Is London's Garden Bridge going to be public space or a police state?

deck of bridge
© Heatherwick Studios

The proposed Garden Bridge, a green pedestrian bridge crossing the Thames in London, seemed like a good idea at the time. What's not to love about a pedestrian bridge covered with green? It's a TreeHugger's dream.

Or is it? in Crazy expensive treehuggers' bridge approved for London I noted then that it was expensive, in the wrong place, blocking historic protected views and was being run like a private attraction.

In fact, according to the Guardian, it is worse than that, and will be run like a police state. Peter Walker writes in an article titled (in the print version) No kites, no music, no politics on our garden bridge- We'll be watching you.

Visitors to the garden bridge in London will be tracked by their mobile phone signals and supervised by staff with powers to take people’s names and addresses and confiscate and destroy banned items, including kites and musical instruments, according to a planning document.

The planning document is quite thorough about all things relating to safety, from lighting to a very interesting section about how CCTV is used, not as a system for determining post-incident response and forensic analysis but with "a much enhanced capability that enables the GBT to actively manage and oversee the bridge environment, landings and perimeter to identify and capture evidence of potential illegal activity."

Now it should be noted that the Guardian (and a lot of other organizations) has been consistently opposed to the Garden Bridge, and that what sounds horrible in Peter Walker's first line about people being tracked by their mobile phone sounds a lot less ominous (and actually quite clever) when you read what they are doing with the mobile phone tracking, which is basically crowd management:

The Wi-Fi pedestrian tracking system utilises the anonymous data code emitted by Wi-Fi enabled devices such as mobile phones. This code is then tracked using a number of detector sensors located across the bridge deck and on both podiums. Current research shows that over 95% of people now carry one of these types of devices with Wi- Fi enabled and the system is calibrated to allow for user groups who may not carry a device such as young children. The system can be monitored in real-time by the GBT’s operational staff and will include various trigger alerts to notify staff of increasing peaks in demand or large deviations from the expected levels of arrival and departure based on historic data.

To be fair, anyone managing a facility is going to want to cover all the bases, and the Garden Bridge Trust spokesperson responds by noting that these are theoretical powers that are unlikely to be used. “We want people to use the bridge safely, and have a good experience as they cross it. We’re not setting out to restrict people or spoil their fun.”

However people do have rights in public space that they do not have here, even though it is being paid for in part by the public. The Garden Bridge Trust people call the bridge “a private place operating as a public space” but it really is something else altogether, sort of Singapore on the Thames, although I notice that there are no rules about chewing gum.

UPDATE: The Garden Bridge Trust has contacted us to clarify some points, both of which I think we covered above but I will add as requested:

A Garden Bridge Trust spokesperson, said: “The list of prohibited activities aligns with the Royal Parks and have been submitted to Lambeth and Westminster Councils as part of a set of conditions for the project with a primary aim to maximise the enjoyment and safety of all users. Any Wi-Fi tracking we do is purely to keep a record of how many people are using the Bridge which helps us in terms of crowd modelling.”

sidewalk rulesScan from the print edition of the Guardian/Screen capture

Here, from the planning document with the imposing title Garden Bridge Illegal Trading Anti- social Behaviour Crowd Control and General Enforcement Management Plan is the list of prohibited activities that will get you thrown off the Garden Bridge or worse.

3. No person using the Garden Bridge shall:
(1) Intentionally or recklessly interfere with the safety, comfort, or convenience of any person using the Garden Bridge;
(2) Drop or leave litter or refuse except in a receptacle provided for the purpose;
(3) Consume any alcohol;
(4) Be in possession of a dog that is not under control and on a lead at all times;
(5) Use a pedal cycle, roller skate, skateboard or other foot-propelled device, although pedal cycles
may be pushed across the bridge;
(6) Drive or ride any vehicle, except those for aiding mobility;
(7) Play any game or engage in any form of sport or exercise, except running or jogging across the bridge;
(8) Collect or solicit money or any other gift;
(9) Conduct or carry on any trade or business;
(10) Play or cause to be played a musical instrument;
(11) Operate any amplified noise equipment on the Garden Bridge except for the purposes of aiding hearing or personal headphones;
(12) Make or give a speech or address;
(13) Interfere with navigational aids of passing vessels;
(14) Drop from the bridge any item with the exception of devices intended for the purpose of saving lives
(15) Use any equipment for the purposes of catching fish;
(16) Use any kite, model aircraft or drone;
(17) Erect any tent or other structure;
(18) Place any equipment on the Garden Bridge for the purpose of sleeping;
(19) Interfere with any plant or enter onto any flower bed or into any shrubbery;
(20) Attach any article to, climb, or otherwise interfere with the Garden Bridge;
(21) Interfere with any notice or sign;
(22) Use language which publicly intimates that any article, commodity, facility or service can be obtained on the Garden Bridge or elsewhere;
(23) Exhibit any notice or advertisement or any other written or pictorial matter;
(24) Organise or take part in any assembly, performance, rally, procession or gathering of any kind;
(25) Take photographs or film for the purposes of commercial, professional or business use;
(26) Intentionally obstruct free passage on any walkway or other area of the Garden Bridge;
(27) Scatter ashes;
(28) Release balloons or animals;
(28) Cause any fire to be lit including the use of a barbeque;
(29) Bring any flammable material including fireworks onto the Garden Bridge; or
(30) Bring onto the Garden Bridge any weapons including firearms within the meaning of section 57 of the Firearms Act 1968, or project any missile manually or by artificial means.

Is London's Garden Bridge going to be public space or a police state?
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but what started as a TreeHugger paradise is turning into a dystopian nightmare.

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