• The River Lea

  • Humans and nature

    "In this actual world there is then not much point in counter-posing or restating the great abstractions of Man and Nature. We have mixed our labour with the earth, our forces with its forces too deeply to be able to draw back and separate either out." - Raymond Williams (1980)
  • Favourate Quote:

    We end, I think, at what might be called the standard paradox of the twentieth century: our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it." - Aldo Leopold (1938)
  • Lea Valley and River Photos

Cleaning the environmental and social conditions of the 2012 Olympic Park

The clock is counting down to the start of the 2012 Olympics in London. The main Olympic Park [map] is located in East London in heart of the Lower Lea Valley, which happens to be the same place I studied in my recently completed PhD. My research demonstrated the close correlation between the degraded environmental conditions and the disadvantaged social conditions in the sections of West Ham built on the wetlands. I ended my dissertation wondering whether the current multi-billion dollar project to clean up the environment for the Olympics might result in a comparable effort to clean out the socially undesirable people from this landscape.

An article in the Guardian, “Houseboaters being ‘socially cleansed’ from Olympics area,” suggests this process might be underway. House boaters are concerned that British Waterways are going to increase the mooring costs along canals in the Lower Lea:

British Waterways, which manages 2,200 miles of canals and rivers, has put forward changes to the mooring rules on the river Lea, in east London, that could increase the cost of living on the waterway from about £600 to £7,000 a year. Residents see the move as a deliberate attempt to drive them away. A draft note from British Waterways on 6 December 2010, seen by the Guardian, says: “The urgency … relates to the objective of reducing unauthorized mooring on the Lea navigation and adjacent waterways in time for the Olympics.” Continue reading

“Green light for green corridor from Olympic Park to Thames”

Here is an important news story about the future of the Lower Lea Valley:

” THE final jigsaw piece in post war city planners’ ambitions to link London’s green belt with the Thames will be realised in time for the 2012 Olympics, nearly 70 years after its initial inception.

The London Thames Gateway Development Corporation has given the green light to build the backbone for a new urban park in east London, linking the Olympic Park at Stratford with the Thames at the East India Dock Basin.”

Read the whole story at the East London Advertiser

Having walked around both sides of the mouth of the Lea and along the whole length of the Lea from the Limehouse Cut to Waltham Abbey, I’m pretty happy to see planning approval for the final link of pathways along this stretch of Bow Creek.  I hope they find a way to maintain and highlight some of the industrial heritage alongside river.  I’m a big fan of the wetlands created out of the East India Dock basin and I hope this kind of hybrid of renationalisation and industrial heritage can work in other spaces along this new corridor of parkland.

Podcast Interview

Here is an Exploring Environmental History podcast on my research:

Podcast 31: Environmental History of the 2012 Olympic site: the Lower River Lea

Here is Jan Oosthoek’s introduction to his interview with me:

Former industrial sites worldwide are constantly reinvented and redeveloped reflecting changes in economies and societies over time. Nowhere else in Europe is regeneration of a former industrial site more spectacular than the 2012 Olympic site on the banks of the River Lea in West Ham, East London. The creation of the Olympic park promises the rehabilitation of the Lower Lea Valley by restoring its eco-system and revitalising the community of the area.

But the Lower River Lea has a long history, going as far back as the 11th century, of industrial development and associated environmental degeneration. Jim Clifford, a doctoral student at York University in Toronto, talks in this episode of the podcast about the environmental and social history of West Ham and the Lower Lea River. He highlights that there have been attempts in the earlier 20th century to improve the Lea River’s environmental and social conditions but that the high expectations of these schemes were not always met.

Find other podcasts in this series by Jan Oosthoek here.

Olympic site begins to take shape, but the Lea remains polluted


http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/30/stratford-london-2012-olympics

The Guardian published another article on the Olympic transformation taking place in West Ham.  Anna Kessel is impressed by the changes in the landscape and she looks forward to the time when the Lea is transformed into a more pleasant river.  Interestingly enough, she is not the first person to bemoan the condition of the Lower Lea and its back rivers that flow through the 2012 Olympic site.  In 1844, decades before the height of the industrial boom in West Ham, James Thorne, in his book Rambles by Rivers, talks about the Lower Lea and its degraded industrial condition:

But by this time our river has ceased to be either picturesque or interesting: lime-kilns, calico-printing, and distilleries are the most prominent objects along its banks; and however useful these may be, they are not agreeable to either nose or eye. Continue reading

The River Lea’s modern pollution problems covered in the Guardian

Leo Hickman’s article on the current condition of the river Lea shows how little has changed since the rapid period of suburban and industrial expansion into its wetlands and river valley in the nineteenth century.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/oct/09/river-lee-polluted-source

Sadly, the problems identified in this article are not new.   The pollution of the Lea gained national attention a number of times in the second half of the nineteenth century.   Continue reading