If you enjoy nostalgia then find an old hard drive and get digging. I found this 2014 piece today. It’s a very early sketch of the Voices from the Village audio-walk I wrote for my PhD. I’d forgotten I’d written it. Apart from shamelessly ripping off JG Ballard, I’m pleased to see its an early attempt to fuse the critical and creative voices we all use in practice research projects . Ifind the present tense captures the experience of field research really well, which I use in my Good Night, Sleep Tight (Remix) article. Anyway, enjoy!
I’m sitting on the train to Hackney, remembering the crumbling brickwork and graffiti, the closed factories and shuttered shops; the cafes, the canal, and the galleries, the sudden crowds that converge around the train station. I want to explore the Queen Elizabeth Park, to see what Hackney Wick will become: In my dreams, I see shadowy figures running from shop to shop, stopping only to buy a cup of coffee. I imagine loud speakers mounted on every street corner; staff and customer announcements can be heard everywhere. The graffiti has been framed and hangs behind impenetrable glass screens, doubtless with the latest alarm system installed. And, overhead, a roof hangs over the entire estate, blocking all daylight: A REGENERATED HACKNEY WICK WHICH PROMISES A HAPPIER, MORE PRODUCTIVE FUTURE. As soon as I arrived in Hackney I felt compelled to go wandering in the Queen Elizabeth Park – its pull is irresistible here. My eyes glaze over the details in the wick because I know the grand project lies just over White Post Lane. I see Hackney Wick’s age, and it bores me. Why do I feel ashamed of being bored? Have I been trained to value the old and distrust the new? Perhaps we all have. Maybe this is the appeal of the project: open rebellion against what we have been taught to love. The Olympic Legacy validates the public’s boredom with history by making the ideal present instantly forgettable; the park forces shoppers to search for a past that isn’t there.
Do you remember when Westfield opened? Do you remember how sunny it was, how excited we all were to go shopping? Do you remember the sales, the exhilaration of walking into a big John Lewis, or of having food from all over the world under one roof? Do you remember? Do you remember the ice cream stands and the Barbie experience? Do you remember the glittering screens, and the signs saying ‘We Are Fashion’? Do you remember the shop that made bread an experience? Do you remember going into the casino that never closes? Do you remember watching the children swing on plastic trees? Do you remember the staff announcements, and security guards warning you of leaving bags unattended, and warnings of thieves, and reminders of locking your car and remembering where you parked? Do you remember how happy you were, and do you remember how happy you are now, when you remember going shopping?
Do you remember?
Do you remember when we saw the future in 2012? Do you remember when we were inspired to love each other? Do you remember the coming together of people from all around the world? Do remember cheering dream GB and doing the MoBot? Do you remember dreaming the Olympic dream? Do you remember how happy we all were?
Do you remember the opening ceremony, when Danny Boyle and the London Symphony Orchestra inspired us to love history, when we kept calm and carried on? Do you remember when we loved the NHS, when we loved factories, the internet, and our maritime tradition? Do you remember when we learnt to love all the great revolutions in British society?
Do you remember?
Do you remember how Stratford became more productive and more vibrant than it was before? Do you remember what London used to be like – the crime, the dirt, with enemies at every corner? Do you remember how unsafe you felt before the Olympics, before Westfield, before E20?
Do you remember what it looked like? What it looks like, now, outside the perimeter fence?
Do you remember how unloved and unfinished it all was, and how unhappy and dissatisfied it made you? Do you remember how bored and unproductive you were?
Do you want to go back there? Do you want the future to look like this?
No. Neither do I.
Would you like to walk in the future now? Soon, you’ll be able to. It’s still being built. We can glimpse it now; it’s just over this bridge.
Turn your back on the past.
It only exists as a belief now, sustained by the opaque dreams of an invisible public. It’s a dream of reliving 2012, but with no-one around to tell you how this dream will become a concrete public space, we look at Westfield for inspiration. Westfield is a rehearsal for the future. The distance between the park and the Olympic Stadium is insurmountable. I can only glimpse it through wire fences, or as pieces of skyline. Try in vain to reach it, but don’t get close. It’s nothing more than a promise and the 2012 games were the utterance of that promise. It has yet to be fulfilled.
The future is currently being prepared.
The people driving the white vans – you’ve seen them, haven’t you? – they’re taking it into the park, piece by piece.
Inside those vans are boxes of fertile earth to cultivate the land.
Flat pack gardens are loaded into the vans each morning, and with each flat pack garden comes a flat pack gardener with his own fluorescent vest. Afterthey’ve finished regenerating east London, they can be packed away and sent to another wasteland.
The trucks – can you see them? – they carry flat pack houses and flat pack families. The Olympic Families will work as builders of regeneration and as retail assistants in Westfield. The Dads will become personal trainers in the Aquatic Centre and offer annual membership at competitive discounts. Olympic Mums will volunteer at the Perfume Shop or Waga Mamas or the Barbie experience stall, with the promise of an apprenticeship at PC World in the near or distant future (barring any unforeseen incidents).
Nothing unexpected will happen, as anything unexpected is a potential security risk. All unexpected incidents will be captured on CCTV and be used as training tools to avoid unwanted futures.
Two weeks later and I’m back in Westfield. Soon after I begin photographing I’m told by a security guard the public are not allowed to take photos. I ask why, he replies it’s a security risk. I ask why taking a photo is considered a security risk, and he says he doesn’t know, but to ‘trust him’. I ask what law I’m breaking, and he says I’m not breaking any laws, but it’s a rule. We go back and forth like this for some time, until he tells me I can speak to the management on floor P1. I speak to a receptionist in the office on P1 who tells me I need to email the marketing department. I ask if I can photograph the outside building. She says no, because Westfield owns the roads outside. I ask her to point out what part of the land Westfield doesn’t own, and she points towards a bridge far beyond the main entrance. I set off towards the bridge and find myself in E20, the Olympic Village. It was an excursion into dangerous territory: the private masquerading as the public, the promise of ‘better’ and ‘improvement’ justifies the lack of people; the public aren’t ready for E20. They need to be trained, made ready, understand what security risks mean, understand that, in the future, no distinction exists between potential and actual threats.