Greenwich stages the start of the London Marathon every year. In terms of runners, it’s the second largest marathon in the world. It’s a huge BBC outside broadcast operation too. Greenwich also sees the runners go by the Cutty Sark and other great landmarks such as the National Maritime Museum and Royal Naval College at the 6 mile mark. Yet, pop along there the day before or after the event, and it’s business as usual. There’s no disruption.
Compare that to the Olympics. The place has been devasted for a few days of horse events. Greenwich Park is closed July 7-Aug 4. Parts of it reopen Aug 4 so that tourists can get to the Royal Obervatory, but the park will not be anyway like its usual self till Sept 8, and the temporary structures will not be fully removed till the end of November. There’s no cyling or car parking in the park for 2 months till Sept 8, and even then there’s only limited access till October. The Queen’s House is closed till Sept 22. The library in the National Maritime Museum, one of the great resources of the world for maritime history research, is closed for months till September because the Olympic organisers have taken it over as offices. The only entrance to the museum remaining open is off the busy main road. The much nicer entrance from inside the park is closed.
Fair enough the park has to be closed while they prepare the cross country course for that part of the 3-day event which takes place on July 30, but why so much other disruption?
We’re told the Olympics is great for local businesses. Try telling that to all the small businesses in Greenwich that can’t make a living at the moment. Yes, they’ll probably make money when the events themselves are on, but what about the months of no business when they aren’t? And Greenwich is normally full of tourists throughout the summer, so they don’t need the Olympics.
One of the problems is that there are a huge number of marquees and tents going up throughout the park, and also in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum and Royal Naval College. It would seem you can’t have an Olympic event without turning the whole area into a sea of Pimms tents, temporary (and therefore run by specialist entertainment companies who have quoted the largest bids, rather than local businesses) open air cafes, sausage cooking stalls, you name it. All very Party in the Park, Henley et al.
But this is Greenwich, home of some our greatest historic buildings. The beautiful Old Royal Naval College, complete with the second greatest painted ceiling on earth, is one of the great historic sights, not just in this country, but in the world, yet you can’t see it at ground level now, because it’s been consumed by tents. It just looks so out of keeping. So naff.
But at least the tents are temporary. The new pier area overlooking the Royal Naval College and the Cutty Sark, has been redeveloped specifically for the Olympics. And what’s the first thing you see as you step ashore? New restaurants. Ok, people have got to have somewhere to eat (other than in the wide variety of restaurants and pubs already in Greenwich). So are these new restaurants housed in nice classy old maritime style buildings in keeping with the surroundings? No. Are they local restaurants? No. They are tacky modern American chain restaurants, and these are permanent blots on the landscape.
But I suppose Greenwich should count itself lucky. At least it hasn’t had the world’s largest McDonalds built there for the Olympics. That honour has been given to Newham in East London. A place with terrible levels of obesity. So much for “legacy” and “regeneration”.