Saturday, November 22, 2014

You Have to Pay for the Public Life

Proposed Pier 55 Park, New York, by Thomas Heatherwick

"There’s a combination, it seems, of trees and water and fairytale stories told by a charming inventor, that persuades people to part with many millions – and allows conventional urban planning to be gleefully suspended."
Oliver Wainwright

The Guardian's Oliver Wainwright weighs in on Barry Diller's proposed US $130 million park and performance pier on the Hudson, designed by Thomas Heatherwick. It turns out that Heatherwick is behind another park on the water proposed for London, this time for a Garden Bridge across the Thames.

Proposed Garden Bridge, London, by Thomas Heatherwick

Oliver Wainwright
Thomas Heatherwick plans $170m hovering miracle island for New York
The Guardian
 Nov 18, 2014

London's garden bridge: the public park where groups and cyclists aren't welcome
The Guardian
 Nov 19, 2014

A more complete view on London from the BD Journal (registration required):
David Rogers
Garden Bridge says parties of 8 are 'protest risk'
BD Online
Nov 19, 2014

(See also Addendum at end of this entry).

London's Garden Bridge is sponsored by a non-profit trust and will be built with public and private funds. On plans to restrict access for cyclists, protesters and large groups, Wainwright charges:
"Such a measure suggests that the garden bridge, as its critics have suspected, is not in fact a bridge – in the sense of being a public right of way across the river – but another privately managed tourist attraction, on which £60m of public money is to be lavished."
Wainwright points out the Disneyfied quality of both projects:
"It is another vision that could come straight from the set of Avatar – fecund flowerbeds erupting from mushroom-shaped columns, their canopies joining to support parkland above the water." 
Is this another step in the tacky Hollywoodization of public space, its commodification and conversion into entertainment and cheap fantasy? The next step up from the theme restaurants and clubs of the 1990s, such as those in New York designed by Broadway set designer John Rockwell? Though actually, peering through the fog of the atmospheric renderings, I don't think these places look all that bad.

Charles Moore famously said of the original Disneyland, "You have to pay for the public life". Public spaces have gotten better in New York with private involvement, as in Central Park. Though sometimes the tradeoffs are steep, as in Bryant Park. The alternative seems to be abandon and neglect. Or of course grass-roots community gardens, another form of privatization.

Maybe Diller and the Garden Bridge Trust are just following the example of Gordon Matta-Clark, carving new public spaces out of abandoned city piers, chain saw in hand.

Gordon Matta-Clark's "indoor water park", Day's End. Intervention on an abandoned New York pier, 1975. Source: Light Industry
November 30, 2014

Rowan Moore, writing in The Observer, has also condemned the Garden Bridge proposal in an article published on November 22nd:
"The bridge’s fans back it with good intentions. They want something beautiful. They believe that a great city shouldn’t stand still. They are right to explore ideas like this. But there comes a time to recognise that the thing they love is not what they thought it would be, that their nice idea just doesn’t work. It is not a tranquil walk in woodlands. It is not a genuinely public place. It is not free. It is not a well-conceived piece of transport infrastructure. It is a crowded and overstyled chunk of heavy engineering garnished with urban parsley."
 Rowan Moore
The Thames garden bridge is nothing but a wasteful blight
The Observer
November 22, 2014

 Can't resist: one of the reader comments in favor of the bridge:
"Quite. A well travelled person said to me when I was a teenager that England is the best country in the world. Since then I've been very lucky to have travelled as much as he had and I think he was right. London especially has so much diversity in its appeal that an original idea like this one should be celebrated and as you suggest, if you don't do it why do anything at all?" 
I'm glad this person took the trouble to confirm his prejudices; I see he has made good use of all his traveling about.

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