THE GARDEN BRIDGE IN THE MAGNA CARTA

14 Dec 2016

The Magna Carta is the root of our long held democratic freedoms, the document which grants us citizenship rights over the royal rulers.

2015 saw its 800th anniversary, though it is such a powerful and prescient document that it specifically mentions the Garden Bridge:

 

As with all ancient texts the politics and society around which the phrases were written has changed, while the words themselves remain static. So it’s prudent to consider what it meant at the time

An annotated version of the document (pdf) states:

“Traditionally, local communities were obligated to build and maintain bridges so that soldiers could cross. However, King John had taken this requirement to extremes, insisting that bridges also be provided in areas where he wanted to hunt. This resulted in considerable hardship for communities in terms of time and cost. This chapter limited the responsibility for bridges to those towns with ancient obligations.”

 

THE KING JOHN OF NOW

We aren’t ruled by royalty any more (well, as much as we were in 1215) and the last few decades of neo-liberalism has seen massive power divested away from elected politicians and local authorities into corporations and private entities. So the “King John” of now is really the Garden Bridge Trust, Northbank BID or South Bank Employers Group – quangos and partnerships of entitled, old-boy-networkers silently working together to leverage as much power and financial capital from us, the subjects, and our lands.

Of course they dress it up as “community”, “generous gifts” or “providing services” but in the current ruling system we are no more than tools for increasing their wealth and power.

 

THE HUNTING OF NOW

The new King Johns don’t go hunting on the sense of 800 years ago, but the Garden Bridge does facilitate their sports of pillaging and gluttony – the King John’s of now hunt consumerism, status and land value, the Lumleywick folly providing all three for them. A steady stream of tourists exuded into their Northbank developments pushing rates and land value sky high so only the richest can afford them, blanding the streetscape into a turgid lump of vanilla commodification. And as the Magna Carta ruled against, they are insisting the local community suffer the financial, physical and social repurcussions of a bridge so they can go hunting.

The status of an ‘iconic’ Garden Bridge means penthouses can shoot up in value and the project ignores all subtleties and particularities of the ‘local’ to provide a nice ego-massaging, status-raising icon for the elite to be a part of. This is why Evgeny Lebedev so wanted to be a part of it, aiding his attempts to be a part of the ‘establishment’.

 

THE ANCIENT OBLIGATION OF NOW

We can read ‘ancient obligations’, in the modern world, to mean places where bridges make social sense to be constructed, where they serve inherited street patterns, lines of desire and the history of the city. For London the obvious “ancient obligation” would be to construct bridges eastwards of Tower Bridge, where for decades the city has been expanding, where some of the poorest boroughs are, but where there is little physical connection over the river.

 

REMEMBERING THE MAGNA CARTA

We need to remember the Magna Carta when thinking about the cities and societies we create now. This document was the marker for citizenship, freedom and responsibilities we have as individuals and community. It was created to stop all the power becoming controlled centrally, so we wouldn’t simply be serfs to a ruling elite used on a whim to reinforce the existing structures of control.

We need to recall the Magna Carta and see that the Garden Bridge represents the antithesis of all it represents and was created for. A private bridge with a sole function to prop up the wealth, power and status of a few people and organisations, funded by and seriously affecting the local community – exactly the values Coin Street Community Builders were created to uphold until they became a part of the system.

 


 

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