the means through which London 2012 could
reach and engage ‘the local communities’ of east London, a way to express
‘legacy’ on a neighbourhood level. ‘Culture’ is also at the heart of the strategic
development of London; the London Plan promotes the cultural and creative
industries as “central to the city’s economic and social success” (GLA, 2011, 126).
The Olympic Games played an integral part in London’s Creative City Strategy
(Pratt, 2010, 17) and culture was given a central role in its legacy plans: “The
Mayor will ensure culture plays a full role in securing the legacy of the 2012
Olympics and Paralympics, both in relation to physical infrastructure, design and
public art projects but also in terms of engaging with communities and young
people, particularly those in East London” (The Mayor of London, 2010, 152).
The White Building was conceptualised as securing a ‘local legacy’ and
nurturing ‘culture’ on the Olympic Fringe. The White Building is a new cultural
centre with studios and exhibition space, a pizzeria and a microbrewery, located
along the canal, not far away from Eton Mission Rowing Club (see Figure 3).
According to the operators, the building is a “key part of the arts-led strategy for
the legacy of the Olympic Park and surrounding area” (,
and since opening in 2012 has been widely described as a popular and trendy place
(Moore, 2012). Hackney Wick Fish Island is known as the area housing “the
2 The discussion here focuses on a ‘community’ primarily comprised of older, white, working-class
individuals. However, it is important to note that existing communities in Tower Hamlets, Newham
and Hackney are differently affected by, and have different responses to neoliberal politics in terms
of age, gender, and ethnicity. Paul Watt (2013) discusses young peoples perceptions of inclusion
and exclusion framed by Olympic legacy.
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
highest concentration of (art) studios in Europe” (Budish et al., 2009), and the
White Building draws on and embodies this creative capital. The LLDC financed
the project, studio-providers SPACE organise the day-to-day running of the
building, and a local café manages the food and drink.
Figure 3. The White Building (July 2013). Photograph: Francesca Weber-Newth
The White Building provides Olympic planners with a way of opening up
the neighbourhood to the public; a model project signalling that Hackney Wick
Fish Island is a ‘creative cluster’. Crucially, the White Building was conceived by
LLDC planner’s in 2008 as a way to save the neighbourhood from wholesale
redevelopment by private investors. The project was a way for a select design team
within the LLDC to show the higher-level LLDC executives that regeneration
could take another (‘culture-led’) route in this neighbourhood, drawing on the
existing strengths of the area rather than allowing for large-scale demolition. As
our interviews with local residents make clear, however, the White Building
demonstrates planners’ narrow conceptualisation of culture (and community) on
the ground.
One Hackney Wick resident describes the White Building as well-designed
and popular, stating that it “genuinely does give something back into the
community”, but also highlights that it does not have the public role of other,
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
similar projects in the neighbourhood (such as the exhibition space and café Stour
Space), because it was planned by the LLDC rather than developing bottom up:
It’s just a bit corporate really… The White Building is like [the
LLDC saying] 'Okay, we're going to commission a project in
Hackney Wick Fish Island, we're going to have a restaurant/bar
space. We're going to have a local person to rent that out, and have
studio space’. It ticks all the boxes, but it cost a lot of money to do.
There's something odd about it. It’s trying to mimic the character of
the thing that it is. It’s an industrial shed, but check out the nice red
netting with the lamb’s-wool insulation that fireproofs the asbestos
or whatever. I totally see why they did it, for pragmatism. They
needed to do their own building, because it’s their own identity
(Hackney Wick resident, interview 03.09.2013).
The resident suggests that while planners ‘ticked all the boxes’ in order for
‘legacy’ to prioritise ‘the local’ (a local manager, catering to artists, industrial shed
aesthetics etc.) that this attempt ultimately failed for pragmatic reasons, namely
the LLDC’s need to bolster their own identity within the political game of strategic
mega event planning. The strategic goal of the LLDC in the neighbourhood – their
self-presentation as a benevolent ‘local actor’ ultimately superseded focus on
satisfying the needs on an existing ‘community’. That is not to deny that the White
Building is seen as a valuable part of Olympic planners’ ‘legacy’ investment in
Hackney Wick. Yet, as the resident explains later on, the elements of the White
Building that are most respected by residents are those run by people well-known
and respected in the area: “it has a good bar, but that’s not necessarily [the LLDC],
that’s Tom and Crate”.
