Jamie Grierson of The Guardian recently reported the possible demise of The Garden Bridge project in London.
The project is led by Joanna Lumley and backed by Transport for London. The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan had pulled the plug on the bridge project by stating that he would not provide the vital financial guarantees needed to commence building. What are the consequences of this decision? What does it mean for the people of London, the city and mega cities everywhere?
Firstly, I’d like to state that I am a supporter of Sadiq Khan’s mayorship. His agenda for the future of London is a progressive one which is why this decision probably doesn’t sit comfortably with his vision. I’m sure that the decision was a financial decision rather than one based around his vision for London. Knowing the Mayor’s commitment to cleaner air for London, which he reiterated recently when pollution levels in London were found to be at illegal levels, the decision was probably made with great regret.
The project is a vital one for London in my view from an environmental point of view as well as from an ambition point of view.
London’s skyline from the Thames.
Let me start with the ambition first. This project, just like the Pier 55 project in New York, heralds the new thinking in city planning that is coming to fruition. Green spaces are a vital part of this new thinking as they serve to rejuvenate cities. By injecting colour and creating natural havens, they provide focal points for tourists and travellers.
London’s skyline has changed over the last decade or two, largely owing to large-scale projects such as The Shard, The London Eye and The Gherkin. Also, London has long been seen as a focal point for creativity, ingenuity and imagination and the evolution of the city and skyline has played a big part in cementing that position. The bridge would reinforce further London’s position as a world capital of creativity.
Then there are the obvious environmental benefits. For a city that is gasping for oxygen like London so often is, this is a positive marker for future planning. Imagine how many more pockets of the city can be converted to green spaces and contribute to the environmental health of the city. The template that the completion of this project could represent would be an invaluable one.
Both The Garden Bridge and Pier 55 are now under serious threat due to political or bureaucratic forces. Ironically, both are projects that have been designed by the visionary Thomas Heatherwick and his studio. The studio must be used to this kind of barrier jumping. Most of their projects are aspirational and therefore hard to fund or support. Especially when public funds are involved. Considering the runaway success of The Highline, New York’s miraculous conversion of a disused tramline, into a world-class green space and walkway, the opposition to the projects seem even more baffling.
New York City – The Highline
Whenever a visionary project like this is taking off, there are barriers in the way. First there is opposition from people who feel that the money to fund the project would be wasted. The second barrier appears when the “Why do we need it?” argument is raised. The third barrier is usually around building consensus and funding. To fail to get this vital project off the ground at this stage would be a shame indeed. Besides, in the long term the project would pay for itself many times over through tourism alone.
As a Londoner and a creative practitioner I feel this project is vitally important. London, especially in the face of impending Brexit, needs to signal that it is a forward-thinking, intelligent, future-driven city. No matter how many people label this project as a vanity project, it should be pushed through. I for one am right behind it.