Marathon lasts a day, Olympics’ community benefit could last a lifetime

The highly-publicised, day-long celebration of human potential that is the Olympic marathon would have been a gift to the communities of East London, but hardly the gift that keeps on giving – it’s a perfunctory box of chocolates for temporary and forgettable enjoyment.

Rather than concentrating on whether the Olympics leave East London as a thriving community or a dreadful mess, we are warring with the organisers over the events of just one day.

The latest development, as reported yesterday by ELL, is Tuesday’s launch of the ‘People’s Route 2012’ campaign, which was passionately supported by those present at the East London Communities Organisation annual assembly.

Residents of Whitechapel, and other regions excluded by the organiser’s route are right to feel disappointed that the international event will no longer be on their doorsteps, as promised, but In any case a route through the East End would, according to Coe, be ‘locked down’ and ‘inaccessible to spectators.’ – is this really worth fighting for?

The marathon row shouldn’t distract from monitoring the games’ wider impact.

One of the most pressing issues for the Olympic legacy is the availability of affordable housing. Tuesday’s community meeting also saw a video from Duncan Innes, Executive Director of Real Estate at the Olympic Park Legacy Company.

Mr Innes has a history in social housing, but aside from outlining plans, could only offer vague assurances that “…generally I would say things are looking good.”

Promises of affordable, decent family homes are still dependent on a mass of forthcoming reports and reviews, and there’s certainly no firm progress on the possibility of a community land trust as part of the Olympic legacy.

The news-friendly marathon saga shouldn’t overwhelm less straight-forward, but more pressing questions like these. Communities must continue to pressure organisers for a fair deal.

It is tempting to succumb to the glory of the marathon as a symbol, but councils and communities need to choose their battles, and stay focused on the promise of the Olympic organisers to work with and for local people.

The marathon – exciting though it may be – is a flash in the pan; long-term repercussions of the games on the area are a far more important focus.

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