Thursday, May 06, 2010

A "dysfunctional" valley comes to life

LONDON/SNAPSHOTS OF CHANGE. The Lower Lea Valley might sound like a nice place, at least if you picture it as a green landscape with a quiet river flowing through it.
It’s nothing like that.
This part of east London is about as ugly as urban landscape can get. Industrial sites, dull housing, roads and railroads cover the “valley” leading south towards the Thames River. Not even a footpath called the Greenway will lift your spirits.
Things don’t improve much when you come to Canning Town, one of the urban centres of this forgotten stretch of the vast metropolis called London.
But all this is about to change.
The Lower Lea Valley is one of the focal points for the regeneration of east London. And thanks to the London Olympic Games 2012, things are done at a quicker pace than would have been the case otherwise.
I boarded the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) at Bank station in central London for a tour of parts of the city that is expected to see much development in the decades to come. This is where city authorities see the potential for future growth of London within existing borders.
In 2004 the government established London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (LTGDC) to tackle what it called the “dysfunctional areas” in the Lower Lea Valley and London Riverside that were unlikely to realise their potential without significant intervention.
A year later London was awarded the 2012 Olympic Games and many plans had their timelines drastically shortened.
Some 35,000 new homes are now being planned for the Lower Lea Valley, which stretches south from the Olympic Park in Stratford. Another 33,000 homes are planned for locations further east along the Thames.
First stop of my tour is Canning Town, where work is under way in making way for a new town centre opposite the transport interchange with the DLR, underground and buses. Retail, leisure, office and community space, and more than 1,200 residential units, will change the place completely.
Later this year a new stretch of the DLR (left) between Canning Town and Stratford will open, adding further to the improvement of this part of London.
A short walk from Canning Town you can find one of many examples of the ongoing development of old harbour front and riverside locations at the Royal Victoria Dock, with residences, hotels and a huge convention centre.
I see more of that as I make a side trip to the London City Airport, where business travellers from Canary Wharf in the Docklands are whisked out of London.
I finish my excursion with a trip up and down the Lower Lea Valley to Stratford and back. There isn’t much to see yet of the green landscape this will be when the stretches along the waterways have been cleaned and landscaped in time for the Olympics.
But the plans look nice as this part of London moves towards dramatic changes.

This is the second in a series of glimpses at the ongoing regeneration of London.

Needs fixing; landscape in the Lower Lea Valley.

Tearing down the old to build a new Canning Town.

Modern housing on the old docks at Royal Victoria.

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