Crazy expensive treehuggers' bridge approved for London

It really seemed like such good idea at the time. As I wrote last year, the Absolutely Fabulous actor and green activist Joanna Lumley teamed up with the Pretty Terrific designer Thomas Heatherwick to imagine this gorgeous pedestrian bridge across the Thames in London. It seemed like a long shot, but it just got approved by the Westminster Council on the north side of the Thames, and the Lambeth Council on the south. Mayor Boris Johnson is also in the tank for this, so it looked like it might actually happen . Lumley is quoted in the Guardian:

"It will be like a tiara on the head of our fabulous city," coos Lumley. "It will set hearts racing and calm troubled minds. It will enchant everyone who uses it."

Who could possibly be against such a thing? Then I saw a tweet from an architectural journalist I respect a lot:

And in fact, it turns out that a lot of people are very angry about this bridge, for some very plausible reasons, including:

It's incredibly expensive at US$ 274 million.

Close to a hundred million of which is public money. It will also cost more than US$ 5 million a year to maintain. Many complain that this could be put to better use, like housing and transit. The cost is evidently so high because of the engineering required to hold up the weight, and the copper cladding.

It's in the wrong place.

Really, it is only steps away from the Waterloo Bridge, which has had big pedestrian walkways added to either side. Downriver, people have to go for miles to get to a bridge. Not only that, it is going to attract more tourists to an area where you can barely move now; I was there this past Saturday, admittedly a gorgeous sunny day, but it was jammed solid.

garden bridge© Heatherwick Studios via Designboom

It's blocking historically protected views.

Iconic views of St. Paul's Cathedral from the Waterloo bridge will be blocked, though admittedly people there will get to look at a very pretty new bridge instead. However these views are pretty sacred; According to David Rogers in BDonline, Westminster Council only approved the bridge because it was a "public facility." The council notes:

“It is considered that there can be little doubt that the garden bridge will cause significant harm to established views of importance, including designated LVMF [London View Management Framework] views. It is also clear that if this proposal was for a private commercial development of this height and size, the harm to these views would be considered unacceptable and the application refused. However, this proposal is for a public facility, or at least one that will be open to the public for the majority of the time. The proposal promises public benefits and the opportunity for the public to enjoy new river views.”

deck of bridge© Heatherwick Studios

Unlike most things called a "Public Facility", It's being run like a private attraction.

It will be closed 12 days a year for private functions. Cyclists are not permitted. Groups of more than eight people are deemed to be a "protest risk" and need a permit. It is closed at night. This sounds more like Disneyland than a public facility.

Architecture critic Rowan Moore feels like a grinch, complaining about such a beautiful thing in the Guardian. But in the end, he is.

This project perpetuates the idea that you can plan a city by headlines, stunts and novelties, a culture of I’m-a-celebrity-build-me-some-infrastructure, rather than addressing what it really needs.

It's an interesting debate. It is a beautiful thing full of trees, a pedestrian walkway designed as a place to linger, the slowest route across the river. It should be TreeHugger heaven, yet there are so many objections. What do you think?

Tags: London | survey


treehugger slideshows