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My Olympic Park experience: starting with the positive

 

After a bit of a misunderstanding with LOCOG in the first week of the Games – when it turned out (very inconveniently) that my ‘Sustainability Support’ accreditation would not automatically get me into the Olympic Park – this week I have spent a lot of time there.

My impressions of the Park have prompted some strong and mixed emotions. Today, I will deal with the positive!

The London 2012 Olympic StadiumThe Olympic Stadium is surrounded by greenery - this space well deserving of the 'park' moniker © John McGarvey

The first thing that struck me is just the sheer size of the park.

This has brought home the enormity of the undertaking in actually getting this thing built on time: overcoming planning, land-ownership and contamination hurdles to marshal thousands of contractors to deliver something that is very clearly finished, fully-functioning, and on time. There were some tough decisions and bad calls – like the loss of the Manor House Gardens allotments – as the Olympic juggernaut gathered speed, but now it’s here, it’s hard not to be slightly awestruck.

Our involvement in trying to influence the sustainability of the Games goes right back to the early days of London’s bid, when fewer than 50 people were involved and the masterplan for the Games was hardly more than sketchy marks on the map. By getting involved right at the start, I can now see how the One Planet Olympics concept has had a strong positive impact on so many aspects of the delivery of the London Games.

If you know what you are looking for, you notice these things right away – everyone (well certainly the spectators) arrives by public transport and the park, when you get there, is actually pretty compact by Olympic standards. There is noticeably much less hardstanding and asphalt than Beijing (where every path looked big enough to land a plane on) and, of course, there are trees, waterways and wildflower meadows tracing their way right through the heart of the park.

An Olympic Park pathways, surrounded with wildflowersPaths surrounded by trees and wildflower meadows trace their way right through the heart of the Olympic Park © John McGarvey

The venues themselves are noticeably fewer, smaller and lighter than at many previous Games. There is much use of existing venues outside the park. Several of the park venues (such as the basketball and waterpolo) are temporary and some of the venues such as the main stadium and the aquatics centre will, or can be, reduced in size after the Games. It is impossible to overemphasise the sustainability benefits of this approach – ⅛ the amount of carbon was used in building London’s main stadium compared with Beijing’s Bird Nest stadium – and this can be traced directly back to the One Planet strategy and the use of carbon footprinting tools to make decisions.

There seems to be much less merchandising ‘tat’ and giveaways; though Visa’s widely distributed plastic bags are an exception – shame! Recycling and composting bins dwarf the unsegregated rubbish bins and it is possible to buy a range of food beyond the well-publicised offers of the sponsors. All this is true to the One Planet Olympic vision.

Crucially, the International Olympic Committee, Sochi 2014 and Rio 2016 observer teams are crawling over the park, picking the sustainable brains of LOCOG officials and I think there is a good chance that many elements of London’s approach will be adopted as a blueprint for future Games.

Though not visible during a trip to the park, but equally important, ambitious plans to secure a sustainable legacy for the park post-Games are unusually advanced in London. The London Legacy Development Corporation has published a solid sustainability plan for the development of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park over the next four decades which, again, builds on the One Planet vision.

The visibility of sustainability at the Olympics is an important issue in itself. On this score I am less happy – but more of that in my next blog…

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