LONDON – JJ Jegede’s memories of growing up near Stratford do not resemble the East London he sees today.
What was once considered a run-down, “dodgy” area to the Great Britain long jumper has now become an area he is proud to call home. Welcome to Olympic Park.
“East London is my home and I’ve seen everything change in a blink of an eye,” Jegede said.
Since the bid to host the 2012 Olympics was accepted seven years ago, London has worked to renovate the eastern portion of the city. The transformation included new transport connections and a new infrastructure of energy, water and telecommunication. It created hundreds of jobs and business opportunities and a platform for more than 9,000 new homes in and around Olympic Park.
“The place that you see now, the area that all the spectators and athletes come to, isn’t the East London we knew as youngsters,” Jegede said. “Every time I go past and see what they’ve done, it just makes me smile because I know that it’s improved so much.”
With the transformation of the eastern portion of the city, including the addition of Westfield Stratford City, Europe’s largest urban shopping mall, what was once a place natives and tourists avoided has become an important destination.
Once the games end Sunday and crowds leave the city, East London will remain a major focus in development and improvement. Olympic Park will be re-named Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The apartments currently housing Olympic athletes will be fitted with kitchens and rented or sold at affordable prices. Schools, health and community facilities will be added. In addition, state-of-the-art sports facilities will be available to those in the community.
London Mayor Boris Johnson said at a press conference this week the renovations are proof the city can undertake huge infrastructure projects and is now set to host another Olympic Games.
“What I would like London to derive, ultimately, from these games is not just jobs and growth, but a sense of our own abilities,” Johnson said. “We have really proved the doubters wrong, and it has been an amazing display of what we can do if we plan and work for years and years on a project.”
The legacy of the Olympic Games won’t stop at infrastructure. Community initiatives and youth programs will also be implemented in the area, radically improving the lives of East Londoners.
“As a kid growing up,’’ Jegede said, “I lived in social housing and it inspired me to where I would walk past houses that were a bit better than mine, and I’d think to live like that I want to try to make myself a bit better. And I feel that these houses are going to make kids, who are like me when I was younger, feel like maybe they can aspire to be better.”