Like many others, I was quick to judge the protest as a classic case of Nimbyism. Through rose-tinted glasses, I saw the Olympics as a wholly positive thing for London. In the midst of recession, the regeneration of some of the most deprived areas of our city – so I thought – could only reap benefits. The ‘greenest games ever’ would bring communities together and inspire Londoners to get active.
Having seen the consequences of staging the Equestrian events in Greenwich Park up close and personal, I have softened my stance considerably. Much of the grass behind the Queen’s House is ruined and some areas of the Park are still fenced off to the public. This, despite initial assurances that disruption and damage to the Park would be minimal.
We were also told that the London Olympics would be the first ‘Sustainable Games’. According to the Olympic website:
sustainability’ is far more than being ‘green’. It’s ingrained into our thinking – from the way we plan, build and work, buy, to the way we play, socialise and travel; ultimately everything that we do.
So why then, instead of the original 20% renewable energy target, have Locog downgraded their pledge to just 9%? And why has Locog refused to commit to making the Games plastic-bag free?
I am glad to see that the Greener Upon Thames campaign group has launched an e-petition urging Locog to ban the use of plastic bags in all Olympic venues.
Here are some other suggestions that I think could make a positive impact next summer.
Stagger office working hours. The Chartered Institute of Payroll Professionals (CIPP) reports that half of all employers will not be allowing flexible working time for the 2012 Olympics. We must encourage employers to grant flexi-time to employees to help avoid congestion on public transport and the roads.
Start the ‘cycling bus’. The ‘walking bus’ concept is established in many parts of London – why not adapt the idea for commuters wanting to get to work safely, healthily and economically. There is certainly a grain of truth to the idea that there is ‘safety in numbers’. Psychologically, I would definitely feel safer if I was cycling along the Old Kent Road with twenty other fluorescent cyclists.
Introduce Furoshiki! This cloth has been used in Japan for over a thousand years to protect and decorate gifts, and as a practical means of transporting goods between cities. The 2012 merchandisers could design Olympic themed Furoshiki and sell them as souvenir bags. They also double up as protective wraps for food and drink and can be used as a picnic blanket – depending on the size. The Olympic zone can be totally plastic bag free!
Roll out the Boris bikes. The cycle hire scheme has been a success. It could be even better, though. In Paris, there are 20,000 Velib bikes compared to less than half that number in London. There also needs to be many more docking stations in different locations for the idea of commuting by bike to really take off.
Encourage car owners to travel on alternate days. For the Beijing Olympics, the authorities ensured that this was the case. On a Wednesday, for instance, only cars whose number plate started with an even number could go on road. Those with an odd number stayed home in the driveway. A straightforward way to reduce levels of pollution.
Carpool! Carpooling reduces money spent on fuel and, in some cases, the congestion charge. It reduces carbon emissions, trafficcongestion, and the need for parking spaces.
More bins in central London. Is it any wonder, with the lack of places to dispose of litter, that the capital can look so grimy at times? Not only is litter an eyesore, but it also attracts rats, creepy-crawlies and foxes. If there is a lack of bins to throw away chewing gum or to stub out cigarette ends then it is inevitable that people will drop these on the floor. The grounds for drastically cutting back the number of bins in the City may have been wise in the 1990s, when London was being targeted by the IRA, but there is now the technology to get around this. Explosive-resistant bins must be installed on our streets and in open spaces. After all, it is every local authority’s duty to provide basic amenities for its citizens.
Appoint community volunteers to keep the streets litter-free. Many areas are already blighted by empty chicken boxes and beer cans strewn across their parks and pavements. With an estimated 5 million extra visitors due in London for the Olympics next July, cleaning services will be pushed to the limit. With the money saved from hiring in private firms to provide professional cleaners, each borough should give something back that the community will value e.g. sports equipment for the local park.