How the Extinction Rebellion Built the Best Garden Bridge

©. TOLGA AKMEN/AFP/Getty Images/ Waterloo Bridge, crossing the River Thames in London on April 15, 2019

No complex masterplans, they simply deleted the cars and invited the public to come and play.

Remember the Garden Bridge? TreeHugger covered the fiasco from when it was announced in 2013 to when the final 53 million pound bill was handed in. We wondered at one point whether it was going to be public space or a police state. I agreed withEdwin Heathcote of the Financial Times: "There are bridges. And there are gardens. You might find bridges in gardens. But you do not find gardens on bridges. There is a reason. They are two entirely different things."

But we were wrong, as demonstrated recently by the Extinction Rebellion people in London recently. They occupied the Waterloo Bridge recently, brought in a pile of trees and other things that one might find in a garden or park, and, according to Christine Murray in Dezeen, it was quite wonderful, "a thriving, treelined urban space, with a bandstand, wellness tent, skatepark, market kitchen and information point." It did not cost £53 million for nothing.

In contrast, it's amazing how little effort it took to make Waterloo Garden Bridge. Crowdsourced on Facebook, protesters were encouraged to bring plants, compost, straw bales and pop-up pagodas. Activists brought in large potted trees – I watched two pensioners arrive on the bridge with three-metre birches in their rucksacks.
Go green on the new Garden Bridge

© Go green on the new Garden Bridge/ Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Unlike the proposed Garden Bridge, it was open to bicycles. There were lots of wheelchair users and mobility scooters, more than Murray had ever seen in London. Everyone who saw it loved it, even starting petitions suggesting that it should be like this every day. Murray agrees.

They're right. Waterloo Garden Bridge is better than the Garden Bridge – and it beats New York's High Line, too. Why? Because it was genuinely created by the people, for the people. It was cheap to deliver and cheerful, too. Not an inch of it was over-designed or over-engineered, which made it feel less precious and more fun. You were allowed to draw on it. It didn't get pretentious with wildflowers and weeds. And because it felt unfinished, it offered an invitation to come and complete it.

It was a glorious example of tactical urbanism, which we have described as "interventions by citizens that make our cities more fun, usually at the expense of cars." Like Park(ing) day, it demonstrates how wonderful our cities could be if we didn't just give them all away to cars. Murray notes that it isn't hard or expensive to do this – "no complex masterplans, design interventions, landscaping, fancy benches or planters were required. Extinction Rebellion simply deleted the cars and invited the public to come and play."

It is pretty hard to delete cars from a major bridge, but there are many parts of many cities where you can. Because deleting cars is climate action.