Posted by: markhowell101 | September 4, 2011

Stratford and the Olympic site – Urban regeneration case study



I have been teaching the ongoing redevelopment of Stratford in London as a case study of urban regeneration for 2 years. As I am sure you are all aware the area is undergoing huge changes for the Olympics next year as 6 major sports stadiums, an athletes village and a media centre are all being built. The hope is that the redevelopment will bring with it further investment into the area and there are already signs of this with the large Westfield shopping centre being constructed right by the Olympic site. Having recently visited the site with a group of students I thought I would add a few thoughts to a case study that I am sure many people are teaching.

Prior to the Olympic bid Stratford was one of London’s more deprived areas, not a no go zone by any means but unemployment rates were high income was low, housing quality was pretty poor etc. The case study lends itself well to both GCSE and A-Level specs as a lot is being done to ensure the sustainability of these games and clearly the current exam specs have a real focus on sustainability. The world marvelled in 2008 when the games went to China at the impressive show put on in Beijing but the feeling was that the games in London needed not just to impress but to leave a legacy. The stadiums in China will, in all likelihood, turn into white elephants in the future, seldom seeing use and slowly rotting away. Unfortunately this is the case with a number of events which have preceded it, with the Montreal,  Atlanta and Athens stadiums all being victim of this fate and the 2010 world cup stadiums in South Africa already falling into some state of disrepair. The exception to this doom which has followed after Olympics is Sydney where the games were planned with sustainability in mind, the result is that the venues continue to make money and create jobs for the people. London therefore used the success of Sydney to model their ideas on and tried to adapt as many of the good ideas from those games as possible (I use information on the success of Sydney as a starting point for my GCSE and A-level lessons – which ideas could work for London).

An example of the typical housing and tower blocks in Stratford with stadium behind

With that in mind the London games looks to be sustainable in 3 ways, economic, environment and social. The main aim for the venues is to provide income for the next hundred years. However the capacity for the venues was considered to be too great for events following the Olympics and so the major stadiums were all designed to be partly dismantled after the Olympics to create smaller venues which can be more regularly used. Notably the main athletics stadium is to be reduced from a capacity around 65,000 to nearer 30,000 and will become the home of West Ham football team (although Spurs are doing their best to prevent that from happening). This should create thousands of permanent full and part time jobs in the area and this should help to provide a better economic situation in Stratford as the multiplier effect kicks in and local businesses benefit from higher rates of employment and increased tourists and visitors. A major issue for the games was the environment and so a vast area of parkland has been created around the area to offset the damage created by the stadiums. Local waterways, much of which have suffered with environmental pollution, have also been improved to encourage wildlife back into the area. Certainly on out visit we saw evidence of this with canals far from the stadiums looking to have oil and other deposits on the surface and lots of rubbish floating around, whereas waterways nearer the games were cleaner, with green algae floating on the surface and resurfaced towpath’s. The games also wanted to create the minimal carbon footprint possible and this is to be achieved by retailers within the park selling food and drink in biodegradable containers and supplies will be sourced from local producers wherever possible to keep air miles etc to a minimum. To ensure social sustainability the games is looking to not disrupt and hopefully improve the day to day lives of those in the area. Previous games, notably Barcelona, have brought the host city to a standstill during the event and London was keen for this not to happen. To ensure this, public transport in the area has been greatly improved, an infrastructure which will clearly last well beyond the games, and public transport costs have been reduced for those with tickets to events to try to encourage most people to travel to the games by train and not by car. Additionally the athletes village will be converted into affordable homes after the games many of which will be set aside for those in ‘key’ occupations such as nurses and teachers. 

So what has been the impact of all these developments? Well clearly the true impact will only be realised in the years after the games have happened, but already Stratford show signs of improvement. Beyond the Westfield shopping centre, residential developments like the one below have begun to spring up in the area, with the whole Stratford area looking like a construction site at present with high end residential and commercial properties appearing. Indeed the architect I spoke to on our visit was saying how the area was now experiencing an influx of higher earners and city types and with that bars and cafe’s in the area were profiting from new customers with higher incomes. So clearly even with a year to go before the games, many people in the area are beginning to benefit from the changes.

An example of the sort of modern development taking place in Stratford

However, clearly the problem like with many urban redevelopments is what has become of the people who previously lived in the area who are no longer able to afford the rents being charged by landlords. Well, i didnt take us long to find out that what is being done in nothing. On our way out of Stratford we stopped at a McDonalds, located a stones throw from the stadium, and sat outside was a group of ‘hoodies’ in their late teens and early twenties. Perhaps not very wisely I decided to talk to them about what impacts the developments were having on them. All of them agreed through some conversation that the improvements did nothing to improve their lives with one or two commenting that lower income jobs were now harder to find in the area (especially part time jobs for teenagers) and council housing was in short supply as many tower blocks were being shut down and demolished to make way for new developments. Simply put, many of the poorer residents of Stratford are being marginalised, losing work and having to leave the area.

Clearly this example is more complex than I could ever outline in a blog post and this serves as just a simple outline of what is taking place there. Hopefully this will help some people feel a little more informed when teaching this case study or simply debating the concept of redevelopment or gentrification. If anybody would like any of the resources I use for teaching this at A-Level or GCSE please feel free to email me at

As ever thankyou for reading.



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