The planning application for The Garden Bridge states that it would add to “London’s rich and diverse horticultural heritage of parks, squares and community gardens”.
Only a few doors and about 140 years separate me from a neighbour I never met. Looking out of my study window I can see the house Vincent van Gogh lived in during his brief stay in London. A perpendicular road, Isabel St, between our two houses was one Vincent passed, perhaps walked down, on his daily walk into work in Covent Garden.
“I walk here as much as I can… I enjoy the walk from home to the office and in the evening from the office back home. It takes about three-quarters of an hour.”
A couple of years ago Section 106 money from a neighbouring development of an old printers’ works saw funding come to Isabel St. After consultation with residents and landscape designers the street was transformed from a fairly bland link with no real public life, to a half-pedestrian half-sharedspace street which has people using it at all times –
VAN GOGH WALK.
All the planting relates to that found in various van Gogh paintings. Olive trees and lavender, sunflowers spring in the summer. Granite semi-circles have quotes engraved into them from Vincent’s letters to his brother about his time in Brixton. Children play on the street, people sit and read, there is even a tiny free library where people can donate or take books.
It’s a genuine community space, used by both local primary schools and hosting various fairs and festivals and working with local artistic amenities like
SLAUGHTERHAUS and the
TYPE ARCHIVE. It has also raised awareness of local history and the stories from the area, to the point that
ARTANGEL installed a project by Saskia Olde Wolbers in van Gogh’s former residence last year.
It cost less than £500,000.
Now, compare this to The Garden Bridge, which will cost around £170m. For that amount of money London could transform 340 similar small streets. Even if you only consider the up-front taxpayers’ money to the Garden Bridge folly, £60m, that’s still 120 communities which could become greener, cleaner, livelier and more active.
It seems like a no-brainer to me. If the people of London were really at all in the mind of the Mayor’s office and his desire to throw our cash at greening the city, then directly improving the streets where residents live seems like the best place to spend it. Not on a tourism scheme which does nothing for Londoners except block off views which have been treasured for years and convert publicly owned space to private.
© Will Jennings, June 2015
Will Jennings is a visual artist.