The development further provides a concrete example of how the
promotion of ‘creatives’ must not be mistaken from the promotion of ‘artists’ (Lees
and Melhuish 2013, 10). An artist who lives in the neighbourhood explained:
[Hackney Wick] was quite a tight knit. Everyone knew each other and
that’s kind of fallen apart a little bit. Just because I guess that’s what
happens when a new influx of people comes. People get pushed out and it’s
the same old story over and over again… It’s like what Cameron was
saying, from Stratford to Shoreditch. I don't know exactly what impact it
would have, but I do know that people locally, from here, wouldn’t have
much room in it (interview 06.08.2012).
‘From Stratford to Shoreditch’ references David Cameron’s government-led
initiative to connect the technology start-up cluster of Old Street (Shoreditch) to
Hackney Wick, in particular to the former Olympic International Broadcasting
Centre (now called ‘Here East’), which is to provide a new digital quarter for so-
called ‘creatives’. Yet the target group imagined to benefit from this initiative, are a
specific group of IT and web solutions experts who have been displacing another
group of ‘creatives’ – the fine art community – many of whom moved to Hackney
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
Wick in the mid 1990s having been outpriced in other more central London
locations (signalling the first wave of gentrification in Hackney Wick). The Old
Street initiative highlights a tendency of the LLDC to gear development policies
towards the professionals with relatively stable incomes, who are able to afford
spaces like the White Building.
The White Building demonstrates that while LLDC planners were perhaps
well-intentioned in creating a space for ‘creatives’, the project is simultaneously a
vision of who the planners thought belonged to the regenerated Hackney Wick Fish
Island of the future. The concept of ‘culture’ as expressed by the White Building is
based on the narrow idea of creating a middle-class hotspot in the local area. This
analysis suggests that the project missed a valuable opportunity to include and
align existing structures and local artists. Regeneration of the neighbourhood via
London 2012 investment is less about the inclusion of existing strengths and more
about the commercialisation of ‘culture’ through a new cultural hub for ‘creatives’.
Our conceptual frame provides depth to this analysis. Although the
umbrella of ‘culture’ has the potential to translate abstract legacy plans to the local
level, it seems to follow a top-down strategic approach where the promotion of
physical infrastructures as cultural signposts is more important than the inclusion of
existing local cultural strengths. Cultural signposts are crucial within strategic
planning as they can boost the image of a neighbourhood and stimulate local
economic regeneration. A café in this sense is a business creating capital;
especially one that has high-end prices rather than geared towards attracting an
inclusive clientele, and thus aligns with an urgent competitive growth agenda.
Consequently, the White Building shows a scaling up of ‘culture’ indicating the
difficulty of transferring Olympic-led investment to existing structures without
making a claim to citywide relevance. As the officer of Hackney Council states:
In theory you should be able to exploit [the Olympics]; sponsors,
media stories, whatever else we’d like to do. There’s just that
disconnect I think, between running this mega global event and the
real micro level area. You even ring up LOCOG and say ‘can you
do a talk’ and they’ll say ‘oh yeah, it’s a host borough talk, is it?’
I’m like, ‘no it’s just here, your neighbours in Hackney Wick’, and
they’ll be like ‘oh, well that’s too small an area’. It’s just amazing
really (an officer of Hackney Council, interview 22.09.2011).
This frank statement is a clear indication as to the politics underscoring
‘legacy’, specifically the way that the needs of ‘the small’ local arena can be easily
overlooked when priority lies in the overall strategic goals of city-wide planning.
However, as the quotation of the Hackney Council officer demonstrates, the
different scales at which the professionals are working makes attention to both
‘local’ and ‘city’ (or even ‘global’) scale an almost impossible task. In this sense,
considering the constraints in resources, scaled-up definitions of ‘culture’ as well
as ‘community’ are continually likely to win in the London 2012 narrative – even if
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
effort is made to try and include existing local structures. This analysis helps
understand the local and global as in competition with each other, if considered
within a frame of neoliberal growth.
