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London doesn’t need a floating park on the Thames, but would it benefit from one?

Gensler London River Park

In cities across the world you can find all sorts of public structures that residents don’t need. Take the Eiffel Tower or the Washington Monument, for example. Neither provides Parisians or Washingtonians with food, shelter or any of the other amenities necessary to sustain life, but I bet you won’t find a single a person in either city that would say the monuments make Paris or Washington, D.C. worse off.

City planners have been decorating urban spaces since the dawn of western civilization and for good reason. The presence of monuments and other dynamic public spaces is what makes cities interesting; it’s what entices people to live in them and what attracts visitors, who crave experiences that go beyond the functional.

I bring this up because Gensler’s proposed London River Park is up for planning approval by the City of London Corporation on November 15, and while most people are strongly in favor of the project, there has been some localized opposition centered on the idea that London doesn’t need the River Park.

That sentiment is correct—London doesn’t need the River Park—but it fails to recognize that the River Park will improve the city and provide economic benefits to residents and businesses alike.

Gensler London River Park

We’ve proposed building the River Park on the north bank of the river Thames between Blackfriars and Custom House, an incredibly dense part of London that has limited access to open space. Over the past 40 years, the Thames riverbank has undergone a dramatic revitalization as riverfront industries have moved to other locations, freeing up space for Londoners to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of their city’s most prized natural resource. The revitalization has skipped over this particular strip of river, however, which is ironic because it is steeped in history. On this ground is where London was founded and where national celebrations were traditionally held for many years. In its current state, it unfortunately does not have the capacity to host substantial events or attract many visitors and has become somewhat of an afterthought to residents and tourists.

Our design for the River Park will provide four acres of easily accessible open space. Just as the Millennium Bridge created pedestrian accessibility between the Tate Modern and St. Paul’s Cathedral and rejuvenated Southwark, the River Park will function as a pedestrian friendly walkway and breathe life back into this historic river frontage. It will contain vantage points to various parts of downtown London, plenty of seating areas, cultural and educational facilities, and a swimming pool. It will give residents and people who work in close proximity a place where they can stretch their legs and get some fresh air, and it will become a tourist attraction worth visiting.

Open spaces, such as the River Park, increase real estate value in urban environments, and although it’s impossible to quantify the impact the River Park will have on the local real estate market, suffice to say there will probably be an increase in value. The analogy I like to use is that a hotel room or apartment or office that overlooks a park or monument will likely be more valuable than one that overlooks nothing noteworthy. And as tourists flock to the location, local businesses will benefit by getting a whole new clientele.

Since the River Park will be completely privately financed, taxpayers will not assume any burden. The city only stands to benefit in both an economic and aesthetic sense.

Gensler London River Park

I think of the London River Park as the next step in the evolution of the city of London. Dynamic international cities are constantly reinventing themselves, constantly adding new spaces and new attractions that keep them fresh and exciting. Tokyo, Shanghai, New York, and Singapore are several quintessential examples. Cities that stay the same risk morphing into a living museum of outdated spaces.

London remains one of the world’s most exciting metropolitan areas because it is rich with history and surprisingly modern at the same time. The River Park will ensure this continues to be true, and give people from all over the world another reason to return.

Whenever a new structure is proposed, there is a natural inclination, a combination of preliminary nostalgia and the comfort of liking what you know, that causes some people to oppose progress. We understand this and will strive to ensure that the concerns of area residents and businesses are heard as we move forward with this project. But when you take a step back and look at the larger picture, you will see that the London River Park will greatly benefit the city of London for many years to come.

Ian Mulcahey runs Gensler's firm wide Planning and Urban Design practice area. As the leader of a multidisciplinary team of planners, architects, and urban designers, he's interested in creating compelling spaces that add to the richness of urban environments, and he recognizes the competing political, commercial, and social forces that influence urban planning and design. Contact him at ian_mulcahey@gensler.com.

Reader Comments (3)

Oh lovely, another corporate design, by a corporate 'architecture' practice which will make a corporation plenty of cash at the expense of London.

however, my main complaint is that it IS a good idea, we could have something like the NYC highline, but no, we're gonna get a crappy "make it look futuristic' easy architecture with no decent detailing.

I look forward to being proved wrong!
11.13.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark Fuller
London is beautiful as it is and it already has a beautiful river park.
11.20.2011 | Unregistered CommenterHome Staging Tips
I think it looks amazing.
11.22.2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessie Wilson

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