An Olympic reality in the wake of a legacy. Part -1

“Inspire a Generation!” was the London 2012 motto. It was everywhere, billboards, buses, cars, the underground (tube) and television commercials. It was powerful enough fuel for the Great Britain (GB) athletes, as evidenced by the most amounts of medals (65) for team GB in 100 years of Olympic Games. With the feats of Jessica Ennis, Mo Farrah’s, Gabby Douglas (USA) and other Olympians, their successes will be inspiration for many young men and women for years to come.

Jessica Ennis  won the gold in the heptathlon – Mo Farah double Olympic gold medalist and Victoria Pendleton Olympic gold cyclist

For some, the dream will continue with  increased training time on the tack, in the pool or in the boxing ring. Their focus will be in stepping-up their dedication with increased execution. For others, a vast majority, the challenges will start with having to navigate their Council Estate’s (Projects), more often located in the lowest of income neighborhoods with dodgy dealers, thieves, punters and toe-rags. For these young men and women, their lives are a far cry from Hyde Park, The Mall, Trafalgar Square or Earls Court.  It’s more like Finsbury Park, Kilburn,  Holland Park, Neasden,  Stratford,  and the likes; the “cobbles”  is where their respective futures are being shaped. Much like  inner city low-income communities  in the United States, the challenges for these neighborhoods at times seem insurmountable  appearing to outweigh the allocated resources.

Nearly every city that has served as host to the Olympics has left some sort of legacy.  In all cases, the legacies have been paved with good intentions. London’s Olympic 2012 project  investment was originally estimated to cost  $4.8 billion; the final cost was $18 billion dollars.   The London Legacy Project:

  • The construction of five new neighborhoods, each with its own distinct character, will see up to 8,000 homes built-in the Olympic Park by 2030
  • Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will provide an escape with its green, open spaces beside tranquil waterways. Elsewhere will pulsate with a multitude of events. The five world-class venues built specially for the Games, will now be host to local, national and international sporting competitions, concerts, festivals, temporary attractions, installations and more in its many public spaces.
  • The London Legacy Development Corporation see’s employment and business growth as key to the regeneration of east London. To deliver this, they intend to promote high-quality education and job training opportunities; making sure they meet employers’ workforce requirements. This will allow unemployed local residents the opportunity to access jobs throughout the Park.
  • Development plans include 1.3 million square feet of housing, 480,000 square feet of office space and 200,000 square feet of hotels, shops, a health center,  community centre, nursery school, gym and parking.

The Athletes’ Village at Stratford will be retro-fitted to create nearly 3,000 new homes after the 2012 Olympics

The final result is a complete reshaping of the East End.  Winning an Olympic bid was both huge and historic for London and Great Britain. Serving as a  lasting legacy of English and London pride; where “Club and Country” is as sacred, if not more so, than “God save the Queen”.  As expected, Brits’ and Londoner’s alike shined in extending the United Kingdom’s hospitality. However, this hospitality  maybe considered a new normal for the likes of  an Indianapolis, Indiana. London is a City where one’s olfactory senses are tantalized with unique scents and your hearing and vision are greeted with varied dialects and appearances  of  African, South African, East Indian, Eastern European immigrant, Asian, Latino and West Indian culture at every turn. In every  pub (bar), bus, tube,  newsstand, restaurant, cinema, football (soccer) game, concert and corner store. London, is not short on diversity, in fact it serves as the future of what communities and neighborhoods are to become in United States, including  Indianapolis.  London’s ability to embrace its ethnic and cultural differences as part of the new enhanced British culture, represents the new normal. As such, I find it increasingly difficult to hear this current  mantra and position of “art, beauty and nature” from leadership in the fields of  philanthropy, economic and  community development in Indianapolis; when some of  these very organizations in the  field continue to plan with a blatant insensitivity to the changing demographics.

“Transformation” seems to be the constant language being used as Indianapolis wrestles through its identity crisis. Yet, the methods used in economic and community development and philanthropy  are “transactional”; defined by  “asset mapping”, “investments” and “asset-based planning”and are devoid of any real transformative  and restorative imperatives. In essence,  my estimation is  there are three  significant challenges (assertions) in the current practice of Indianapolis’ “theory of change”, a) continued planning from a place of cultural tunnel vision, b) cherry-picking of communities and neighborhoods and c) Structural Racism embedded in the process of philanthropic, economic and community development. At a glance, these may seem to be far-reaching assertions but from the various seats on the bus (which I occupy), it cannot be any more glaring.  But this paragraph will be expounded upon at a later time, in another blog.

Back to “Inspire a Generation!” For other persons, a vast majority, the challenges start with having to navigate their Council Estate’s (the Projects), more often located in the lowest of income neighborhoods with dodgy dealers, thieves, punters and toe-rags.

