Unwanted, Unloved & Impractical: Why The Garden Bridge Was Doomed
It seemed a fairly uncontroversial project; a new pedestrian bridge across the Thames, heavily planted with trees and flowerbeds, but it came to symbolise the unequal spending in London compared to the rest of the country. Former mayor Boris Johnson’s plan to imitate the High Line in New York looked, like many of his ideas, fine at a quick glance until you saw the details.
First there was the expense; it would have to be built completely from scratch, not use an existing structure. The construction costs passed £200m, with the city likely to be liable for ongoing maintenance, and Londoners grew displeased with the proposals to limit public gatherings on the bridge.
Then there was the placement – unlike New York’s High Line, it was to be built in an area that already boasts plentiful views and planting, close to other crossings. If you want to see trees and the river you can already sit on either side of the Thames in bucolic splendour. And there are other ways to enjoy it, one being Concrete’s rooftop bar on the South Bank.
The CAD renderings looked over-optimistic – see the handful of cheery locals pottering over the bridge on a summer’s day! In reality, the Millennium Bridge at St Paul’s is packed 365 days a year and has created crowding at either end.
What’s more, the North side of the Garden Bridge came in at Temple, the last secluded stretch of the Thames that would have been instantly overrun and ruined.
Before the new mayor Sadiq Kahn cancelled it, the vanity project had already spent £36 million of taxpayers’ money, and would need a further £3 million a year to maintain, largely paid for by private parties that would close the bridge to the public. Users would be tracked by their mobile phones, items like musical instruments and kites would be confiscated by security guards. All this, in a time when public funding was being slashed across the country.
Johnson’s track record was not good; his determination to construct what it now risibly known as the Thames Dangleway became an instant white elephant, boasting just four regular users a day. His publicity photo shoot didn’t exactly lend it dignity, either. The PR for the bridge turned into a disaster.
The Thames is not a picturesque river. It is turbulent, windswept and ill-suited to the siting of a rural oasis. Without a definite purpose, the Garden Bridge had to fall down. The cost and wastage land, rightly, at the feet of Johnson.
Of course ways of beautifying a city should always be sought (recently many new parks have opened in London under the consultation of local community groups). But the public had already had its fingers burned with other promised gardens. The ‘Sky Garden’ of the Walkie-Talkie turned out to be some expensive corporate bars surrounded by a few potted shrubs which you could only book to visit.
The moral of this story? Think it through first. Don’t mourn the ill-conceived bridge; think about what London really wants.