Day 5 (Un)Urban: The Winners and Losers of Urban Regeneration

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1-Dr Tim Waterman’s burned-out car at the end of the road?

To kick off the second week of the (Un)Urban Global Citizenship Strand, the groups met in our case study site of Fish Island and The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Our base for the week, Stour Space is a fitting example of the creative regeneration processes engulfing this former industrial part of Hackney Wick and Tower Hamlets. Surrounded by waterways, mid-rise warehouses and parkland – the area offers a welcome juxtaposition to the more inner-city location of UCL’s main campus. Being immersed in the area will inevitably be beneficial to catalysing integration and understanding of our research site and help with putting the theoretical framework from week one into practice with our designated challenges.

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2-Stour Space Top-Trumps

The day consisted largely of a tour of the park and the surrounding Hackney Wick area, as well as a visit to the R-Urban Mobile Garden City – situated adjacent to the former Athlete’s Village complex. As a group, having largely never visited the park previously, what became particularly apparent was the vastness of the open space surrounding the various Olympic venues. Although much of the former event-infrastructure such as concrete concourses, has been ‘re-wilded’, the park still hold an incessant bareness in certain parts of it. What we began to question is whether this seemingly unused space has come about through a lack of people living in its vicinity – or through problematic social engineering which perturbs rather than attracts local residents to it.

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3-#onebigcommunity

The changing face of the Olympic Park area bears resemblance to gentrifying processes felt elsewhere in London – however, it also presents its own complexities and tensions such as between the tidal wave of housing development and the preservation of post-industrial creative warehouses. The challenge that Group 2 in particular face, is how these newer communities can successfully integrate with both the resident creative community and the life-long residents of the area. R-Urban with their mixed-purpose community space offers a solution for creating new, vibrant and cohesive communities within the new high-rise apartment blocks, but it was difficult to see how a project such as this could be used collaboratively to engineer inclusion and assimilation between long-term and new residents. However, in itself the Mobile Garden City presented an interesting model of community engagement for us to observe, explore and learn about. The bottom-up initiative at R-Urban Wick not only displayed the hard work and enjoyment of the developing East Village community but also showed the potential of public-private partnerships when working towards local social-wellbeing projects.

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4-Mobile Garden City

Later we made our way back through the park towards the artistic and more alternative community on Fish Island. Passing through the Trowbridge Estate however reified the fact that Hackney Wick is such a diverse area, home to people from all different backgrounds and with sometimes polarised lifestyles. Upon visiting the old Bath House, we were made aware of the conflict that has arisen through concerns of the estate’s residents for increasing noise levels, anti-social behaviour and visible drug use. Whilst the creative bubble appeared idealistic and desirable at first glance, it was important for us to bear in mind the mixed demographic of the area and understand how opinions towards a changing neighbourhood both visually and socially are highly contested.

All in all, our day of exploring the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and its environs proved to be engaging, diverse and particularly useful for fostering a greater portrait of the area and the communities that live there. After resting tired legs and soothing the first sunburn of the summer, we can look forward to exploring our case study site and work with the people that call this area home, to strive for sustainable strategies that promote well-being, assimilation and a vibrant sense of community in Hackney Wick – ensuring that no-one ‘loses’ out to the community’s changing face.

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