I love to read Simon Jenkins on the question of the much hyped Olympic legacy. Jenkins has from the very start consistently decried the mega stadium approach in favour of something more down to earth. I seem to recall his plea that we use our existing venues rather than create shiny new white elephants. On this I wholeheartedly applaud him. But his latest piece in the London Evening Standard, 'Spend Olympic Money On Making London Beautiful' 2/2/10, ( a newspaper now owned incidentally, lock, stock and barrel, by an ex KGB officer and now billionaire Russian Oligarch), is off the mark, though I do believe his intentions were honourable.


Jenkins notes that the much heralded Cultural Olympiad is now being quietly shelved. The Olympics were once about poetry as well as sport..now they are about sport, big spending and national glory, but in the reverse order. All else is froth. Well said Mr Jenkins. Of course, when one considers that government ideas on culture often consist of little more that wheeling out Paul McCartney, Elton John. Robert Plant and the likes, it might just be a good thing that the cultural bit is being downplayed. The possibility that a cultural Olympiad might wish to celebrate the works of say, Harold Pinter, Alan Bennett, Dennis Potter, Mike Leigh or Linton Kwasi Johnson was hoping for too much. We'll get instead a few predictable pop festivals in the park and that will be it for culture in 2012.


So what does Jenkins suggest we do with the dosh they were going to spend on culture? 'My pet scheme is radical' he says. 'It is not to blow the £40 million on salaries, offices and events, of which there is abundance in London every year. It is to blow the money on London itself.' So far so good. Jenkins continues, 'We should spend it on simply making London more beautiful for 2012, on making the existing metropolis more of a work of art.' Now nobody would argue that there are huge swathes of our capital city that are blighted by 20th century ugliness and a few million more trees would not go amiss, nor would a city wide programme of edgy street art. But Jenkins is rather selective in what he wants tarted up. Just listen to him waxing lyrical about his favourite riverside views: 'Admiring the view yesterday evening on Westminster Bridge, I wondered at how London's loveliness now jostles with ugliness, in a manner inconceivable in rival capitals.' He then goes on to complain about the lack of coordination of the lighting of buildings along the Themes. I'm sorry Mr Jenkins but London has far more pressing problems than a few un-coordinated neon lights that you consider irritating. Have you visited some of the more run down housing estates in and around London recently Mr Jenkins. The lack of community centres, the lack of clean and safe playing areas and the chronic lack of quality public spaces where local people can just sit and be. The central London Thames area may not be perfect but it is more than adequate. The places where so many Londoners have to live their lives are far from adequate. This is where our attention should be focused.


My idea is far more radical. Spend the money on London yes, but spend it to improve the places where low income families have to live. Fifty new small, local parks, well maintained, would be a fine Cultural Olympic legacy that would make a powerful statement to the residents. Yes, successive governments have totally ignored your plight for decades but now London intends to do something about it. Jenkins should never forget that tens of thousands of youngsters live in daily fear of accidentally crossing into rival postcode territory, a mistake that could cost them their lives. What has the Olympic legacy committees got to say about that?


Addressing the problems of fractured, demoralised communities that spawn drug addiction and gang violence I think takes priority over the 'vulgarity' of glaring neon lights that seems to so preoccupy our bourgeois Mr Jenkins. Jenkins concludes his article thus; 'If a morsel of the billions going on this sporting fortnight could go on something of lasting value to London's environment, the Olympic extravagance might evoke less fury. Quite so. But while Simon Jenkins likes to take a quiet stroll along the Thames of an evening after a hard day at his laptop, millions of Londoners must return to their run down housing estates, many of which are hidden out of sight but just a stone's throw from his beloved river. Yes, it's a matter of environment but the big question is, whose environment? 


End JPK 3/2/10

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Last Updated ( Monday, 28 May 2018 16:13 )