“Stratford City was framed not only by a clear conviction that cities must make the best of their urban assets if they are to survive and compete, but also in the certain knowledge that London was already ‘on the up’.
The last two decades of the 20th Century had witnessed London proverbially lap Frankfurt as undisputed financial capital of Europe. It is easy now to forget just how close the race had been until ‘Big Bang’ established an athletic dynamic that the pull of the European Central Bank weightlifters proved simply unable to match. In the increasingly spiky world identified by Trends speaker, Richard Florida, London was developing a financial and creative ecology and cultural literacy, supported by a new-found tenacity and focus, which saw us clamber onto the rostrum of global city medal winners.
Great cities manage the art of living together well. In this respect, London had some work to do.
The financial leap towards east London, driven by a carefully staged irrepressibility at Canary Wharf, had yet to shift development far beyond the confines of the River Thames.
The broader area to the north and east continued to carry its disproportionate share of urban dislocation and low quality homes. Daily commuting drained away the economically active, the lack of a metropolitan scale retail destination dissipated local spend, whilst the skills base remained depleted.
The dominance of public sector housing limited opportunities for ambitious families to stay in the vicinity of Stratford. The statistics showed that many of the economically active moved away, just at the time that they could contribute most to the community. All this relative underachievement in an area which, with the 2007 opening of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link consolidating a myriad of existing rail and underground links, could legitimately boast some of the best public transport connections in the world.
Every bit as certain as the knowledge that London was on the up, was the recognition that the eastern hinterland had some catching up to do. Accordingly, far from promising the default development position of minimum impact, Stratford City was unashamedly aspirational from the outset. Well ahead of London's successful 2005 Olympic selection, the design strategy promoted radical change to the urban map of an under-performing area both requiring and deserving investment.
If the private sector made the early running in reinvigorating development, the Olympic introduction took over the baton and turbo-charged the pace of change. The very process of bidding galvanised a sense of identification and competitive determination that only lifted the height of the city’s creative spike. The eventual discovery that humble Stratford, in East London, could not only put itself forward as a credible candidate but actually achieve selection to host the self-styled “Greatest Show on Earth” represents apparently incontrovertible evidence that we live in a world in which all things are entirely possible.
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