London's Olympic Legacy: TOWN PLANNING FOR INSECTS
Reflections on aestheticised greenwash urbanism.....
Venues for the green glitterati and other raconteurs of mass extinctions......
Deliberations on an arsehole called Sir Richards Rogers (a.k.a. the cowboy Roy Rogers).... plus a despairing visit to Nigel Dunnett's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford, site of the 2012 London Olympics - a funereal, exotic and contained death-in-nature false encounter.........
"If destructive growth required an environmentalist disguise, destruction would have to be presented as the environmentalist act par excellence." (Miquel Amoros 2012)
"A few years back, we were passing along Goodge St in our building clobber, when one of the gang, Steve, seemed to stumble, crashing into an outdoor cafe table. Spilling coffee over the seated customer, he did not offer an apology merely exclaiming, "Well, well, it's the cunt that destroyed Paris". It was Sir Richard Rogers."(Notes from a Diary by Stuart Wise)
The British Royal Academy has recently mounted a retrospective of the work of the 80 year old rotten-to-the-core, Roy Rogers. Lord Rogers who is a titles and prizes klepto operating under the guise of a phony egalitarianism, has long been a Royal Academician. Family tickets can be purchased from the academy with a 3 course meal thrown in at the ritzy Rainbow restaurant: a revealing tag because Rogers is the architect of reactionary ambiance that merges tourism, false encounter, sculpture, billboard 'poetic' gibberish, eating like a cancer into the utterly enfeebled architectural body. A building is now not meant to be just looked at, as in the past, but worn like a second skin - 'lived' with an intensity altogether different from architecture as little more than shelter, a combination of walls and a roof to be merely 'lived in' as was formerly the case. Though bent on stamping out the fire of 1968, Rogers had felt its heat enough to believe a different, higher, order of experience through a flexible, transforming unarchitecture was possible. The key to getting a handle on Rogers counter revolutionary significance goes back to May 1968. In fact at architecture's lowest ever ebb, he raises the Lazarus profession of architect from the dead, giving it a semblance of everlasting life, and Ozymandian power, no one in the late 1960s would have thought remotely possible. If this crucial fact is left out, then everything else about Sir Roy Rogers becomes meaningless, and the threads of a more enlightening comprehension tangled.
Rogers break comes when his entry for the Pompidou Centre is chosen above a couple of 100 other designs. By throwing culture open to the masses at the moment of arts demise, he felt he was realizing the aims of 1968, a skewed conception not all that different in the last analysis to that of his patron, De Gaulle's faithful lieutenant, George Pompidou, then president of the French Republic and who was also putting his signature to a project that had been conceived years before by André Malraux. Sometime after this Malraux always something of a slime ball, became a money grubbing, fame seeking political careerist as Minister for Cultural Affairs under De Gaulle's presidency. Pompidou had said "it is my passionate desire that Paris have a cultural centre which is both a museum and a creative centre where the plastic arts can flourish alongside music, the cinema, books, audio visual research etc". As for Malraux he had always been all things to all people. At one moment a sometime surrealist he did nothing more radical in the mid 1930s than join with the Spanish Republicans whilst a far more genuine surrealist such as Benjamin Peret fought alongside the Spanish anarchists' gun in hand. At least in 1967 somebody like Raymond Queneau and like Malraux a middle of the road surrealist did in later life get Vaneigem's remarkable revolutionary tract, Traité de savoir-vivre à l'usage des jeunes générations published by Éditions Gallimard a big shot publishing company. Queneau redeemed himself, Malraux never.
