Do not hand over on bold inexperienced structure – regardless of London’s Backyard Bridge craze



Ian Mell, University of Manchester

London’s planned “Garden Bridge” no longer exists. After years of argument, the city’s mayor finally dumped the idea in the Thames.

The idea of ​​a bridge spanning the river covered with plants and trees had some advantages. But it had to be in the right place, with the right design, and the project needed to garner support from local Londoners. Thomas Heatherwick’s suggestion seemed unaware of this.

Still, the failure of the Garden Bridge should not be an excuse to rein in our ambitions. To create more innovative urban greening in London and beyond, it remains important to think bigger, bolder and greener.

In order to actually deliver visions of such urban oases, we should keep dreaming. But we also have to be realistic. Long before such a project even makes it to the drawing board, architects, politicians and the public have to agree on a few important questions. Who will eventually own it? How is it funded? And who can access it?

Do not do that. The Garden Bridge Trust

The Garden Bridge was an example of what not to do. A lack of transparency resulted in around £37m of taxpayer money being lost to the project; the amount of lost private funding remains unknown. Likewise, the pseudo-public nature of the bridge would have restricted access for groups, cyclists and buskers, creating instead a corporate space backed by ongoing public investment.

But it can work, and there are many examples where derelict or industrial wasteland in urban centers has been transformed into multifunctional public spaces. Millennium Park in the heart of Chicago was built on a former rail yard and parking lot. The High Line in New York transformed a disused elevated railway line into a park, and there are similar projects in Atlanta and Seoul. Everyone brought closed transport infrastructure back into public use.

All aboard the High Line. Mike Dotta/Shutterstock

Cities around the world are now clamoring for the development of the ‘next’ High Line – the latest proposal being a ‘Camden Highline’ in north London. This enthusiasm to follow New York’s success shows how cities want their brands to be associated with innovative, but also green and sustainable projects.

Get locals on board

One of the big ideas behind the Garden Bridge was to create such an oasis in one of the world’s busiest and most polluted cities. Where successful interventions have taken place, they have been achieved with community (public and business) support. The restoration of the Historic 4th Ward Park in Atlanta or the restoration of the Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul would be very different projects without public support. Likewise, the grounds of the Olympic Park in London are largely open to the public 24/7, making it a multifunctional and valuable public space.

Opened in 2005, Cheonggyecheon is an 11-mile park that follows a river through central Seoul. Ken Niphon/Shutterstock

Even in Milan, where the Bosco Verticale – a pair of tree-covered skyscrapers – demonstrates the architectural value of innovation on private land, it is complemented by a new public park, allotments and common spaces. What each of these projects does is strike a balance between funding, ownership and access, which helps limit conflicts of use.

Future projects should therefore pay attention to what these investments did right and the Garden Bridge did wrong. Developing truly valuable parks and open spaces is a delicate process. It requires a mix of funding from public and private sources, but should not be made dependent on the demands of private investors.

Publicly funded projects must respond to the needs of the public and should reflect both local community aspirations and broader expectations. This can mean negotiating an award-winning design for a more intuitive space that is functional for the elderly, family or children. Maggie Daley Park in Chicago is a prime example of this.

Slides and skyscrapers at Maggie Daley Park. f11photo / Shutterstock

It must also be ensured that ownership is transparent and that everyone knows their rights of use. This should be public rather than private as there is a wealth of evidence highlighting the social, health and economic value of accessible parks and gardens.

The conversationFinally, the Garden Bridge should be a warning sign for future investments. There are many projects in London, UK and worldwide that have worked with various partners to successfully design, develop and manage parks and open spaces. They have managed to capture the needs of local communities, work with complex design and funding issues, and negotiate ownership and access rights. We should promote these projects as best practice examples of what makes a good public park. As they (almost) say, one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch.

Ian Mell, Lecturer in Environmental and Landscape Planning, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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