Here's an idea: how about running a London expo to show what we want from the Olympic Games, the Thames Gateway, the Communities Plan and the future of the UK …
Permit me to champion an intriguing idea from my ex-CABE comrade Wayne Hemingway. Inspired by Bo01, the housing and regeneration expo in the Swedish city of Malmö, Wayne is proposing that we mount a similar show in the Thames Gateway as part of the Olympics project. The idea would be to profile the desired legacy from the Games by creating an urban quarter based on cutting-edge environmental design.
When Wayne ran his idea past me, my initial thought was that we had enough on our plates delivering an Olympics and all the elements of the communities plan. My second thought was also negative. Isn't this what the Greenwich Millennium Community is meant to provide - an exemplar for development in other parts of the Gateway?
But Wayne can be pretty persuasive and I've changed my mind. First, the Olympics is meant to provide a platform for regeneration so incorporating parts of the scheme, particularly the Olympic Village, into an exemplary development would make for good government. And although Greenwich is an exemplar in many ways, the masterplan will be more than 15 years old by the time of the Olympics and, crucially, it does not provide a showcase for a diverse range of designers and builders.
My vision would be for an environment in which construction companies could lease areas of a fully coded development plan, and build exemplar designs that would represent our longer-term vision for the Gateway and, indeed, the UK. The whole development would profile the use of environmental technology, from community heating to sustainable drainage. Individual schemes could then explore aspects of living and working within our capital.
Done well, the development could attract an international audience and help profile the Gateway as a location for inward investment. It would also give focus to the Thames Gateway UDC and one or two of the boroughs hosting the Games, leaving the Olympic Development Authority to focus on the core business of delivering the entertainment.
The opportunities would not end there. We could showcase an exemplar school, primary care centre and nursery. We could invite some younger people to showcase construction training through a self-build project. We could invite the utility companies to showcase their commitment to cleaner technology. In other words, it would be a focus for British achievement that would go beyond sport.
London is going to have to work harder to entice people back for a romantic weekend in Barking
Without such a venture, I'm not convinced that the world will really get the legacy message. The reality is that few of our visitors will drift any further east than Stratford, and many will be whisked in from bases in the heart of the West End. The reason why we all "got" Barcelona is because we went there afterwards and saw the subsequent development around the Olympics port. But that is less than a mile's walk from Las Ramblas. London is going to have to work harder to entice people back for a romantic weekend in Barking.
In reality, the purpose of such an exposition would not be just to profile the UK. Our construction firms would be able to display their work to a global audience without ever leaving these shores. How often does the world come to us?
Inside this country, I would hope that such an expo would raise the sight lines of the population. Frankly I have found the recent media attacks on the Gateway to be cheap, depressing and largely ill-informed - a report about local attitudes that just played on crude media mythology, and a general get-'em attack based on a couple of projects that received planning permissions a decade ago.
The simple truth is that we do not have an alternative. We have more than 100,000 households in temporary accommodation, and many more living in overcrowded conditions. We have too many potential first-time buyers who can't get on the ladder. We need the homes so we need to generate confidence in people that we will build the right homes in the right neighbourhoods in the right way at the right time. An Olympic Community Quarter, constructed in full sight of a watching world, could help our cause.
Jon Rouse is chair of the Housing Corporation