Planting the past on the future
Words by Kristina Foster
Illustrations by Stephanie F. Scholz
If you’ve ever witnessed the pandemonium that is the Central Line at 8:30 in the morning, you’ll understand that commuting to work in London is far from the proverbial walk in the park. But what if it could be - literally? Straddling the River Thames, Garden Bridge plans to be a horticultural oasis stretching from the Strand to the South Bank. Controversy over funding this £185 million project has dominated headlines, but we talked to a spokesperson from The Garden Bridge Trust, a charity set up to raise capital for the bridge, about whether this could be the future symbol of urban green London.
An atmosphere of ambition
“The success of the London Olympics in 2012 brought with it a sense of national pride and a feeling that the UK could really deliver special, ambitious and innovative projects. I feel that this created the perfect backdrop for the Garden Bridge.” It seems that the conditions were right for the birth of a project this size: a feeling of optimism, Transport for London wanting to improve pedestrian links across the river, and a suggestion from British actor and campaigner, Joanna Lumley, for a floating garden across the Thames. And who better to develop this ambitious idea than Thomas Heatherwick, whose Heatherwick Studio designed the Olympic Cauldron which was the centre of the world’s attention that summer. The result was a proposal for Garden Bridge, a 366 metre-long, flower-laden walkway that would offer a new perspective on the relationship of green space and cities.
A walkway through time
Award-winning landscape architect Dan Pearson designed 2500m2 of planted space for the bridge: “Dan and his team have developed a wondrous landscape to reflect the rich cultural heritage of the capital’s river banks and the history of its flora and fauna. A pedestrian crossing the bridge will experience an ever-changing seasonal landscape.”
Split into five sections, his design will take the visitor on a journey through London’s horticultural past: “The South Glade will reflect the area’s woodland history. A birch grove will create dappled shade and wild pears planted throughout will provide spring blossom and fruit for birds.”
As the bridge nears the Strand, gardens become more manicured. “The North Glade takes inspiration from the parks of old London. Plants will be more ornamental with evergreens and hedges.” The North Bank pays tribute to Inner Temple Gardens, evoking historical links with laurel, figs and roses. Here, romantic vines will make the landscape almost dream-like: “Flowering climbers, such as wisteria, jasmine and ivy will entwine with the railings and hang down, adding drama to the view from the river and pavement.”
Bridging the gap between city and nature
Aside from offering a horticultural feast for visitors, the Garden Bridge Trust asserts that the new structure will offer many other benefits to city living: “As this is the heart of central London, the new footbridge will make the city an easier place to walk around. This will reduce pressure on the public transport network, as well as enhancing biodiversity and improving air quality.” They estimate that 9,000 commuters will be able to breath clean air in this part of their journey.
As well this, the Trust hopes that Garden Bridge will have symbolic value: “Garden Bridge will be an iconic environmental landmark for London for generations to come. London is the greenest capital in Europe, with 40 per cent of its surface area made up of public greenery. The bridge will confirm this status. We’re really lucky to have all this green space here but it’s vital that as the city grows, the access to green space for everyone grows with it.”
Garden Bridge will be an iconic environmental landmark for London for generations to come.
Problems in paradise
The project has the potential to be a pivotal step in the treatment of green space in cities, but London must decide whether it can dare to dream this big. Forty million pounds of public money has already spent on Garden Bridge which questions the validity of introducing green space of this size at the expense of the taxpayer. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan recently announced a formal review of the bridge’s finances, pushing the already tenuous construction date of 2019 further into jeopardy. The Trust remains positive: “It is true the project creates debate, however, we are confident that we will secure the rest of the necessary private funding. We have raised £69m from the private sector before construction has even started – this is unprecedented amount for a project of this type.”
None can negate the fact that Garden Bridge is a groundbreaking use of public space, “combining transport links with public green space, beauty with practicality.” The Trust hopes that this ‘ecological corridor’ will raise awareness for environmental issues in cities across the world and set an example for other metropolitan areas to follow in creating more green infrastructure. If realised, the project will pave the way for the London’s green future as well as a nod to its botanical past.
We would like to add that we have spoken to a number of people who have expressed their concern and opposition to the Garden Bridge on the grounds of public funding and environmental issues and we appreciate and take their opinions seriously. We are aware of the great debate behind the Bridge and that many Londoners and environmentalists are against its construction. Let it Grow aims to promote a closer relationship with green spaces in cities, but we would also like all discussions to be heard on divisive projects such as this. We’re always open for feedback, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch here .