Building A Bridge Between The Past And The Future

Garden Bridge proposal may still be raising eyebrows but the benefits of having one more bridge spanning Thames are undeniable.

Another project from Boris Johnson’s ‘white elephant’ legacy made the headlines few weeks ago — the controversial project is going ahead. The almost utopian Garden Bridge is a new 366m-long footbridge proposal spanning the River Thames from the top of Temple underground station on the Northbank to the South Bank. The peculiarity of the bridge — 2,500m² of planting area hosting more than 100,000 plant species. Essentially, Lodon is about to get a park — above the water.

The increasing demand for pedestrian and cycling bridges is inspiring the shift from vernacular architectural designs towards ecological and more sustainable ideas. From the point of view of practicality, London is in need of more bridge constructions across the river, but from ideological point of view, the sheer ambition of the Garden Bridge project and £185m price tag made sceptical londoners question whether the capital needs another extravagant vanity project, providing the current economic climate, perhaps the taxpayers money are better to be spent elsewhere?

Or perhaps, can London learn from other cities which attempted to bridge similar dilemma? Cities like Copenhagen, Denmark, and Calgary, Canada were also faced with high budget controversial bridge proposals which were met with an air of disapproval from the local residents yet were given the green light for construction. Could Capital follow the suit and convince its residents the Garden Bridge is worth paying for?

Let’s cross over the Atlantic to visit Calgary. Canada’s award winning Peace Bridge opened in 2012, a brainchild of Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, a pedestrian and cycling bridge spanning the Bow River in Calgary was also deemed as bold project in terms of controversy and architectural design. Construction delays, structural inadequacies and $25million canadian dollars price tag was proven to be far too much for the city which claimed it didn’t want or need the bridge.

However, today Calgary’s Peace bridge with more than 4000 daily commuters is integral part of the city which tunnel shaped design is an attraction for city’s residents and visitors A bridge once labeled as a vanity project, quickly became city’s favorite spot for peaceful promenades, venue to host fundraisers or simply the stunning backdrop for wedding photography. Above all, the Peace Bridge became part of an urban space and not just means to cross from one bank of the river to another.

Given the familiar circumstance, London may be forgoing the opportunity of creating unique recreational space. Besides practical linking function, Garden Bridge, like in Calgary’s example, may be used for hosting fundraisers and events as well as delivering an unconventional horticultural engineering marvel unlike anywhere in the world. With this challenge in mind, the capital would acquire an additional garden space which is lacking in the central part of the city.

As we shift towards more sustainable forms of transport, introducing new pedestrian and cyclist bridges can go hand in hand with increasing green space.

Hop back to Europe, Copenhagen, one would wonder why somebody would build a cycle lane 213 feet above the water? It even seems excessive even for the Danish capital. Initially proposed in 2008, the plans are coming to fruition next year to build two towers on either side of the city port connected by a bicycle bridge, and it’s certainly not for the faint hearted.

The bridge designed by an american architect Steven Hall was also seen as a high concept vanity project, however this impractical solution was chosen for a very practical reason: cyclists and pedestrians will be able to reduce traveling time by using the bridge above fully functioning port in order to avoid 2km detour. If the project proves to be successful, the bridge will become a long awaited solution to a city’s increasing transport problem.

Back in London, Garden Bridge, against any scepticism, would have a positive impact on the area. Although Garden Bridge would not offer cycling routes, it would become a welcome shortcut for 9000 daily commuters. Reducing pressure on Waterloo Station which is the busiest station in London, and encouraging pedestrians to use Temple Underground Station to reduce demand on Embankment are the obvious benefits, not to mention improving air quality and reducing noise pollution.

These examples show how the rethinking the relationship between high concepts and functionality can benefit the city in more than one way. New innovations in civil engineering and use of seemingly unusable spaces to create better connected city are the challenges of the 21st century. As we shift towards more sustainable forms of transport, introducing new pedestrian and cyclist bridges can go hand in hand with increasing green space, and if we can build a bridge and a park in one place, then London can indeed have its cake and eat it too. Putting functionality above high concept can deliver value for money, but creating something functional and exciting to improve city’s quality of life, something money can’t buy.

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