Did you know that London is currently experiencing its longest period in 40 years without a fatal terrorist attack? It’s now seven years since the hideous events of 7 July 2005. Before this, you have to go back to 1973 for a longer interval between deadly strikes.
Of course, the statistic isn’t of much use (other than to open these notes with a little-known observation). A long period of calm does not mean a reduced threat. The security services have thwarted several terror plots in the capital since 2005, and the upcoming Olympics must surely be a tempting target.
But the climate of fear is escalating to almost satirical levels as the Games approach. It’s as though the security services have been inspired by the Olympic motto, Citius, Altius, Fortius (faster, higher, stronger). London 2012 could see surface-to-air-missiles (faster), unmanned drones (higher) and powerful naval vessels (stronger) deployed to a borough near you.
Meanwhile, to flourish a microphone in the Lower Lea Valley, or wield a camera in North Greenwich is to put yourself under suspicion and challenge, even if you’re acting perfectly legally. The rise of extremist security is a growing theme even without the Olympics, as outlined in Anna Minton’s essential book Ground Control. Whole swathes of London, such as Broadgate, More London, Canary Wharf and, of course, the Olympic Park, are seemingly public space, but are controlled by privately set regulations and patrolled by security agents. The Guardian has just started a project to map out the many such pseudo-public spaces in the UK. We long ago put together our own map of key sites in London, and reproduce it here.
View Private London in a larger map
Map of recent developments controlled by private companies. Residential areas not included (that’s another story). Please let us know if we missed any biggies.
The Fear has now crept into the advertising sector. According to the Guardian, glazing firm Northgate Solar Controls attempted to “cash in” on our anxieties, using an image from the 7/7 attacks in a direct mail campaign to sell window reinforcement. The Advertising Standards Authority clamped down on the campaign, describing it as “wholly inappropriate and shocking”, adding that it “exaggerated the potential threat faced by businesses due to the Olympic Games and could have caused undue fear and distress to someone who received the mailing”. The company maintain that they simply want to “help minimise the risks in the event of an explosion”.
All these disparate elements are coalescing. London feels increasingly like a fortress in preparation for the Games. If the Olympics pass off without incident, will the tightened security melt away again, or will the trends towards universal surveillance, armed guards on every corner and the disappearance of the public realm continue apace?
Image by MichaelPickard in the Londonist Flickr pool.