I recently had a chance to visit the newly opened northern parklands in London’s Olympic Park. My dad was from East London where the park is located, so it was uplifting to hear how this once derelict, 400-acre site is aiming to ecologically and economically redevelop this part of London, which has historically been isolated from the rest of the city by a tangle of canals and railways.
When I visited, much of the massive site was under construction as stadiums are refitted to become permanent venues, the Olympic Village is converted to housing, and more. But the 45-acre northern parklands (designed by the late landscape architect John C. Hopkins) were newly opened. As the UK’s largest ever urban river and wetland restoration, the parklands feature rare wet woodlands, and 300,000 wetland plants have been established. All of this will create habitat where none has existed for hundreds of years. Indeed our guide told us that if the park is successful in attracting otters, it would be the first time an otter has inhabited this part of London in over 500 years.
A new nature-based playground and cafe were also open and teeming with visitors despite the cool autumn weather. A water play area features series of pumps and dams that allow children to direct water across a rugged hillside of boulders, where winding rivulets become harder, machine-cut channels, mimicking the Lea Valley’s industrial canalization.
The rest of the parklands, including riverside gardens designed by Field Operations and areas for markets, cafes and events, are scheduled to open in spring 2014. Together, they’ll make Queen Elizabeth Park the largest park created in Europe in more than 150 years.