Against all the odds, a British architect wins the competition. In fact Rogers was born in Florence to Italo-English parents. For 5 years prior to winning [whining?] the competition, he had lived modestly in the Marais then still a working class, immigrant community in the heart of Paris. The equivalent in this country would have been London's Notting Hill, though minus the essential difference: this was pre-revolutionary Paris. Whether he liked or not, Rogers would have brushed against radical currents which, consciously or unconsciously, would have left an impression upon him. The Marais, even more so than Notting Hill, is now an exclusive enclave, one of the only areas to have preserved the narrow streets and architectural styles of Medieval and Renaissance Paris. Official 'walking tours' (rather than "tour guides" that invariably implies some sort of motorized transport) are conducted around this once forgotten, vibrant quarter, a shadow practice that inevitably evokes a once subversive derive. Typically Rogers never once unswervingly refers to the radical sources that worked on him behind his back rather than directly influenced him. However, he did once quote Marcuse in a speech he gave to the prescriptive stuffed shirts of the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects), that was as far as he was prepared to go, and in a recent interview he bemoans the fact that the English language lacks the equivalent of the Italian term passegiata which implies something more than a stroll but also a blend of striking panoramas and after dinner, face to face, convivial chatting, but one that is essentially empty of real content and consequence when compared to what was meant by the significant encounter of the original derive and which was dead set against the insipid, bourgeois conventions of the former. However by drawing attention to this lack, Rogers is covertly admitting something has gone drastically wrong with the stiletto cityscape of tall buildings, pedestrianized precincts for the overwhelmed, pavement coffee houses for the anxiety ridden aspirational, brasseries where once there was a pub for unpredictable lowlifes, and pricey destination cafes, (like his wife's Riverside Cafe, dubbed "New Labour's canteen") for the select few who think they have made it by being there. All of the latter will forever be associated with Rogers name and that of New Labour and its post industrial drive to renew inner cities in opposition to a low density, resurgent Tory ruralism of suburban sprawl and neo liberal economics associated with it, which New Labour, more than any other political party, would then infect British cities with, a warping phage of cloud suspended steel and glass substituting for the dull certainties of earthen redbrick and mortar. Without New Labour's post modernist, techno romanticism, neo liberalism in its Thatcherite guise would never have conquered the pitiful remnants of the imagination to the extent it did.
Above: A Cleaned-up Marais Above: the Pompidou Centre built in the 1970s on the destruction of the glorious Les Halles
Above: The same Les Halles in the last years of the 19th century and much later in the 1950s....and the more we go back into the past of the last two centuries the better the area becomes.........
On the rash of luxury high rise towers that now dominate Britain's major cities; almost all of them were given the go-ahead by Labour Councils. The pivotal figure in this development is Sir Richard Rogers who built the Pompidou Centre with his partner Renzo Piano who designed Europe's highest building The Shard in the City of London. This recently completed building was originally given the go ahead by the 'socialist' mayor of London, Ken Livingstone ('Ken Livingdeath' and friend of Chavez and Castro). His "tall building complex" arose out of his visit to Shanghai, in his eyes the redemptive mirror image of Manhattan because 'socialist' rather than capitalist. It was a damascene moment and the grays and sandy pinks of old London stock associated with low rise developments went right out of the window and in came flexed steel and glass facades on a scale that was previously unthinkable, CAD making possible the previously impossible. Nothing in future was going to be built by human hand, machine assembly, and the construction equivalent of the weightless, service economy of a finance capital gone stratospheric.
Rogers and Piano sought to justify the Pompidou Centre with references to May '68, knowing full well the role Les Halles (site of the Pompidou Centre) had played in the elaboration of genuinely revolutionary urban concepts. Rogers was that bit more open minded and receptive - the thickest hide unable to escape the influence of those heady days following May '68, especially if living in Paris. And so following the Labour Party's landslide victory in 1997, Rogers was appointed head of an urban task force. In 1992 he had produced a plan for New London, citing the Olympic Village in Barcelona as an ideal, particularly recommending its social mix of the private and public, cafes, cultural venues, businesses as opposed to the brutalist 1950s-60s council estate concrete monocultures. (Some now have become des. res. chic, like Park Hill in Sheffield and Trellick Towers in Notting Hill). Despite the landslide victory, there was going to be no return to Old Labour and New Labour was not going to repeal Thatcher's capping of the rates passed in 1986, a year after the miners' strike ended. For many this spelled the end of 'local democracy' (certainly its margin of maneuver which was always strictly limited) and its handing over to PR firms who engaged the services of celebrity artists and architects to rebrand cities and regions. (Gormley's Angel of the North on Tyneside, Heatherwick's B for the Bang in Manchester, The Deep (an interactive aquarium) in Hull etc ). Britain became a land of slogans, the power of advertising copy magically reconfiguring the landscape and the economy: Newcastle / Gateshead "world class culture", Kirkcudbright "scenic fishing town with an artistic heritage", Yorkshire "alive with opportunity", Liverpool "the world in one city" etc.
