Almost 10 years and £12bn in the making, the full extent of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will finally open to the public on Saturday, revealing "the biggest new park in Europe for 150 years", magicked from the mud at the bottom of the Lea Valley.
/ Source: The Guardian
Stretching for 230 hectares (568 acres) around a knotted tangle of waterways and rail lines, it is, says its maker, the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC), the size of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens combined, home to forests and wetlands, lawns and meadows, dotted with a velodrome and aquatics centre, a stadium and arena – the long-awaited spoils of the two-week sporting circus.
In the 19 months since the euphoria of the games subsided, £300m has been spent on adapting venues, planting trees and moving minor mountains. The northern half of the park, composed of neatly sculpted Teletubby mounds fringed by swaths of wildflower meadows, reopened in July and has already received a million visitors. A further 3 million are expected in the coming year, now that the final piece in the jigsaw is complete with the opening of the southern park, conceived as a "Southbank for the East End".
The sum of these disparate parts feels strangely unthought-through, belying the number of committees and review panels that preside over the production of every piece of the Olympic legacy. It also feels less park than plaza, more like an extension of the adjacent Westfield shopping centre than the nearby Victoria Park, or the wild Lea Valley that stretches for 40km to the north.
There will be 6,000 homes across five new neighbourhoods within the park, as well as the gargantuan commercial centre of the £2bn Stratford International Quarter, which will see 4m square feet (370,000 square metres) of office space in a complex of swollen glass blocks, designed by an unholy alliance of second-rate corporate architects. Given the quality of buildings that have sprung up on the overheated fringe of the Olympic site, there is not much to inspire confidence that what comes next will be any better.