Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

East Is Best

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

East Is Best

Article excerpt

Byline: Richard Godwin

EAST LONDON SPECIAL The Olympics is the latest in a long line of happenings to shine a light on east London resident Richard Godwin basks in the sun IT HAS its critics and its cynics, its looters and its bicycle thieves. It has fixed-wheel hipsters with daft tattoos, and NCT mummies colonising overpriced cafes with their free-range children. It has some of the worst inequality in the country and a frightening number of people in longterm unemployment. And still, on a sun-kissed afternoon, Hackney feels like the best place in London.

This Saturday just gone, when the Olympic torch passed through the borough, you could have mistaken it for an urban utopia. Around noon, my wife and I went for a walk up through Clissold Park in Stoke Newington, trying to see the old neighbourhood through the eyes of an Olympic tourist. There was a lot an outsider would have smiled at, we decided.

Clissold Park, like Victoria Park to the east, has just had a handsome makeover. It has been a focal point for the area since Victorian times. Now it has algae-free ponds, a butterfly dome, beautiful deer, a skate park and a fancy cafe (which dropped its prices after a concerted campaign).

Many people share this space and, pretty often, they interact it just takes a stray Frisbee, or one of those free-range children freewheeling into your leg. Once, I started kicking a football around with a friend, and before long we had involved half the park in a huge game: Turkish teenagers, Australian students, loping rude boys, a handful of schoolkids.

On Saturday, we simply admired the new adventure playground, and then turned into Church Street, where we heard the One Hackney festival making its way towards us. Shopkeepers, drinkers, people you recognised from the bus-stop lined the road, bobbing up and down to the sound of carnival drums.

Church Street, where Daniel Defoe, Edgar Allen Poe and Mary Wollstonecraft once paraded, has been in transition recently. After Nando's became the first chain restaurant to arrive a few years ago, many feared its independent character would soon be lost. Sainsbury's now has designs on the bottom corner, despite bitter opposition. …

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