By Teena Lashmore Nowhere in London is the wave and casualties of gentrification more obvious than in the East, Stratford – home to the Olympic Stadium and international athletics of 2012. Medals were won and sporting records broken but local people’s aspirations from the Olympic development are still to be realised. Stratford received a new postcode: E20, and a new shopping centre, ironically named Westfield even though the building is in the East. Expanding railway lines, canopied bus terminus and the fast flowing one-way street segregates the old Shopping Centre of E15 from the salubrious new build. A gated community – no gates required.
Accommodation that promised to be ‘affordable’ for local people remains just as elusive as the term. A year later and residential properties remain empty even though the area of Stratford, the borough of Newham and London generally has unsustainable levels of people in housing need. Instead of delivering on its 2012 Legacy, E20 has seen politicians, economists, financiers and the Olympic organisers themselves frame the media to the contrary. They claim success but fail to explain why the legacy is unachievable, because no one fully appreciates who owns what. In fact deciphering accountability in E20 is so complicated that it is often best not to bother. “They sold our streets and nobody noticed”, said the Observer Newspaper, when reflecting on recent urban developments such as E20. In E20, tax-payers money was used to facilitate the most amazing land grab of public space for private land ownership. Unlike other areas of diversity, classism is rarely discussed, but the failings of E20 open the debate. Classism exists and is associated with land ownership or land grabbing. Any attempt to frame E20 as being for the ‘local people’ is likely to be discredited in time. We are unlikely to see an abundance of local people there because both the physical and financial boundaries that surround E20 prevent this. Community cohesion is likely to be challenged – as it was when Canary Wharf supplanted itself over the people and history of London’s docks. Being open about classism in E20 would have been more palatable from the outset instead of creating a facade that E20 would be accessible to all. Being open about what is ‘affordable housing and including that definition in the public consultations – at the planning phase, this too would have avoided the accusation that the term was used simply to gain local people’s acceptance for the new enclosures.
Had Stratford City been the E20 strap line, instead of popping up in coffee shops, this would have made this urbanisation clear and unambiguous and the local people could have then focused their energies on developing shared goals and business interests with the new city and its proposed inhabitants. Classism does not have to be a negative aspect of progress but it will inevitably be framed as such because planning new urban developments – just like we witnessed with our beloved Olympics, continues to be sold to local people as a scheme that is diverse and for everyone, when in reality it is a scheme for a few. A wealthy few. As Britain faces up to the challenges of meeting our housing needs for all our classes of people, future developments that take public land away from all of us will need to be clear as to who its beneficiaries are. Classism should not be the enemy for social cohesion in urban development, but it will be unless it is open and transparent and uses its own wealth to buy land and not the pubic purse to achieve its land grab of public spaces.