London Needs Real Green Infrastructure, Not a Garden Bridge

17 Jun 2016

In this post Tim Waterman, educator and writer in landscape, updates an article he wrote a year and a half ago which considers the Garden Bridge as dystopian landscape which should be resolutely opposed:

Way back in 2014 I wrote a short blogpiece on my website that condemned the Garden Bridge. I still stand by these words, and I republish them here because they make the point that the designers are complicit in this corruption as well. It is bad for all design when designers are seen to be the toadies of corrupt cabals. RIBA London has just acted to ask for the project to be halted (£), and I firmly believe that the organisation of which I am a member, the Landscape Institute, the chartered body for the landscape professions, should stand against the Garden Bridge too. I am campaigning for it to do so. The next two paragraphs are what I previously wrote, and are as relevant now as in 2014:

“Two master designers are at present seeking to commit an expensive act of vandalism on London’s River Thames, and have just been given the green light by the two London Boroughs upon whose banks the bridge will rest. Thomas Heatherwick designs beautiful and expensive toys and Dan Pearson designs beautiful and expensive plantings, but together they have wrought a beautiful and expensive disaster. Its construction is based upon the erroneous prescriptive principle that an ‘iconic’ structure is always a benefit – as if headlines alone will make a great city or a great nation. It only remains for London’s Narcissist-in-Chief Boris Johnson to wave it through (which he did, as much he was able to, before finishing his term as Mayor), and self-aggrandizement through the construction of a useless bit of iconic bling is something he craves. Just look at that awful loopy red thing on the Olympic site in Stratford, for example.”

“The Garden Bridge (eventually to become the BP Garden Bridge or the Virgin Garden Bridge, certainly) will be a fitting icon if built. It will stand as a symbol of the corruption, greed, and narrow-mindedness of contemporary political, corporate, and urban (just try to separate them) processes. Our government’s greater act of vandalism, that of eviscerating higher education and the rest of the public sector in Britain, will need memorialising. What more fitting monument than a symbol of a lack of holistic and critical thinking in London and lavish spending on a project to benefit a central few rather than the many neighbourhoods (and many small landscape architectural practices) that could benefit so much from a fraction of that cash. We’ll have higher education only for an elite, we’ll have a bankrupt NHS, we’ll have rampant homelessness, but hey, we’ll have a garden bridge!”


It is a tragedy that so much money has been spent already, but there is a way forward. The remaining money dedicated to the Garden Bridge should be reallocated to real and meaningful green infrastructure projects across the city. That would spread the money in employment more generously, instead of concentrating it in a couple of celebrity designers’ pockets, and provide visible and useful benefit everywhere. Green infrastructure, in the words of the Landscape Institute (see these documents), helps “make the most of [the] land – at the same time helping wildlife flourish, reducing flood risk, providing green open space for all, and delivering a wide range of economic, health and community benefits.”

The Garden Bridge does none of these.

Tim Waterman teaches landscape architecture at the University of Greenwich. He is an advocate for justice, democracy, and ethics in the architectural professions. Follow him on Twitter here.


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