Tuesday 4 October 2011

Dancing Cranes

On the site earmarked to become the athletes village of the always to remain imaginary 2012 Paris Olympics, two cranes are caught dancing across a reflective pond. It reminds me of writer and walker Iain Sinclair's description of construction at the London Olympics site; “The heron dance of elegant cloud-scraping cranes”*, a rare moment of poetry for a project that he has consistently labelled as a scam.

To his eyes, it is the clash of corporations against communities, the spectacular against the ordinary. Sinclair equates construction on the site in London’s east end to destruction, with old communities being moved out to be replaced by transient individuals unwilling or unable to create new communities.

The first thing that goes...is any sense of place” he points out, describing the totality as “a series of losses – of allotments, football pitches, wildlife habitats”. Buildings appear, which “could have been designed anywhere for any purpose” on land yet to be completely cleared of decades of toxic industrial use.

The east of London, he points out, is “where everything disappears or is revised”. Such revisions though are not unique to events celebrating the power of corporations. Paris had the same dream as London, but that dream became the Parc Martin Luther King, site of the reflected cranes.

It seems extraordinary that we can find money for something gigantic but not for something small and local” said Sinclair about the London Olympics, but in Paris - the supposed loser - something small(er) and local is slowly growing from the ground at the same time as the tracks and stadia across the channel.

"La Ville se reinvente" cries the Clichy-Batignolles promotional website, highlighting the changes being made on what was to be the Olympics site. It has been "conçu pour les Parisiens" on the "franges oubliées de la ville". Here the land has been reclaimed from the railway, eating up land previously used for the shunting and storage of trains. Progress is not moving but standing still, not producing power but creating a sustainable, carbon neutral environment. Green replacing brown on the map.

Without corporate sponsors to appease, Paris has been able to imagine a socially mixed utopia with the old alongside the young, the private alongside the public. 6,500 people will live in this new quarter, but will they really form a more closely-linked community than the post-Olympic dwellers in London?

The Parc Martin Luther King, the first truly visible element of this new community, is already a success, but it is also little more than an extension of the Square des Batignolles. This is not a radical reclamation of untamed wastelands, but rather an attempt to expand the city northwards. Alongside, a big hole in the ground will become an underground car park, and apartment blocks, named Lot E.1 or Lot N.3., are sprouting skywards.

It is difficult to compare London to Paris, to decide which has been the winner and which the loser. London won the games because it was felt that there was a greater chance of regeneration and a bigger legacy to leave behind. The Paris bid was seen as lacking in audacity, offering just cosmetic changes to the city fabric.

Losing perhaps gave the city the opportunity to dream of something better, but the community is still largely virtual today, happy families in an architect's sketch. Success for Paris would be bringing working class Clichy and middle class Batignolles closer together, but historical barriers are hard to break down.

The creation of all new communities begins with dancing cranes. Only time decides whether that dance will lead to the birth of a successful neighbourhood or not.

*From ‘
The Olympics Scam’ an essay by Iain Sinclair published in the London Review of Books.

1 comment:

Urban Interest said...

I'm very curious about the Olympics in London! I've been in London last year and I will be back at the opening of the Olympics!

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