London’s Garden Bridge is a rare example of a project that has divided a city. The Garden Bridge was conceived by British actress Joanna Lumley and promoted by London’s former mayor Boris Johnson. It is described as “a stunning public garden, and a new pedestrian crossing that spans the River Thames, from the South Bank up to Temple Station on the North Bank”. The project has been met with fierce opposition from the start, and this continues as more public funds become at risk.
The Garden Bridge is at the heart of the current debates on the role, cost, and provision of green spaces within our cities. Green spaces are essential to “liveability”. They provide benefits for health and well-being and aid in urban climate control. They also promote biodiversity and have significant effects on the property market. Parks are also a place for social interaction, education, and recreation.
Any investment in green spaces should be welcomed, given these benefits. Garden Bridge supporters say that with plans for thousands of plants and hundreds of trees, it will be both beautiful and functional. It is a great place to relax, watch, or race across.
A floral escape? The Garden Bridge Trust
But campaigners raise several objections. One thing they say is that the project lacks transparency. Has been raised about the fairness and the procurement process as well as the influence of celebrities and prominent architects.
Critics have also claimed that this proposed location is well served by bridges, albeit not a “garden,”” with Waterloo Bridge less than 400 meters away. There are also other locations, such as east of Greenwich, that would benefit from a cross-Thames connection. Cheaper alternatives could reclaim the existing infrastructure in the style of New York’s High Line, like Allies and Morrison’s proposal for a Garden on Blackfriars Bridge.
Find the funding
In times of austerity, local authorities often cut funding for parks and gardens. Many local governments are now looking for sources of revenue, such as the privately owned playground Go Ape located in Battersea Park in south London. Whether we can justify creating new green spaces when maintaining the existing ones costs so much.
Khan’t stop? John Stillwell/Press Association Images
The Garden Bridge will cost PS185m. Of this, PS125m is coming from private donations, and PS60m from Transport for London.
Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has assured no further public funds will be allocated to this scheme. There are still PS56m to PS75m in private donations to be found. This raises concerns about the possibility of further funding requests to the government.
Khan, in response to worries about the cost of this project, ordered an investigation as to whether or not the bridge was a good investment. The National Audit Office’s (NAO) investigation found that the project could lose up to PS22.5m in public funding if it is not completed.
What is a public good?
Ownership has a great deal to do with the question of who pays for the bridge. The Garden Bridge is administered by a private trust rather than by a public authority. This means that the government has little control over the spending of taxpayers’ money. The bridge won’t be a true public space. The trust will be able to shut down the bridge at any time for private events and decide what activities are allowed on the bridge. So far, cycling, playing an instrumental, and flying a Kite have been listed as unacceptable.
The Garden Bridge Trust. The Garden Bridge Trust
Garden Bridge could still deliver many of the benefits associated with green spaces. It’s also not as bad as some activists think. This project could create a financial, political, and social buy-in to a new green public space. It’s similar to what London’s Olympic Park achieved. We can’t ignore these landmark developments. In fact, they may be necessary if we want to maintain and expand green public spaces.
There is a big difference between designing spaces where people can enjoy themselves and designing spaces that are quasi-private and limit activities, hours, and the number of people that may enter. In the past, public parks were welcoming and open to everyone without imposing any major restrictions on how people interacted with them. We should strive to maintain this ethos of accessibility and functionality for our green spaces.