10 December 2010

The privatisation of public space

I have a general rule that I won't post anything here that isn't related to bridges, however interesting it might be to me or my readers. However, I couldn't resist this one.

When I visited South Quay Footbridge recently, I was particularly struck by the way in which the corporate privatisation of the surrounding public realm had allowed the bridge's original context to be over-run with new buildings. While this spoiled the setting of the bridge, the feeling that you can only see it under the sufferance of security guards was more disturbing.

It's encouraging, therefore, to see that London's planning committee has been tasked to investigate the whole phenomenon of corporatisation of the public realm. A number of examples are cited by BDOnline which are far more depressing than the situation at South Quay.

I'm not sure what, if anything, bridge designers can do, other than to be aware of wider political and social concerns and try not to respond slavishly to the agenda of private bridge promoters.

I recall one case where a client wanted a bridge, but was anxious that it would create a sheltered space which undesirables could inhabit. Their preferred solution was simply to create a caged area below the bridge with security fencing.

The possibility of coming up with a more creative design solution (e.g. opening up the site so that the area was more visible, or consciously occupying it in the way that is frequently done with railway viaduct arches) didn't occur to them. The possibility of engaging with the community to address the wider issue (presumably, a lack of adult-free space where young people could meet and socialise) would have been even more remote.

I wonder whether anyone else has examples of bridge designs where there is a conflict between private and public benefit?

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