Urban parks are an essential part of a healthy city yet typically existing green areas are more vulnerable than ever to development; whilst space for new parks is practically impossible to find. However architects, designers and landscapers are developing cool new ways to bring the green back into the city.
NYC’s High Line
I recall the first time I visited the High Line Park in New York City’s swanky Meatpacking District. Occupying almost two and half kilometres of a disused elevated railway, dating back to the 1930s, this creatively designed linear park has been an integral part of the post-industrial revitalisation of this inner-city neighbourhood. Walking the meandering path, that runs amongst ornamental grasses, birch trees and seasonal flowers, planted amongst some the remaining tracks, I became impressed by the imaginative use of this once working, industrial railway. A rusting relic from another era is now a green space of tranquillity, a place for art installations, events and also a welcome respite from the intensity of the surrounding built environment. It’s an inspirational urban park; a place where residents and visitors alike can escape traffic, and enjoy the freedom of outdoor space. What’s more the High Line is like a contemporary urban village green – it’s a place to experience the neighbourhood through cultural events, exercise, meditation, and guided walks.
Our cities have never been more in need of such innovative, new spaces of nature, where residents and visitors can feel part of a community. Every year our cities grow in population as millions of people seek new opportunities offered in the world’s commercial and cultural hubs. Research suggest that more than half the world’s people now live in cities.
London and New York City have emerged as megacities, vast multicultural communities that are almost more like city states. These megalopolis may offer opportunities, but all too often quality of life can suffer in overcrowded, contaminated environments.
London’s Garden Bridge
British architect Thomas Heatherwick is one of the world’s most innovative designers of new urban green spaces. His firm Heatherwick Studio has commanded international media attention for recent designs for new urban parks and green corridors.
The firm’s new Garden Bridge, proposed as a 21st green crossing of the river Thames in London, connecting the North and South with a garden, is one such remarkable modern park. The architects promise an elevated garden that ‘will not only be a safe and easy way for London’s many commuters and visitors to cross the river, it will also make places along its length for pedestrians to stop and better enjoy the remarkable river setting and unparalleled views of the city.’
The pedestrian bridge, which will link the area of the Temple underground station to the South Bank, has captured the imagination of celebrities, and residents, as well as attracting controversy too. The 366 metre long bridge is a smart way to find new space for an urban oasis. Yet, with limited public funds allocated by our cities for new parks, typically these new generation of public spaces are being co-funded by the private sector, and managed by Trusts or Foundations. With this comes potential entry fees, closures for private and corporate events, and/or restrictions on public use.
Construction is hoped to begin this year, with completion estimated to be in 2018, when this striking new river crossing will no doubt become another iconic element of London’s evolving cityscape, a new urban garden floating above the river Thames.
New York City’s Pier55 has just recently overcome is final approval obstacle and construction is set to start shortly, with completion anticipated in 2019.
This remarkable structure will be another elevated park designed by Heatherwick Studio, this time in conjunction with landscape architect Mathews Nielsen. Sitting upon white mushroom-like stilts, echoing the adjacent old pile fields of the piers either side, this new park, according to the architects, ‘will offer sweeping views of the Manhattan and northern New Jersey skylines for all park-goers and provide a natural viewing area for the new performance space, which will be designed to immediately serve as one of New York City’s premier venues for music, dance, theatre and public art, along with community events.’
The predominantly privately financed project will be an initiative of Barry Diller, the US media mogul and his wife American fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg, in cooperation with The Hudson River Park Trust.
Pier55 will connect to Manhattans Chelsea shoreline and include a 700-seat amphitheatre.
Rendered images © Heatherwick Studio
Text by andrewaforbes