Parklife – Exploring the changing landscape of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
PUBLISHED: 13:00 11 July 2015
It’s been over a year since I took my first steps around the not-quite-there-yet Olympic Park. Along with a troop of hard-hatted, neon-jacketed journos, I was eager to gain a first glimpse into this much-hyped land of legacy.
Fourteen months on from the full re-opening, the South Park pleasure gardens are abuzz with bees creating a unique Newham honey, cartloads of school children clambering on state-of-the-art adventure playgrounds, and a continual stream of tourists, cyclists, runners and picnic-goers.
“In some respects it’s been quite extraordinary,” says the man behind this legacy, Dr Philip Askew, post-Games architect and landscape planner, who has headed the transformation project for the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC).
“We have had over four million people visiting the park in the last year. For me what’s so amazing is the diversity of people using it.”
There are key changes apparent from my last visit as we enjoy a leisurely stroll around the 240 acre site. Though it’s a cloudy Thursday morning, the slightly eerie emptiness of the pre-public park days has now been erased by the presence of flowerbeds bursting with colour and gaggles of laughing school children.
“A long time ago we used the word didactic, and it is a learning environment,” says Dr Askew.
“The quality of the environment that we have here has really encouraged people to work and live here.”
In particular, Dr Asker cites the wide-range of play areas as a place for children to grow and challenge themselves.
“In all our play areas there’s an element of risk,” he explained.
“Risk-taking for kids is a fundamental part of their learning – and here they can take risks in a sensible way.”
This is a large slice of paradise in the midst of an industrial landscape. The greenery that springs up by every path is lush and diverse, ever more as you enter the North Park area, where an idyllic, Nordic-style tree house has children exploring to their hearts’ content.
The juxtaposing co-existence of industry and greenery, of sport and culture, is embodied in the former water polo site near the Aquatics Centre. Originally earmarked for high rise housing, the site is to house a cultural quarter, with a V&A Musseum off-shoot for East London and Sadler’s Wells auditorium in the pipeline, and a summer beach area opening this Saturday.
Dutch designer Piet Oudolf – “he’s pretty much the best in the world” says Dr Askew – is responsible for the landscaping in the park, which ranges from wild meadows of hollyhocks, ornamental onions and foxtail lilies to “wonderfully imperfect, English” black pines.
“In a dense city like London which is growing and growing, this sort of place is a really necessary safety valve, a place people can come out to,” said Dr Asker. “It’s a great place to play and learn.”
Visit go to queenelizabetholympicpark.co.uk to explore all the park has to offer and view the line-up of summer events.
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