The White Building shows that instrumentalising ‘culture’ was a tactical
manoeuvre by a group of planners, to prevent crass property-led development.
Nevertheless, our empirical investigation shows that the White Building plays into
the agenda of the ‘growth coalition’ through its expression of ‘culture’ that largely
excludes existing artists. Our analysis, guided by the complex relationship between
‘legacy’, mega event and strategic planning, indicates that the promotion of
‘culture’ in this marginalised neighbourhood of east London goes hand in hand
with the promotion of the neighbourhood’s image, through a very particular
‘creative’ community. The cost of this strategy, we have shown, is social exclusion.
The Hackney WickED Festival 2012 represents another missed opportunity
for London 2012 planners to support existing cultural structures and create a
genuinely ‘local’ legacy. First organised in 2008, the Hackney WickED
( is an annual celebration of the grass-roots art scene, a
chance for both artists to open up their gallery and studio spaces to the public and
heighten their visibility, and for visitors to see what is going on behind Hackney
Wick’s warehouse facades. The increasing attention of this festival, celebrated in
the summer every year since its founding in 2008, brought more than 40,000
people into the area in 2011. Hackney WickED is now well established and has the
potential not only to raise the visibility of the area but also to connect the diverse
communities in Hackney Wick.
The organisers of the Hackney WickED festival were well aware of the
Olympics and the Cultural Olympiad, and the potential opportunities to work
together. However, as one of the organisers stated: “You've got the Cultural
Olympiad but they've never funded anything for Hackney WickED and they didn’t
even come to our exhibition…they all received an invite, but nobody came”
(interview 17.07.2012). Considering the aim of the Cultural Olympiad to create a
legacy for the host boroughs (LOCOG, 2011), the frustration expressed by the
organisers seems reasonable. Another organiser of the festival and curator of the
Elevator Gallery, flagged up another crucial point; the forced cancellation of the
Hackney WickED in its usual form in 2012. The mechanisms underscoring its
changed format (in the Olympic year of 2012) provides an insight into the priorities
of the Olympic planning authorities regarding which specific culture, and whose
‘local’ was given the spotlight in London during the games. Although the local
festival organisers wanted to benefit from the physical and temporal proximity of
the Olympics, they were not able to do so. It seems plausible to suggest that
Hackney WickED would have been the perfect opportunity for LLDC planners to
cooperate with the local community, given the organisational structure and the
willingness of the local artists.
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
The Cultural Olympiad for London 2012 was conceptualised as a generator
of local involvement in order to secure the success for the regeneration games’
much-praised legacy. However, this goal seems to have been unsuccessful, if one
of the neighbourhood’s most successful cultural activities the arts festival
Hackney WickED was unable to operate as usual during the Olympic Games
summer in 2012.
The umbrella concept ‘culture’ had potential to translate the abstract legacy
plans to the local level. However, our third empirical encounter suggests a more
regular top-down approach where the promotion of large-scale and spectacular
‘culture’, for example in the form of the Olympics’ opening ceremony took
precedence. Crucially, this cultural event (with mass popular appeal) represented a
lineage of national ‘culture’, and could be mediated across the global stage. The
focus on performing and boosting a narrative of national rather than neighbourhood
culture substantiates our idea that the relationship between our three pillars; legacy,
mega event and strategic planning is part of a politically motivated game, whereby
the language of ‘culture’ is part of presenting a benevolent ‘legacy’, which in
reality represents a new intensity of city-wide strategic planning.
When discourse around London 2012 as the ‘legacy Games’ began, there
was an understanding that existing communities and cultures, like those in
Hackney Wick Fish Island, would profit from urban regeneration. Our empirical
insights reveal a disconnect between the rhetoric of Olympic planners and
politicians, who promised both city-wide and local legacy, and the actual legacies
at the neighbourhood level. Coming full-circle back to the debates within ACME,
our empirical discussion supports the idea of a collective amnesia – or a “politics of
forgetting” (Springer 2015, 636) – inherent within London 2012 Olympic planning.