In effect these buildings that now litter the skylines of most of the world's capital cities (and not only Britain's) are merely sterile empty monuments, bereft equally of habitation and / or the presence of a mass of white collar workers. They are extensions of sculptural gigantism which first appeared a few decades previously and initially promulgated by the likes of (Sir) Anthony Gormless Gormley, who became a household name through his moronic aforementioned Angel of the North on the outskirts of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. These neo-buildings are symbols of a smoke and mirrors false urban regeneration proclaiming the vanquishing of an industrial working class having been triumphantly replaced by an aestheticised mass society inaugurating the era of mass proletarianisation itself on the cusp of a middle class also inexorably disappearing.
Eye catching buildings and big art /engineering projects became paramount and Labour Councils were seduced as never before by the language of advertising. To believe the lie became the 'socialist program' of Old Labour and New Labour as they hastened to broker deals with developers who were legally obliged under the local authority section 106 agreement to provide some sort of public infrastructure. In fact the deals they struck were full of holes and it beggars believe so-called 'socialist councils' couldn't see through them. They showed a willingness to be conned on par with believing in Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy. 'Planning gain' meant for instance that 40% of luxury housing development had to be affordable housing set at 80% of market rent. By definition a market rent fluctuates and so 'affordable housing' in a rising market became affordable housing only for top earners. And Livingstone still thinks The Shard a social project because of the payback, a bus station and a railway station roof – in effect not much more than a bus stop and a bit of cover. And the 'socialist' architect Richard Rogers went onto to build the world's most expensive piece of real estate: No1, Hyde Park. It makes you sick just to look at it, the ground floor a showcase of not-for-purchase luxury Rolex watches and McLaren cars, money here just so vulgar - and suburban! For three years the building of it caused major traffic hold ups and it was easy to whip up bus passengers against the super rich, especially when it meant missing train and coach connections at nearby Victoria Station.
Above: A mist, murky Shard Above: Above: Ugh! A paving stone pointing to Tate Modern, Southwark
For sure there's a mild critique of this new and baneful total urbanism doing the rounds especially that of Owen Hatherley and Owen Jones who often give vent to their ideas at packed out meetings of the recently formed seemingly rank 'n' file city assemblies that have sprung up over the UK, though in reality they only spout variations of the old statist leftism and for sure both Owen's hanker after a contemporary version of the post war Labour Government and cannot see beyond the 'parliamentary road to socialism'. Remember too that Hatherley likes early Roy Rogers!
Moreover this baneful reality has finally penetrated the hides of its perpetrators as they behold the horror of their dismal creations. Rogers now makes masked self criticism suggesting his urban project has failed (in 1997 he was appointed head of PM Blair's urban task force charged with rescuing cities from post industrial decay) and parallels what became of the Pompidou Centre. When opened in 1977 it had a purportedly "infinitely" flexible interior, the central idea being that floors should be entirely free of structural columns to make great clear spaces for exhibitions and other activities Not only did it have movable walls but the floors could also be adjusted up and down and hence not that far removed from the minimalist conceptions of Constant that were, however, still architectonic in the very worst sense. (Constant's entire oeuvre can be said to be to be an unceasing riposte to Le Corbusier's interrogative: "architecture or revolution? Revolution can be avoided", one that claimed you can have both, Constant, in the mean time, designing in marquette form a planetary mega structure of liberation in which the role of architect remains preponderant, the drawing board substituting for the self activity of the masses). However over time the Pompidou Centre has thrown off its reforming, adolescent zeal and is settling into a staid middle age, becoming what it was not meant to be - a monument. Unable to cope with even the semblance of a changeable architecture, it has become inflexible and has begun to increasingly resemble a traditional museum with permanent gallery spaces etc. Notable for putting all the utilities on the outside with each utility assigned a separate colour, the external escalator to universal freedom through the inalienable right to view the arts free of charge has now been closed off, and only those paying to visit the museum of modern art can now use it.
