Like many others in the further reaches of east London, Wise Road, E15, is an unremarkable, curved street of Victorian workers’ cottages that have seen better days. The road hangs off the south side of Stratford High Street like a U-bend under a sink.
I turned into it recently, during three weeks of walking through the neighbourhoods that ring the site of the 2012 Olympics, and came across a Somali man with a mop, washing a dark blue minicab. Each house around him was identically painted and numbered, indicating social housing, and outside each door was a similar, not entirely tidy, stack of orange bins.
In the afternoon light, Wise Road had an orderly, but not a loved aspect. In keeping with the effort to freshen up the area ahead of the Games, however—an exercise known by the organisers as “Look and Feel”—the road had recently been repaved. Laid down in fresh tarmac and red brick, a neat swish had been written into the road, taking cars around a newly-planted tree.
The taxi driver was called Mohamoud Ahmed Ali. He was wearing a heavy coat and bifocal glasses. Ali left east Africa in 1993 and settled in Newham not long after. We talked about the coming of the Olympics, and after the usual chuntering about congestion (almost all conversations with locals about the Games involve several minutes on traffic and the lack of tickets—they received no allocation, or priority booking), Ali pointed to his house. It was the last on Wise Road, hard up against “Aurora,” an unfinished £50m development of 180 apartments, which towered over it.
“Before the sun we see,” said Ali. “Now they covered it.” Because his wife, especially, doesn’t like the idea of being looked down on by their new neighbours, his family no longer uses their garden. “It is difficult for us,” said Ali. But he was no longer angry. The Olympics, the envisaged decades of transformation facing this corner of London, are old news in places like Wise Road. “Everyone benefits,” said Ali, using a phrase that stayed with me, “because some people benefit in bad ways.”
The cold gathered. Bubbles slipped down Ali’s car. I asked him about the influx of residents who will colonise the tower blocks going up around Wise Road—43 and 19 stories high—turning Stratford High Street into a boulevard you might find in Atlanta or Beijing. He shrugged. New…