This paper provides a way of linking together long-standing planning
debates centred on mega-events (Müller, 2015; Newman and Thornley, 2011;
Raco, 2014; Roche, 2000) and strategic planning (Haugton, Allmendinger, and
Oosterlynck 2013; Swyngedouw et al., 2002). Using the Trojan horse analogy, we
demonstrate that the politically dubious aspects of mega-event and strategic
planning are disguised by the benevolent empty signifier ‘legacy’ through a
clever discursive manoeuvre. We flag up the importance of scale (specifically ‘up-
scaling’) within the equation, specifically the interpretation and translation of
‘legacy’ originally on a local scale, and later to a citywide and even national scale.
Legacy is the concept that ties together the various elements of our analysis.
Legacy has become a central frame for Olympic planning, anchoring policies and
programmes to long-term goals. As cities are increasingly using the Olympic
Games to catalyse urban development, and as a means to reposition themselves
within a changing global political economy, legacy has appeared on various
political scales from national and city level, to the local arena. As other scholars
London 2012: 'Legacy' a Trojan Horse
have pointed out, legacy is fluid, changing its face over space and time (for
example, Andranovich and Burbank, 2011). What remains unclear is how exactly
legacy is produced, who decides what legacy is, and who benefits. To fill this gap,
we analyse the making of legacy in Hackney Wick Fish Island.
The first encounter reveals the slippery definition of ‘community’ through a
new ‘legacy’ bridge. While planning professionals were under pressure to create
‘connectivity’ between the future residential communities on the Olympic site and
existing residential structures of Hackney Wick, an existing rowing club was
disregarded as a legitimate ‘community’ and faces possible displacement.
Encounter two, the White Building, highlights a similar process, whereby the
official aim of the project to foster existing ‘artistic cultures’ was side-lined in
order to provide a consumption space for middle-class ‘creatives’. The third
encounter focuses on the grassroots Hackney WickED festival. Despite marketing
the neighbourhood as a ‘hub’ for grassroots artistic activities, LLDC planners
failed to support the festival organisers, who were forced to change the existing
format of the festival in 2012.
The three empirical encounters highlight a common dynamic. They
demonstrate that the ‘growth coalition’ of planning professionals and politicians
strategically defined both ‘culture’ and ‘community’ up-scaling the concepts in
order to amplify the political and strategic relevance of the neighbourhood. These
priorities indicate that the intention was to further growth-oriented goals, rather
than serve the existing ‘cultures’ and ‘communities’ that existed in the
neighbourhood before the bid in 2005. These local processes demonstrate that
shifting categories underscored the making of London’s Olympic legacy. While our
analysis makes sense of the political nuances and tensions, revealing the local
agendas within strategic planning, the empirical data discussed here questions the
existence of a sensitive ‘local legacy’, and therefore also the success of London
2012 for the local arena. There is also a larger lesson to be learnt, which is relevant
beyond the London case. Our analysis not only demonstrates the power of the so-
called ‘growth coalition’ in shaping the direction and content of urban
restructuring, but also lays bare the complex power relations underscoring local
planning processes, often cementing the gap between the winners and losers of
urban regeneration (see also Müller and Pickles, 2015; Vanwynsberghe, Surborg,
and Wyly, 2013).
In the infamous Greek tale, the Trojan horse is a trick, planned to be
destructive. In Troy this was a clear war situation, with intentions undoubtedly
malicious, fixed on victory. The nature of the political deception that this paper
analyses is slightly different, and is related to specific manifestations of capitalism
as practiced in London, which include neoliberal entrepreneurial governance and
city branding politics. Consequently is not our aim to name-and-shame or blame
individual planners or agencies for strategic manipulation. Our analysis
demonstrates that Olympic planning creates irresolvable contradictions in scale,
which cannot due to the nature of London’s specific social, political and
ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 2017, 16(4): 713-739
economic practices – be resolved in favour of existing communities. The alignment
of Olympic planning with neoliberal spatial practices means that neighbourhood
needs can never truly be met. In this sense, the global scale of the London 2012
Olympics necessarily meant that the most vulnerable groups would largely be
displaced by urban planning decisions, with only minor concessions possible.