In fact the Pompidou Centre, despite wanting to be a 'creative hub' (when the only creative act left is discovering the subversive path that firmly points towards total social revolution) has never been much more than a showcase for its vast collection of the 20th avant-garde, for Picasso, Braque, Matisse and temporary exhibitions on the same subject. In the end it is the glass vitrine of the high street and shopping arcade that wins out over "the extraordinary free relationship between art and people set in an urban context" that Rogers co designer, the prat Renzo Piano, had in mind. Seemingly an audacious statement, is it really credible that the Italian Piano had never heard of Khatib's psychogeographical proposal for Les Halles that have since become famous prior to the moment in the 1960s when city planners decided to move the food market, the wholesale food market being demolished in1971? No matter how vanguardist and aesthetically meddlesome his intention to replace porters' barrows with "more adequate [i.e. situationist] objects than the fruit and vegetable panniers", Khatib's intention to hang Puvis de Chavannes etc. on the walls of immigrant quarters sticks in the memory like it had been glued there. In comparison even the most seemingly iconoclastic statements of Roger's and the out-of-tune Piano pale into conformity and which gives the lie to the Pompidou Centre. When Rogers embarks on the design for the Pompidou Centre he tells us "nothing was impossible", a mot that inevitably reminds us of the May '68 slogan "Be realistic, demand the impossible". However this world shaking event must never be more than hinted though it is the elephant in the room. And so search as you may in the archival material relating to the Pompidou Centre, not one mention of Khatib, Constant, Chtcheglov will come to light, despite their influence being obvious. Debord rightly refused ever to enter the building, the resuscitated corpse of art under the guise of accessibility and mass participation in it, having been substituted for play, contestation and the commons of desiring anti-architecture where all architects, urbanists and town planners are hung on sight.
Bare faced truth has been buried beneath that of a resurgent technocracy. When it opened in 1977, the Pompidou Centre triggered an explosion of hi-tech fangdango, Rogers coming closer. It was thought, than anyone to building the technological fantasies of the 1960s, the building's progenitors, Archigram and Cedric Price's Fun Palace - what else? In fact Archigram would criticize the building on the crass grounds it did not move, like the structures in Ron Herron's Walking City. Truly history had ground to a halt and was about to go into a fatal reverse. Archigram had come closer to negating the role of architect than the practicing architect Rogers ever had though it was only a very feeble and fumbling excuse for real negation. These technological dreamers would never build anything, the very idea of builder and architect an act of technological bad faith and whose traditional function was in the process of being overcome by the unstoppable progress of technology had. Hence it was technology not class struggle that was destined to shake up ossified social structures, a circuit board promising more in actual freedom than a close perusal of Das Kapital or Kapital 111 even though that would have laid bare the connection between valorization / devalorisation and technology. The rest of the so-called avant-garde architects in the UK (up to then in hot pursuit of the 'drearies'!) recoiled in horror before the events of May '68 and clamped down on the merest mention of it, i.e. Peter Cook of Archigram fame published a book in 1971 called Fantastic Architecture. One would have thought a quite moderate figure like Constant (really a libertarian Le Corbusier still unable to decisively break with the role of grand designer) would have figured in the book. Wrong - even though Holland was by then mulling over the possibility of building a museum devoted to Constant. And such a cover up has hardly changed since that distant time. Recently the execrable Patrick Keiller in his leftist sub-Bolshevikh Verso book, The View from the Train says, "In London now, psychogeography leads not so much to avant-garde architecture" – as evidently the school of thought's 1960s French orginators intended – "as to gentrification." Where on earth did he get the idiotic idea from that the original psychogeographic concept was simply about creating avant-garde architecture, maybe even the Pompidou Centre? On the contrary the subversive trajectory inherent in the derive resulted in a maturing SI throwing out all artists and nascent architects and as it should be! Of course the original trajectory was also anti gentrification – though the word was not then in common parlance – but – and it's a BIG BUT – along with so much more besides. Where has this idiotic fucker been all these years, what crap people does Keiller hang out with?
As for Renzo Piano - it's important that he is seen to hang on to his street cred, though it has to be said he has more opportunity to do so because of the increasing instability of Italy. And so an interview in 2013 in La Repubblica, a good part was taken up with him talking about his 30 year friendship with Beppe Grillo's seemingly anti party and populist 5 Star Movement. You got the feeling that the world's most talked about architect with Rogers and Ghery was envious of the rise to international stardom of the virtually unknown standup comic who had been cast into limbo by Berlusconi's media empire. It seems he also advised Grillo to do a deal with Bersani's 'socialists' which would mean the Grillini becoming a traditional political party. To get it so wrong more than suggests Piano cannot have had all that much contact with Grillo but there again isn't Grillo all over the shop because there's nothing adamantly autonomous in the 5 Star phenomena. In any case and more essentially all these cunts run with the hares and hunt with the hounds. In hock to the despicable super-rich they also want some kind of vague peoples' revolution. Don't kid yourself once something like the above critique gains traction among the disinherited masses, Piano, Roy Rogers and the rest will show their true colours and it won't be a pretty sight!
