One of the frequent comments in mainstream press is that this is a ‘local issue’ and as such doesn’t need to be of concern anywhere outside the North Lambeth and North Southwark areas.
But what is local when one is talking about the most central point of one of the world’s most well known cities?
There is concern at a hyper-local level. Greenspace and trees of the South Bank will be lost to privatised commercial units, queuing and corporate entertainment.
It is envisaged by the Garden Bridge Trust that the project would attract up to 7m people a year. This along a part of London which is already saturated and incredibly busy. Nobody underestimates the importance of tourism to the economy and life of London, but London is much more than this part of the South Bank and this area has little more capacity.
When local is talked about in terms of London, it is not just the residents of the immediate streets but that of the 8.5m people who live in the city. Not least because money from Transport for London, their money, will be used on this scheme but also because this stretch of the river, and its views, are part of every Londoner’s sense of belonging to the city.
£30m of taxpayers’ money is earmarked for this project. This at a time of government austerity when everybody is affected by cuts to critical services.
The views which will be lost from the South Bank towards St. Pauls and Somerset House are not just those of local residents, but as World Heritage Sites are arguably of importance to the whole world.
The issues at stake regarding lack of agency of the individual with regards to political process and the changes of their built environment are an issue to all in our society. That there are serious issues with regards to The Garden Bridge throughout the truth of information, public engagement and democratic planning processes are important way, way beyond the local level.
So, what is local? In this instance it is a smokescreen phrase used by the dwindling supporters of the scheme to make it appear that opposition to the Garden Bridge is from a few small NIMBYs who want the South Bank to themselves. This couldn’t be further from the truth and as A Folly For London is beginning to show, people from far and wide are bothered about this small, local part of London.
© Will Jennings, June 2015
Will Jennings is a visual artist.