Within the logic of accumulation by dispossession the stream of gentrification
automatically means that certain histories, narratives and social structures are
eroded, a process that has been well documented for the last fifty years (Smith,
2002). The development agencies responsible for legacy planning must therefore
be held accountable for the consequences of their inaction to a certain extent; the
displacement of vulnerable strata was inevitable, even if individual planners did not
intend to harm local populations.
The empirical findings we present perhaps come with little surprise given
London’s dominant position on the global stage. Our findings show what happens
when authorities take a certain path, namely using mega events to pursue citywide
strategic goals and thereby flattening lived local practices. Nevertheless, it is
possible that London 2012 was taken as a warning sign. Since 2012 potential
Olympic host cities Berlin, Boston, Oslo and Stockholm have all pulled out of the
bidding process after citizens voiced resistance – in Krakow, Hamburg and Munich
citizens voted against hosting the Olympic games in referenda. These different
moments of resistance suggest a heightened sensibility and caution towards the
consequences of mega event led development. Perhaps London 2012 has served as
a warning – after all, the Trojan horse can only be effective once.
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... While many popular cases of displacement are led by the private sector (Atkinson & Bridge, 2005;Cobbinah, Amoako, & Osei Asibey, 2019;Lees, 2003), the state has long been involved in urban regeneration and subsequent displacement, dating back to the large-scale slum clearance in North America and the United Kingdom in the latter half of the last century (Jacobs, 1961;La Grange & Pretorius, 2016;McDonald, Malys, & Maliene, 2009). Generally, recent research shows that state-led displacement has been caused by all forms of urban regeneration, including housing development (Obeng-Odoom, 2013b;Unsal, 2015), metro systems (Lim, Kim, Potter, & Bae, 2013), waterfront regeneration (He, 2007), sporting events (Shin, 2009;Weber-Newth, Schlüter, & Helbrecht, 2017) and marketplace redevelopment (Bromley & Mackie, 2009;Gonzalez, 2018) among many others. ...
This article presents the concept of politically-induced displacement (PID) as a new theoretical construct for analyzing displacement processes during regeneration of urban infrastructure in Africa. PID is a particular form of state-led displacement that entails the dispossession of supporters of opposition political parties in favour of individuals who are affiliated with ruling political parties. PID does not only draw on the familiar concepts of state-led displacement and clientelism, but also conceptualizes the two as nuanced characteristics of urban development in Africa. Through an empirical scrutiny of the regeneration of market infrastructure in Cape Coast, we contend that PID is a function of urban regeneration, because it facilitates the exit and entry of political actors into newly-developed urban infrastructure. The study demonstrates that clientelism and, hence, PID is as pervasive in urban development of secondary cities in Africa, as it is in capital cities. It concludes with a discussion of the theoretical rationale for the process-oriented concept of PID. We also highlight the implication of PID for the micro-geographies of market trading as well as urban and marketplace governance in Ghana and Africa.
... While many popular cases of displacement are led by the private sector (Atkinson & Bridge, 2005;Cobbinah, Amoako, & Osei Asibey, 2019;Lees, 2003), the state has long been involved in urban regeneration and subsequent displacement, dating back to the large-scale slum clearance of the latter half of the last century (Jacobs, 1961;La Grange & Pretorius, 2016;McDonald et al., 2009). Generally, recent research shows that state-led displacement has been caused by all forms of urban regeneration, including housing development (Unsal, 2015), metro systems (Lim, Kim, Potter, & Bae, 2013), waterfront regeneration (He, 2007), sporting events (Shin, 2009;Weber-Newth, Schlüter, & Helbrecht, 2017) and marketplace redevelopment (Sara Gonzalez, 2018) among many others. For several decades, the state has been engaged in different kinds of urban regeneration as a policy goal to invest heavily in environmental beautification and the efficiency of urban infrastructure, with the aim of facilitating private sector development to close the rent gap in the inner-city (He, 2007;Lim et al., 2013;Lin & Chung, 2017;Unsal, 2015). ...