The Shape of Vegetation Technology / Art Environments to Come....
8th September 2013 and a desperate walk in the park....
Comments on a visit to Nigel Dunnett's Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London's Stratford, site of the 2012 London Olympics
Above: The mix of ultimate shopping, the seeming spirit of adventure and art and the tamed wilding of Westfield's consumer emporium
Above: The eviscerated 'exotic' nature that Sir Roy Rogers, Renzo Piano and in-betweens like sculptor Anish Kapoor wish to impose everywhere. (Note Kapoor's Tatlin on Crack close by the park plus a 20ft topiary sculpture)
This is horticulture not wildlife habitat. But given its location, it will be the template for what happens in the rest of the country big time. Palmed off as conservation, this is the cutting edge of ecological destruction; an example of what not to do. Moreover before it was torn apart no bio-diversity assessment was ever made of this huge industrially derelict site. A fait accompli, the tributes have since rained down and not one word has been said against this park, such is the state we're in conservation-wise. True there's been criticism of the Olympics site as such and put most abrasively by Jonathan Meades, "The entirely despicable, entirely pointless 2012 Olympics - a festival of energy — squandering architectural bling worthy of a vain third world dictatorship, a payday for the construction industry - occupies a site far more valuable as it was. It was probably the most extensive terrain vague of any European capital." Ok but more must be said though first we must go through a detour.....
We were relieved the park was just so bad. It is such an easy target to attack and for anyone with an ounce of ecological know how, its failure must be obvious, yet not a whiff of ecological critique and the neo psychogeographers have remained silent. We would like to think because they are at a loss for words, stunned into silence on account of its sheer awfulness. No matter how compromised they are (the Sinclair's, the Self's, the Macfarlane's etc), we could never imagine them ever even remotely likening it despite the fact we've written bitter words about their obsequious compromises. So why their silence? Have some been broken in two by the destruction of London's East End? Though we were never that familiar with the Lea Valley we could sympathize with those who have been traumatized by its loss including Iain Sinclair. But isn't traumatized too strong a word aren't these neo-psychogeographers a lot more cynical, ever ready through their stock-in-trade devious practices to justify these unbearable developments when necessary? Recently Sinclair has joined forces with ex-King Mob cop out Phil Cohen, Emeritus Prof of Cultural Studies at the University of East London, seeing Cohen recently wrote a book on the East London Olympics entitled On the Wrong Side of the Tracks which Sinclair praised to the skies. Nay more than that they are doing joint lecture tours as both are strongly into cultural sociology endlessly spieling on in a sub-learned way about Eng Lit, an academic subject extending ever onwards to encompass the Beats and the vast culturised nothingness that lay beyond; that shroud that has now been thrown over all of us, stifling our last moments of sentient life. In reality the tour is merely a sales pitch, a means no doubt for Cohen to pro-mo his crap and for Sinclair to pro-mo his new book American Smoke on the American beats. The best that can be said for the latter is that Sinclair fell back into his role of cultural critique because he simply cannot face what is happening to his back-a-yard stomping ground. So what we have here is not theoretical formulations pointing to a possible future praxis embracing the transcendence of art, architecture, town and country planning etc, merely a need for these con men to suggest these professions need to display greater sensitivity in their quest for ultimate 'sensitized' commodification.
And returning to Meades' half-way house he would mostly baulk at what's been said here. It seems he really does now want an end to the role of architect yet defends the roles of artists and writers in his recent Museum without Walls. "The development has proven to be an almost caricatural illustration of the chronic gulf that exists between the needs [!] of writers and the aspirations of architects. A writer sees, at least this writer - and I am hardly alone - sees entropic beauty, roads to nowhere whose gravel aggregate is that of ad hoc - [there follows a list of these ad hoc features] - supermarket trolleys in toxic canals, abandoned chemical drums - a bridge made of railway sleepers across duckweed - that's what I see, layers of urban archaeology. It's what painters like Carel Weight and Edward Burra would have seen. A site of multiple textures which feeds curiosity - such vitality is infinitely preferable to sterility and stadia."
