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.
This mindset was the background for the parallel proposals, in London and New York, of two projects by designer Thomas Heatherwick: the Garden Bridge in London and Pier 55 in New York (with landscape consultants Mathews Nielsen). Both were offered as gifts to the city, privately funded with a small public contribution. Both were backed by celebrities and mayors. Both proposed parks as they had never been seen before: floating over their respective cities’ signature rivers, and ostensibly creating “new” land for circumscribed metropolises.