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Stadterneuerung in Ghana ist seit Jahren auch durch den Widerstand von Bürgerinnen und Bürgern geprägt. Auf der Grundlage einer qualitativen Analyse und Fallstudie zur Sanierung von Marktinfrastrukturen in Kumasi und Cape Coast zeigt diese kumulative Dissertation, dass es zum besseren Verständnis der Ursachen von zivilem Widerstand insbesondere Aufmerksamkeit für die Qualität der Governance-Prozesse selbst bedarf. Marktsanierungsprojekte in Ghana sind durch fünf Prozessphasen geprägt: Scoping, Planung, Finanzierung, Standortverlagerung und -zuweisung. In allen Phasen lassen sich jeweils anders gelagerte Kombinationen aus staatlichen Praktiken des Klientelismus und Neoliberalismus, des Aktivismus nichtstaatlicher Akteure sowie externer, globale und entwicklungsorientierter Investitionspraktiken internationaler und bilateraler Agenturen beobachten. In jeder Phase der Stadterneuerung spiegeln sich städtische Governance-Politiken, auf die wiederum stadt-politische Akteure mit Interventionen reagieren, um diesen Politiken entgegen zu wirken. Konzeptionell trägt die vorliegende Studie zu verschiedenen Diskursen bei: eine multidimensionale analytische Rahmung der geographischen Handelsforschung mit Fokus auf Märkte; eine Betrachtung von Aktivismus als zusätzlicher Dimension der städtischen Governance; die Auseinandersetzung mit politisch induzierter Verdrängung durch staatliche Handlungsweisen als alternativem Konstrukt zur Analyse von marktinduzierten Verdrängungsprozessen; und einen Beitrag zu Debatten um städtische Effekte ausländischer Direktinvestitionen. Die Ergebnisse können integrative Stadtentwicklung und eine nachhaltige Existenzgrundlage urbanen Zusammenlebens im anglophonen Westafrika fördern. Weitere Forschung wird empfohlen, um ein Verständnis für die Governance-Prozesse und die Dynamiken städtischer Infrastrukturentwicklung in der Subregion zu generieren.
Temporary urbanism has become an established marker of city making after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The book offers a critical exploration of its emergence and establishment as a seductive discourse and as an entangled field of urban practice encompassing architecture, visual and performative arts, urban regeneration and planning. Drawing on seven years of semi-ethnographic research in London, it explores the politics of temporariness at time of austerity from a situated analysis of neighbourhood transformation and wider cultural and economic shifts. Through a sympathetic, longitudinal engagement with projects and practitioners, the book tests the power of aesthetic and cultural interventions and highlights tensions between the promise of practices of dissenting vacant space re-appropriation, and their practical foreclosure. Against the normalisation of ephemerality, it develops a critique of temporary urbanism as a glamorisation of the anticipatory politics of precarity, transforming subjectivities and imaginaries of urban action.
Temporary urbanism has become an established marker of city making after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The book offers a critical exploration of its emergence and establishment as a seductive discourse and as an entangled field of urban practice encompassing architecture, visual and performative arts, urban regeneration and planning. Drawing on seven years of semi-ethnographic research in London, it explores the politics of temporariness at time of austerity from a situated analysis of neighbourhood transformation and wider cultural and economic shifts. Through a sympathetic, longitudinal engagement with projects and practitioners, the book tests the power of aesthetic and cultural interventions and highlights tensions between the promise of practices of dissenting vacant space re-appropriation, and their practical foreclosure. Against the normalisation of ephemerality, it develops a critique of temporary urbanism as a glamorisation of the anticipatory politics of precarity, transforming subjectivities and imaginaries of urban action.
Temporary urbanism has become an established marker of city making after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The book offers a critical exploration of its emergence and establishment as a seductive discourse and as an entangled field of urban practice encompassing architecture, visual and performative arts, urban regeneration and planning. Drawing on seven years of semi-ethnographic research in London, it explores the politics of temporariness at time of austerity from a situated analysis of neighbourhood transformation and wider cultural and economic shifts. Through a sympathetic, longitudinal engagement with projects and practitioners, the book tests the power of aesthetic and cultural interventions and highlights tensions between the promise of practices of dissenting vacant space re-appropriation, and their practical foreclosure. Against the normalisation of ephemerality, it develops a critique of temporary urbanism as a glamorisation of the anticipatory politics of precarity, transforming subjectivities and imaginaries of urban action.