Apparently it seems that the writer not the architect is where it's at when it comes to an appreciation of brownfield sites. Really he is merely swapping one dead end job for another as both trades are redundant. The very idea that someone can describe themselves as a writer or an architect or artist has long been an absurdity. However it is easier to attack architects because the present crises has rendered bling architecture and its links with finance capital stomach churning to anyone who isn't a complete halfwit - and unfortunately there are still plenty of them around. The profession of writer is not half so tainted - though it should be - and the would be architect seeks to reinvent the debased profession of architect through the detour of writer who writes about the wonders of brownfield sites, precipitated, in this instance, by the formerly "terrain vague" of east London prior to its desecration by the Olympics. That Meades should praise Le Corbusier's hideous Unite to the skies in the same breath underlines what we have said.
But we don't want to be in an outdoor museum either anymore than we want to be in an indoor one. Both restrict the freedom to engage, to seize hold of something and alter it, for everything is on display and not to be touched, an induction course into venerating private property. When we were working clandestinely to ecologically transform the area around Shipley station in West Yorkshire, bringing out half buried features (often close to 100 years old and even older) and its potential for biodiversity, which is admittedly already considerable it was an anti hierarchical activity inviting others to join in if they wanted to and with no questions asked. Thus it is a starting point not an end in itself, requiring the dissolution of all roles not just that of writer and architect, if it is ever to really fulfill its promise.
Bearing this backdrop in mind is it any wonder that NOBODY has made a critique of Westfield's appalling Olympic Park. Search Google as much as you may and nothing can be found. Is this the tragedy that is going to be repeated everywhere as one goddamned site after another of rich bio-diversity on industrially derelict land is torn asunder by aesthetic, lawned, eco-lite makeover? As for Bradford - and just wait for our scalding, accusing webs - this will be the Briggate's site fate (an area adjacent to Shipley Stn) the difference between wealth and poverty, between London and Bradford. Simply because for lack of money the Briggate site might eventually fall into disuse, Bradford Council unable to afford the cost of maintenance. That is the most that can be hoped for and is a forlorn hope at that.
But who is this guy called Nigel Dunnett who designed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park; this son of Sheffield who made his name constructing jumbo-sized insect roofs? Well, Dunnett in his own words is into "Planting design as an art form" c/o a top job at Sheffield University under the fancy title of Prof of Planting Design & Vegetation and consciously or subconsciously has been influenced by the worst of the Icteric experiment in Newcastle particularly the early "living sculpture" phase. He is a guy able to freeze that open-ended experiment that daily got ever more radical cutting out Icteric's quickening dialectical momentum. Dunnett along with countless others notably Sarah Raven and Wei-Wei (Off-It) have capitalized and promoted that "living sculpture" naïve art-in-nature overlap which 2 or 3 decades later is now repeated everywhere especially throughout northern England and monstrously has come back to haunt us as part of the developmental agenda, a law of unintended consequences covering us in guilt and shame. In fact it was no longer art-in-nature but in the intervening years morphed into an art-in-horticulturised-nature as we ceaselessly shout out this message from the rooftops into an empty wind where nobody hears our anguished cries .......
Above: An old Irish popular postcard: A natural roof on an old stone cottage and an addition far superior to the aesthetic gobbledygook purveyed by Nigel Dunnett and co.....
The Olympic Park, this is nature as an adjunct of consumerism; a place to take a break before buying yet more stuff, every step reinforcing passivity and wonder is no more. Other than first passing through the Westfield's shopping mall, it is not easy to access. Leaving the park after first traversing the bleak Westfield's perimeter, we felt we were in a digital world and the people coming towards us unreal, like they had been digitally created. One of us was close to panicking. We had never experienced anything quite like this before. It was a virtual world, like we had passed through the "looking glass world" of the interactive 3D computer screen, the sole sentient being in a universe of automata. This was hell, able to touch and yet not able to make contact, our hands passing through people like they were laser beam projections. One of us recalled he'd had been here before when in a deep depression lying prone on a bed. Now it was all around coming from every side. All we had to do was retrace our steps and the park would come alive with digitally remade butterflies all new to the post modern science of the fanciful and nihilistic narrative of one's own choosing and now, in the absence of revolt, poised to make a comeback. If ever there was a make believe park, this was it – a Disney eco-park and we mere fools for ever setting foot in it. In the final stage of capitalism, the reality of nature is increasingly replaced by its representation and digital reinvention - and ever more acceptable because of our ever greater estrangement from nature. The more insects disappear in reality the more they appear in media and cyberspace.
