Thursday, July 26, 2012

Games of Division

From Reuters, London:

"Everyone here hates the Olympics," says the graffiti spray-painted on the wall of a derelict peanut factory just outside London's glitzy new Olympic stadium.
Tucked away in one of London's roughest neighbourhoods, the crumbling factory is long out of use, having been taken over by a motley crew of artists, musicians and circus performers united by their disdain for the 2012 Olympic Games.

"The stadium is right next door. But it doesn't aid the local community," said Kunal Modi, a 25-year-old musician living in bohemian squalor in the huge Victorian building. "They are all talking about how it's going to have a knock- on effect on the local community but people haven't been allowed to capitalise on it. So that's outrageous."

Millions of foreign visitors descending on London this month may not notice, but within sight of the gleaming Olympic venues are some of the city's most troubled neighbourhoods where the unattainable glamour of the Games has only fuelled resentment. It was here, in worrying proximity to the Olympic sites, that gangs of masked teenagers went on the rampage last year, looting shops and turning streets into battle zones - a trauma that still hangs heavily over the socially segregated area.

"Inspire a generation" is the motto of the Games and officials are confident there will be a positive long-term impact, with plans to spend more than 300 million pounds ($470 million) to transform the area into a new and prosperous part of London. Outside one Olympic venue in the industrial area of Hackney Wick, M Royce - he gave only his initial - stared blankly at a security fence around the facility as he described his struggle to find a job.

"It's two different worlds. They are not going to meet in the middle. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer," said Royce, a second generation Londoner whose family came from Ghana and who has been jobless for two years. "That's what it boils down to. Give me a job and I'll do it. I've been promised a job working at the Olympics as a security guard, they've done all the vetting, all the checks, and I am still waiting. I am one of the statistics, one of the victims."

Professor Mike Hardy of the Institute of Community Cohesion, who has advised the government on social issues in London, said the arrival of better housing and richer tenants in the area could add to people's sense of alienation if mishandled.
He said the local residents needed to understand how they would benefit from the new facilities, and not be left on the outside looking in.

"In London the haves and have-nots live cheek by jowl and generally we do that pretty well," he said. "I'm concerned that if the local community isn't fully involved then the investment in infrastructure could paper over the underlying problems."

"The Olympics has changed the geography of London and moved the centre East," said Liza Fior who designs public spaces as part of a London architecture and art project known as muf. "The Games will raise aspirations and expectations but the Olympic investment in East London has masked the full extent of the cuts in public services - cuts which will be even greater in the next financial year."

"A lot of these kids don't know why they are angry ... I can imagine were I 10 years younger I could've been there," said Modi the musician, whose family came from India in the 1970s. "I was an angry kid I guess. It's easy to get swept in these things when you are 15," he added.

As he spoke, police helicopters rumbled overhead and a scruffy t-shirt reading "Don't touch me, I am local" fluttered on a clothesline.


So much for 'It's Your Games' then. In reality any fool can see that the Olympics are less about amateur sports and friendly competition, but more about corporate profit making and a great way of developers to bulldoze through local communities at the same time.


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