There is also the much-declared political will to experiment with self-build, co-housing and community land trusts, meaning the park could become a test bed for new kinds of housing. It would all require a brave leap of faith — something the LLDC’s target-driven constitution is unlikely to allow. With the obligation to make some sort of return, given the cost of the Games, there is constant pressure for commercial viability: because of the cost of improving infrastructure, the target for 35 percent affordable housing, not to mention the strict design codes, anything beyond the market norm will be difficult to achieve.
Meanwhile, London Mayor Boris Johnson — self-appointed chair of the legacy corporation — is pushing to accelerate what was a 20-year plan, hungry for visible results and political capital.
He would do better to slow down. Outside the park, developers continue to try their luck, spurred on by what others have got away with. Stock Woolstencroft, architects of the dismal Stratford towers, are attempting to continue their march of mediocrity with schemes on the other side of the park. In Fish Island, to the west, they have submitted an application for 15 buildings of up to 14 stories (in an area allowing a maximum of six) clothed in a random livery of cheap cladding. It was slammed by the review panel, but the response to such schemes will be the test of the corporation’s planning powers, and how far it is prepared to insist on good design.
Despite all the blunders around the edge of the site, there are reasons to be optimistic. The communities within could yet be successful. However, an uneasy fact remains: that building on the site of a global event — making workable streets from tarmac wastes and weaving housing around velodromes — is a difficult and expensive way of producing a good city. When it comes to building careful, generous places, do we really need the Olympics as an excuse?