One of us was later astonished to learn a good Jewish friend's Westfield's experience closely paralleled our own. On leaving Westfield's he felt death had taken possession of him. He had not felt like this since leaving Auschwitz on a passing tourist visit. The people in the mall had seemed zombies to him and looked straight through him.
Though we saw one Common Blue butterfly and a number of darters and dragonflies (scarcely surprising considering the River Lea flowed through the centre of the park) this place was not fit for purpose - insect purpose. In this blame and claim culture, only Health and Safety plants were permitted. No nettles or thistles, unless genetically engineered so they don't sting or prick and therefore no Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals, Peacocks, Commas which should have been flying on this sunny day in early September. Brambles can choke pathways leading to claims and buddleia, well; it has become the signature bush of brownfield sites, as common as muck. This will never do in this royally titled, "green space". This is a travesty of insect habitat one that will be repeated the length and breadth of the so-called highly developed world.
Though spared the too obvious banality of pampas grass, the grasses without exception, were exotic grasses. The only tussock of fescue we noticed was on the river bank, a survivor from a former ecologically richer time and now an unwanted alien. The grass feeders amongst butterflies are unlikely ever to adapt to these exotica, the Ringlet, the Meadow Brown, the Gatekeeper nor the Small Heath. And yet this is the knowledgeable creation of Nigel Dunnet notable for his insect roofs. How anyone could be so ecologically insensitive is beyond us.
There are a few native plants: a little patch of birds foot trefoil here and there but not much else. Sprigs of field scabious, rather more knapweed, the wrong sort of geraniums chosen because of their showy blooms. Doves foot cranesbill would never do, its flower barely visible even though it is the foodplant of the Brown Argus. This is token wilding, completely useless and beside the point as no insect could survive on the sparse, pretty pretty starvation diet......
Above: Dead pathways and an oasis of birds foot trefoil
Above: A pointless bank of 'wilding' exotica plus preened turf. Above: a bit of obligatory staged Neolithic, the stock-in-trade of landscape designers
And lawned areas everywhere. This is not habitat; rather a less formal version of the traditional park which when allowed to wild is infinitely preferable because the grassed areas are natural generally containing indigenous grasses and plants. Those parts of Wormwood Scrubs in west London that have been allowed to grow wild are much superior to this expensive anti eco rubbish. However that was more or less down to the RSPB a conservation organization that at least knows what it's about when it comes to the creation of bird habitat though utterly wanting when it comes to a real critique of capitalism. Despite our abhorrence of RSPB visitors' centres, we cannot really fault their reserves. The Olympic Park is Capability Brown with the thinnest of eco veneers. It disgusts.
Above: The stupid 'old' phone post office box, the adventure playground and a shuttered concrete 'end of sculpture' sculpture. Plus,(above right) a builder's contraption, a mere haphazard leftover at the landfill end of Woolley Colliery and something far more mysterious amounting to a real invitation to adventure and much more alluring to the child in all of us.....
Then there's all the silly tables mounted on springs and a pathetic installation sculpture telephone box sliced in two [Oh how hip the whole damned show is] placed at opposite sides of a sanitized path, its pebbly surface bound together by resin, a mockery of earth. And shuttering cast in concrete made to look like wood, the Unity Cafe - a token reminder of Cedric Price's / Joan Littlewood's mid 1960's Unity Theatre 'radical' culture for the East End masses, itself little more than a mild pinko innovation - which we critiqued at the time. Next to this shambles is the inevitable adventure playground those containers of children's play and negation of adventure, and always under the dutiful eye of a parent or invigilator. The pre war and post second world war 'recs' were much freer, more a place where kids could find their own feet. How much more liberating the bomb site, abandoned factory or piece of waste ground was, always remembering that unforgettable footage of kids breaking up a piano on a post war bomb site in London's East End and perhaps in the background a nesting Black Redstart or a Bedstraw Hawk caterpillar feeding on rosebay willow herb. (In retrospect it is pity the film couldn't be digitally re-mastered to show the kids breaking up Renzo Piano!) This horrible Olympic Park was about regimentation and containment, the crushing of initiative, the domination /decimation of nature, above all the need to reinforce estrangement from nature, including our human nature.
