Archives for posts with tag: london

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A new project in London proposes converting a bridge over the Thames into a lush, green park: London’s High Line over the river.

I adore this idea. The romance of a bridge is inherent, and we do them a great disservice by purposing them for one simple task: moving cars. The proposed green-bridge would be built across the Thames linking and enlivening two newly built neighbourhoods on the river’s edges.

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The garden-bridge proposal, by Heatherwick Studios, reminds me of a bridge that crosses over Toronto’s Don Valley (and its parkway) that I’ve fantasized converting into a similarly spanning oasis.

From the perspective of driving down the Don Valley Parkway, the bridge already looks wild, with wide green spaces of brush, bushes and trees running along its sides. From satellite imagery I’ve determined that indeed, train tracks run through its middle. Viewed from the road beneath, however, it looks as though a park stretches across the Valley — linking east and west as if protesting the expressway that carved a permanent barrier between the Valley’s edges.

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// Negotiating space and time in London and Amsterdam :::::

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During my travels to and around London — particularly the South Bank of the Thames — I’m always impressed with the city’s use of formerly-industrial archway space.

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Most often, the arches are structural elements of railway overpasses. Many of the archways are used for thoroughfares, and many still remain unused, empty and neglected.

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But a majority of them, in my experience, have been transformed to office spaces, gyms, restaurants, cafes and architecture offices. These novel uses for former air-space are inspiring. These spaces feel good – the sweeping semi-circular roof envelops the interior, and large windows allow for copious amounts of light.

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Many of these transformed archway spaces remain under used elevated railroad tracks. This is a brilliant example of the possibility for multiple land use in cities: functions and services need not be separated — industrial here, residential there, commercial there. Rather, they are better side by side, or better yet, on top of each other, where they cause contrast, interest and dramatically animate each other.

(I also feel the potential of multiple land use when I’m in Amsterdam’s Westerpark: where you can look over the landscape and see city residences, commerce, leisure space, gardens, farms, portlands, and railways, trains passing by every few minutes).

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Another strategy London employs for its thoroughfare-archway spaces — those that have roads running under them — is the installation of novel public light art. An otherwise menacing jog of a road underneath a bridge is transformed into a space to be inhabited and enjoyed. These ‘under-the-bridge’ spaces are imbued  with a sense of care, and as a result, comfort.

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Though the concept of a ‘global city’ is debated, there undoubtedly exists a group of ‘alpha‘ cities that exert a certain cultural and economic influence over the rest of the world.

The world holds these first-order cities, London, New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, etc, to a certain set of cultural expectations. Famous for hundreds of years, they evoke a very established and clearly defined image, even to those that have never visited them. Through famous depictions in literature, film, photography and visual art, these cities exist as strong identifiable images in the consciousness of the global public.

But what about the second order cities? Cities like Lyon and Manchester? Compared to their alpha-neighbours Paris and London, these cities evoke a much weaker image. Paris’ Eiffel tower and grand boulevards, London’s Big Ben and rainy, winding streets lack an equivalent in Lyon and Manchester in the global consciousness. The lack of an international identity, however, by no means indicates that these cities lack culture. You can be sure that Lyon, Manchester and other ‘second order’ cities have their own extremely rich histories, architectural traditions, urban lifestyles, cultural atmospheres and approaches to planning and transportation management – equally as rich as their first-order counterparts.

I want to suggest that since nobody is holding them to any expectations, ‘second order’ cities allow for a more authentic form of experience for visitors. These cities can speak for themselves, as opposed to having to live up to an identity that precedes them in literature and film.

Obviously, this phenomenon depends on one’s own geography. Those from France, UK and surrounding countries probably know more about Lyon and Manchester than folk from North America, and would thus be able to speak meaningfully about their culture: lifestyle, urban form and architecture. Montreal, itself a second order city, is surrounded by many other second order cities: Toronto, Chicago, Halifax, etc. Despite their lack of global identity, these cities evoke extremely rich images of culture and urban form in our (people from Montreal, Toronto and the Eastern seaboard in general) minds. To the global audience, however, these cities evoke no image at all.

I look forward, and encourage you all, to visiting these second-order cities. With no expectations, I will be able to truly experience these cities as they reveal themselves.