This article reviews recent scholarship on the urban politics of mega-events. Mega-events have long been promoted as drivers of urban development, based on their potential to generate beneficial legacies for host cities. Yet the mega-event industry is increasingly struggling to find cities willing to host. Political arguments that promote mega-events to host cities include narratives about mega-event legacy—the potential for events to generate long-term benefits—and mega-event leveraging—the idea that cities can strategically link event planning to other policy agendas. In contrast, the apparent decline in interest among potential host cities stems from two political shifts: skepticism toward the promises made by boosters, and the emergence of new kinds of protest movements. The article analyzes an example of largely successful opposition to mega-events, and evaluates parallels between the politics of mega-events and those of other urban megaprojects.
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This study investigates the impacts of the London 2012 Olympic Games and their related cultural programme on local small creative organisations in East London. It contributes to unpacking the elusive concept of legacy thorough an in-depth analysis of creative organisations' stories and experiences, combined with an analysis of policy documents and interviews with key informants, over a four-year period (2010–2014). A range of potential impacts of mega-events for creative organisations are identified and systematically discussed. The results highlight a gap between Olympic rhetoric and local reality. Problems include inadequate local consultation, barriers to accessing opportunities and inability to leverage effectively. The study also explores the role of cultural tourism in delivering an Olympic legacy for the local creative industry. It finds that opportunities to showcase deprived – but creative – areas in East London, and foster the development of creative forms of tourism, were missed.
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As London sought to use the Olympics to achieve an ambitious programme of urban renewal in the relatively socially deprived East London it attracted global attention and sparked debate. This book provides an in-depth study of the transformation of East London as a result of the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games. Government and event organisers use legacies of urban renewal to justify hosting the world's leading sports mega-event, this book examines and evaluates those legacies. The London Olympics and Urban Development: the mega-event city is composed of new research, conducted by academics and policy makers. It combines case study analysis with conceptual insight into the role of a sports mega-events in transforming the city. It critically assesses the narrative of legacy as a framework for legitimizing urban changes and examines the use of this framework as a means of evaluating the outcomes achieved. This book is about that process of renewal, with a focus on the period following the 2012 Games and the diverse social, political and cultural implications of London's use of the narrative of legacy. © 2016 selection and editorial material, Gavin Poynter, Valerie Viehoff and Yang Li; individual chapters, the contributors. All rights reserved.
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In the past decade mega-events have entered a new phase of global reach, as post-socialist countries in Eurasia, from Poland to Russia, have or will become host to some of the largest events on earth: the Olympic Games in Sochi (2014), the Football World Cup in Russia (2018), the Football European Championship in Poland and Ukraine (2012), Expo in Astana (2017), the Asian Winter Games in Almaty (2011) and the Universiade in Kazan (2013), as well as a series of high-level political summits including the APEC and the BRICS summits in Russia. Although these mega-events are global, the various institutional, economic and cultural constellations and recombinant forms of rule that have emerged in their post-socialist host countries have shaped fundamentally the planning and organisation of each mega-event in unique ways. In each case, mega-events in post-socialist countries have involved a strong role for the central state and neopatrimonial forms of resource allocation. The events are meant to demonstrate to the rest of the world that the cities and countries once behind the Iron Curtain have at long last arrived in global modernity. While the rhetoric of worldwide competition, nationalist pride and one-upmanship between event organisers may be global, policies, knowledge and ideas connected to the events tend not to move unchanged to the post-socialist world.
The Olympic Games have become the world’s greatest media and marketing event-a global celebration of exceptional athletics gilded with corporate cash. Huge corporations vie for association with the “Olympic Image” in the hope of gaining a worldwide marketing audience of billions. In this provocative critical study of the contemporary Olympics, Jules Boykoff argues that the Games have become a massive planned economy designed to shield the rich from risk while providing them with a spectacle to treasure. Placing political economy at the center of the analysis, and drawing on interdisciplinary research in sociology, politics, geography, history, and economics, Boykoff develops an innovative theory of “celebration capitalism”, the manipulation of state actors as partners that drives us towards public-private partnerships in which the public pays and the private profits. He argues that the Athens Games in 2004 marked the full emergence of celebration capitalism, with London 2012 representing its quintessential expression, characterized by a state of exception, unfettered commercialism, repression of dissent, questionable sustainability claims, and the complicity of the mainstream media. Controversial, challenging, and forthright, this book opens up a fascinating new avenue for understanding the contemporary Olympics in the context of global capitalist society. It is essential reading for anybody with an interest in the Olympic Games, the relationship between sport and society, or global politics and culture.