And the mulching. Masses and masses of it. Returning nutrients to the soil my arse. This is mulching as recommended by garden centres. Mulching as a weed suppressant.
Using the foulest language possible we would explode as we passed the perambulating aspirational professional middle classes i.e. those most likely to be taken in by this sham."This is fucking awful, what cunt of a landscape architect designed this" we would demand out loud. Bone weary though we are of righteously arguing against destruction, we were so outraged we couldn't stop ourselves. We wanted passersby's to be shocked and disgusted. We wanted them to call hi-viz security and get expelled from this Royal Enclosure. Instead of the 9/11 memorial sculpture sent from New York made from rusting metal and now to be given a permanent home in the park we wanted to see a fully functioning, gleaming guillotine dedicated to the memory of J.J. Rousseau. AND STILL IN USE as the bodies of the designer greenwash aesthetes relentlessly piled up. We even wished there was a nuclear power station nearby and that there was a meltdown as happened at Chernobyl for this would wild even more than the bombs of the Luftwaffe did according to that staple jibe of East End anti-developmental, post 1945. All the while we were drawing comparisons between the Olympic park and Briggate in Bradford. Moreover, through personal close acquaintances for at least a couple of decades with 'ordinary' east end extended cockney families we knew how disorientated even unhappy they were at what had taken place as they sigh, "but what can we do about it?" An understandable sentiment now that these people have lost all profile, without status and quite outside the ever-extending artistic embrace; people therefore to be trashed forever. Formerly much of this place was the site of Chobham Farm an unregistered port which sparked the amazing 1972 wildcat general strike throughout the UK and where Iain Sinclair during his lunch breaks had foraged for "food for free", the title of Richard Mabey's first book and which Sinclair, and other casual alternative 'docker' work mates, were avidly reading at the time. We noticed here and there relics of these vast railway sidings instantly recognizing on ascending bank sides a real bio-diversity lacking in the park's appalling pastiche. However these remain out of bounds, fronted by signs reading DANGER PROTECTED BY RAZOR WIRE (see photo below).
There's an article by Peter Marren entitled Wild Life Needs a Voice, dated 12th Sept 2011 a year prior to the London Olympics and the creation of the Queen Elizabeth 'wildlife' park. Whatever reservation we have about the article – the solution to nature's woes, as always with conservationists and naturalists, is finally a reformist statist solution one which also crucially ignores the critique of value, wage labour and commodity production - the very essentials in fact – when wanting to get rid of this despicable, decadent, shit society. Nonetheless Wild Life Needs a Voice was one of a number of articles beginning to appear that attacks the so-called green movement with greater gusto. It is not just the big boys (and girls) he attacks but local wildlife groups whom he accuses of being too involved with officialdom and as a result loses whatever semblance of autonomy they might once have had. The RSPB, Plantlife, Butterfly Conservation come in for harsh criticism (and not before time). All of them have lost their focus and are now mainly interested in respectability, money and advertising (i.e. media coverage). They do the government's bidding without murmur and have become the lap dogs of destruction. A mediocre, harm free, enjoyment of nature is at the heart of this appalling loss of species and local wildlife and, for once, attention is shifted away from intensive agriculture, pesticides and herbicides. A butterfly here a bumblebee there, courtesy of the state and quasi independent bodies like Sustrans, will increasingly be the norm. As a result 90% of species could die out without anyone noticing. This is exactly what's happened on the Briggate site and surrounding environs in Bradford. But it is to the eternal shame of local wild life groups who are complicit in this holocaust of the species. The only green they recognise is the green light given to developers. Obsessed with top down hierarchies only the leader at the top of the fake green tree is the one that knows the real facts; the one and only person to be referred to eco-wise. Once internal, independent initiatives were allowed, even as recently as the mid 1990s, now no more! It would be nice to think that nature will take its revenge on the leading ladies and gents, (cos' that's how these pigs see themselves) when they are in fact more likely to be exec's cutting deals, pro-moing shareholder value as they preside over a massacre and that the niggling guilt they already feel will turn into insupportable remorse such that 90% of them commit suicide.
Now that would be a breakthrough...........