These concerns and sentiments are echoed by London Funders. In a recent article in The Guardian (August 21st 2012), The Legacy 2013 Fund partnership, whose members include Comic Relief, the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and London Funders network, says “good work is being done on grassroots legacy but the funding will largely run out by 2017”. Its answer is a call to the government to commit at least £100m to an independent endowment fund that would provide a lasting source of cash for nationwide sports projects aimed at transforming communities by improving social and physical wellbeing. To focus on sport just for sport’s sake is to miss the point, it argues: why limit results to medal tallies when you could also have safer, happier communities, more confident, successful people and all-round better health?

These concerns and sentiments were echoed by London Funders network, whose members include Comic Relief and Community Development Foundation (CDF). In a recent article in The Guardian (August 21st 2012 – Rachel Williams ), The Legacy 2013 Fund partnership and London Funders network agreed “good work is being done on grassroots legacy but the funding will largely run out by 2017”. Its answer was a call to the government to commit at least £100 million to an independent endowment fund that would provide a lasting source of cash for nationwide sports projects aimed at transforming communities by improving social and physical wellbeing. To focus on sport just for sport’s sake is to miss the point, it argues: “why limit results to medal tallies when you could also have safer, happier communities, more confident successful people and all-round better health?”

CDF’s chief executive Alison Seabrooke, “We want to fill the gaps,” she says. “There’s a lot of noise around the different government departmental provisions in sport and where it’s lacking and what it doesn’t tackle is the people who aren’t sporty, who aren’t active. Everything we see is all about sports’ outcomes – the number of footballers you produce, or the number of boxers, and the increase in sporting achievement. What we don’t look at is sport as a tool for doing other things in the community. We want a fund that will cut across different political cycles that will protect the money and make it work really hard.”

The challenges that  low-income young males  and females of color face in London is no different from any urban or suburban area in the United States. The main distinctive difference seems to be class, especially in the Council Estates (America’s equivalent to Public Housing). There is council housing (Flat’s & rented houses) available outside of the estates, in middle-income communities, adding to the diverse population representing community.  However, even with the vibrant colors that make up London, young men of color (often in the lower-class)  are so weighed down by social and psychological deprivation they borough-in rather than dig out. Seeing themselves as the beneficiaries of the London Olympics’ Legacy Fund will require more than ambitions of developing a Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park or building a new generation of elite athletes. With an eye on success in Rio in 2016, whether it be London or Indianapolis, there is a need for more tangible imperatives than “art, beauty and nature” in transforming low-income communities. Developments the likes of an Olympic Legacy or Super Bowl Legacy need to reflect the faces and culture of the current residents. Taking into account changing demographics; ensuring long-term employment and stability over gentrification.

Planned Development after the London Olympics - The East End

London Olympic Legacy Redevelopment Plan

In Ilford, community youth worker Mehbub Ahmed agrees. The 24-year-old runs a non-contact boxing project at Frenford Clubs’ Jack Carter centre…”[The government is] only looking for elite athletes and nothing more than that. It’s not looking to help the community as a whole. It sees it as more about collecting medals than looking out for where young people are going with their lives.”

Whether, Haughville, South Bronx, The East End, Martindale-Brightwood or the barrios of Rio de Janeiro, planning, redevelopment and regeneration must include those who are disenfranchised. There must be clear, honest and authentic dialogue that forces reflection  of one’s assumptions of a shared vision of community and, what is looks like? Planning investment and attracting assets are central to restoring the economic base of local  low-income communities, cities and regions, which makes  inclusion an even more vital piece to the redevelopment process. The notion that communities that are “dis-invested” also lack the intellectual capability to grasp the technicalities of community restoration is a sorely perpetuated myth. There is no doubt that the East End will thrive, pockets of Indianapolis will continue to grow, communities will feel safer, school facilities will improve, housing will be created, jobs will increase and some of the local residents will benefit.  But to inspire a generation, the next generation needs to continue to see like faces in the process, occupying program manager, project manager, senior or  lead planner positions. Being part of the management and executive team, in a manner that is  more than “cosmetic diversity.”  Listening to a  radio show about community and economic development a caller by the name of Grandpa said the following;  “the recent calls reek of people who are completely cool with gentrification and who see cities as playgrounds instead of what they really are. The hierarchy of America and the world elites laugh at how the people are worried about the look of the city when there are absolutely enormous problems with racism, education,  jobs and pollution. Poverty and ignorance are all over the place in every city  but hardly ever mentioned. Be careful when you try to make empires places where you can go and play pretend all day.” 

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3 Comments

Filed under Community Development

3 responses to “An Olympic reality in the wake of a legacy. Part -1

  1. Sarah Blandina

    Thank you, Carlos, for this thoughtful and thought-provoking article. The problems you’ve described won’t go away, I’m afraid, by any of the means we’ve tried so far and not as long as we fail to correct your assertions a, b, and c. I’d like to add one more: the overarching bondage to selfishness and greed that defines a good life as having more things to consume. I look forward to your next installment.

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