This book brings together a body of new research which looks both backwards and forwards to consider how far the London 2012 Olympic legacy has been delivered and how far it has been a hollow promise. Cohen and Watt consider the lessons that can be learnt from the London experience and aptly apply them other host cities, specifically Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020. The Olympics are often described as a 'mega-event' in a way that assumes the host cities have no other existence outside, before or beyond the contexts imposed by the Games themselves. In terms of regeneration, the London 2012 Olympics promised to trigger a mega-regeneration project that was different to what had come before. This time the mistakes of other large-scale projects like London Docklands and Canary Wharf would be put right: top-down planning would be replaced by civic participation, communication and 'the local'. This edited collection questions how far the 2012 London legacy really is different. In so doing, it brings fresh evidence, original insights and new perspectives to bear on the post-Olympics debate. A detailed and well-researched study, this book will be of great interest to scholars of urban geography, sociology, urban planning, and sports studies.
On 6th July, 2005 the London Borough of Newham became host to the most prestigious mega-event on the planet, the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Newham and the surrounding Olympic Host Boroughs of east London are areas of significant deprivation - among the worst in the UK. The promise of the London 2012 bid that was instrumental in its victory in Singapore was that a London Olympics would deliver a lasting legacy to transform the socio-economic position of east London. London is acknowledged to be the first city to place so much emphasis on planned legacy but it is far from being the first city where legacy is significant. The rich discursive field surrounding the impacts of these event-phenomena on their host communities is being traversed by many scholars in the run-up to the opening ceremony, and debates are likely to continue well into legacy mode. The thoughts shared in this paper are primarily reflections on the idea, and indeed the ideal, of an Olympic legacy and the role local political leadership has in realising visions of legacy for those people living in the shadow of this colossal yet momentary spectacle.
This paper examines the temporality of urban planning in contemporary London, especially with regard to the 2012 Olympic Games. I argue that planners and officials deployed a rhetoric of permanence to validate not only the Games themselves, but also the costly development and infrastructural changes in the city as well as human displacements. Specifically, a decentralized network of planners, officials, consultants, and administrators used temporal concepts such as ‘legacy’, ‘sustainability’, and ‘regeneration’ in describing the benefits of hosting the Games, all of which purposely ignored the temporary and unsustainable nature of the two-week sporting event. I further argue that this rhetoric could be sustained only through an implication that the Olympic site—and East London as a whole—was in a state of ruin, a state which could be ameliorated through the production of this sporting ‘mega-event’. Above all, the Olympics attempt to rhetorically mitigate their own temporary, ‘pop-up’ quality for the sake of an urban settler colonialism.
Problem, research strategy, and findings: Mega-events such as the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup have become complex and transformative undertakings over the last 30 years, with costs often exceeding USD $10 billion. These events are currently planned and governed in ways that produce adverse effects for cities, regions, and residents. This study identifies a mega-event syndrome, a group of symptoms that occur together and afflict mega-event planning, including overpromising benefits, underestimating costs, rewriting urban planning priorities to fit the event, using public resources for private interest, and suspending the regular rule of law. I describe each of these symptoms, providing empirical examples from different countries and mega-events, examining the underlying causes. The research is based on material from field visits to mega-event sites in 11 countries as well as 51 interviews with planners, managers, politicians, and consultants involved in mega-event planning. Takeaway for practice: To curb the mega-event syndrome, I propose both radical and incremental policy suggestions. The most crucial radical change that an event host could make is to not tie mega-events to large-scale urban development, avoiding higher risks that create cost overruns, substandard construction quality, and oversized infrastructure not suitable for post-event demands. Further, event hosts should bargain with event-governing bodies for better conditions, earmark and cap public sector contributions, and seek independent advice on the costs and benefits of mega-events. Event-governing bodies, for their part, should reduce the size and requirements of the events.