Garden Bridge v Pier 55: why do New York and London think so differently?

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Garden Bridge v Pier 55: why do New York and London think so differently?
Proposed Pier 55 in New York, top, and the Garden Bridge in London

Two cities, one designer and one strategy – to build a privately funded park above a river. If both the Garden Bridge and Pier 55 have questionable benefits and hidden public costs, why is New York so convinced when London isn’t?

There’s something wonderfully uncontroversial about a park. A park can’t be bad. We love trees. We love water. We love sunshine and flowers. Cities need open space, right? That built-in pleasure response means people are less likely to think of the cost of a park, to see only the leaves and grasses rather than the concrete and steel beneath them. They are also less likely to think of a park as precluding other, future uses. We do call it “open” space, after all.

There’s something wonderfully uncontroversial about a park. A park can’t be bad. We love trees. We love water. We love sunshine and flowers. Cities need open space, right? That built-in pleasure response means people are less likely to think of the cost of a park, to see only the leaves and grasses rather than the concrete and steel beneath them. They are also less likely to think of a park as precluding other, future uses. We do call it “open” space, after all.

Making fairytale scenarios come true is the calling card of Heatherwick, who wrote his recent monograph in the form of questions that only he, it seems, can answer. “Can a bridge be a place?” he asked in London, in response to Ab Fab actor Joanna Lumley’s longstanding dream of a garden in the middle of the river.

In New York, meanwhile, he asked: “How do you make a new pier that is also a park and world-class performance space?” His answer there is Pier 55, a petite 2.7 acres that is sculpted to serve as an artificial, landscaped hill, with viewing platforms and a performance venue, including an outdoor theatre for 700 people or a gathering space for 3,500 was originally the idea of mogul Barry Diller, whose family foundation will put up $130m (£88m) of the cost. […]