You may recall that a year ago I wrote about The Garden Bridge, a proposed crossing on the Thames in London. With planning permission due to be granted by Lambeth Council on Monday, this visionary idea, which will see a garden sit astride Britain’s greatest waterway, is set to become reality.
The new bridge, which will be for pedestrians only, has not come this far without controversy. Detractors have suggested that another crossing in this location is unnecessary and see no sense in preventing the passage of cycles. Others point to the cost, which has risen to £175M, and to the loss of mature trees at either end of the span. Temple Underground station, one of the quieter on the network, will need to be closed for 6 months during construction, no doubt causing inconvenience to thousands of commuters.
Ironically, none of these considerations would have been permitted to get in the way had this been yet another ugly ‘iconic’ building in the city. We all know the reason for these monoliths – capitalism – and that’s fine, London was built by it, but people who only understand this economic system naturally struggle with the concept of something that exists just because it might make somewhere a better place to be. If the moat of red poppies surrounding The Tower of London has taught us anything it’s that bold, beautiful gestures are popular with the people. How much less impactful and thought provoking would this installation have been on a smaller scale? I argue that London needs ambitious and, yes, slightly unnecessary projects like The Garden Bridge to stay at the top of its game. To a degree, where the crossing is sited is neither here nor there (this didn’t get in the way of the Emirates Air Line cable car that stretches between the Royal Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula) – it’s about the experience.
Not least down to Joanna Lumley’s persuasively dulcet tones, The Garden Bridge has this weekend made it to the brink of realisation. If the outstanding £85M can be raised swiftly, construction could begin as early as December 2015, with a completion date of 2018. Unlike so many significant London projects of recent times the Garden Bridge will be elegant, environmentally enhacing, British designed and fully accessible to the public 18 hours a day. How many skyscrapers in the city can boast more than one of those qualities? I say ‘Hurrah!’ to Joanna Lumley (rapidly becoming something of a national treasure) and to Thomas Heatherwick, Arup and Dan Pearson for championing such a brave, vibrant and gratuitously quixotic idea.