Even if, like me, you’re generally supportive of the Olympics in Greenwich Park, seeing great chunks of it fenced off is still a profound shock. There’s memories in those trees, you know (especially that one over there), but now they’re behind big steel fences until 11 July. What was a beautiful open space is now criss-crossed with steel, laminated signs replacing painted-out fingerposts, routes through the park shut off.
Wandering around last night, I was struck by the number of dogs peering through the fence, missing the fields they’d normally run through. I wasn’t the only person taking photos either – the preparations becoming more of a tourist attraction than those sorry-looking Roman remains that are currently out of bounds.
At least it’s easy to see what it’s all for. White posts are marking out the route for the Greenwich Park Eventing International. The June rain has replenished the soil, but it’s still possible to see the work that’s been put in to make sure the grass is in tip-top condition. I’ve seen people in there jogging around the course.
The jumps are in place, too, while at the bottom of the hill work is progressing well on the temporary stadium and the horse boxes are awaiting their occupants. The park is starting to look like a sporting arena. Next summer’s TV viewers will be in for a treat.
But there’s going to be mistakes along the way. The unnecessary closure of one exit to the flower gardens was thankfully reversed as soon as greenwich.co.uk pointed it out. But did LOCOG really mean to fence off the view from the Wolfe memorial? I hope not. That fence wasn’t there on Wednesday night, but by Thursday it was making the place look like a building site.
Which is it is, but in the park, you like to pretend otherwise.
For next summer, Royal Parks need to put decent signs up at all entrances to the park explaining what’s happening – not just the bits used by tourists. While there’s got to be a more elegant way to direct people around than nasty laminated “TO THE OBSERVATORY” signs, hasn’t there?
Nobody with any sense ever pretended the road to a successful Olympics in Greenwich Park would be smooth. But nobody of sound mind predicts disaster, either. In a way, we’re getting an early rehearsal of the upheaval that’ll hit London next summer. This map outlines the next steps.
I’m looking forward to one closure – the banning of through traffic between 1-11 July, which will make the park a lot safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Perhaps a traffic-free park could be a legacy to demand.
But if you see something that baffles you – shout. It’s in everyone’s interests that this thing works – and that’s going to need honesty and patience on both sides.
(For what’s behind the fences, head here.)