A bridge-like elevated park in London, with the River Thames in the background.
The Tide, on London's North Greenwich Peninsula, overlooks the River Thames. Charles Emerson

London’s newest destination, on North Greenwich Peninsula, shows why it’s time to stop copying New York City’s High Line.

Can we agree to stop calling things “the new High Line”? Barely a month goes by without the emergence of some fresh exercise in pretty-but-functionless urbanism that promises to jump on the coattails of New York’s now world-famous linear park.

There are “new High Lines” in Chicago, Miami, Tokyo, Barcelona, Seoul, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Atlanta, plus a canceled one in Singapore. The U.K. in particular has gone crazy for Manhattan’s linear park (albeit more as a branding concept than as a built reality), with Big Apple-themed linear-park proposals in Manchester and Leeds, and three in London.

This month, a High Line-inspired development has actually been completed in the British capital. Called The Tide, it’s even been constructed following a design by the original High Line’s co-designers, Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Opened last week on southeast London’s riverside North Greenwich Peninsula, it neatly pinpoints exactly where the linear-park concept is “at” right now.

That’s because The Tide is an expensive, heavily monitored add-on to a meretricious corporate development, possessing little in the way of either function or charm. Although beautifully shot press photos show it bathed in honeyed light against spectacular skies, on the drizzly morning I visited, without either as a backdrop, it looked more than a shade less appealing.

The first problem with The Tide is that calling it a park, linear or otherwise, is a joke. Squeezed in the wedge shape between two new luxury-apartment complexes, it is in fact just a narrow elevated walkway of the type much lambasted in critiques of late 20th-century urban planning. Certainly, it has been clothed with some shrubs and wooden decking, but it still looks unmistakably like what it is—a gangplank to nowhere, neither a convenient pedestrian route nor a vantage point high enough to offer anything in the way of views.

Its scattering of Big Art in the surrounding area by the likes of Damien Hirst and Andy Goldsworthy is nice enough, as are its clumps of juvenile birches and pines. Planted in shallow soil contained within the structure, however, and with only the tiniest portholes of open ground surrounding their trunks, these trees seem unlikely to thrive where they are.

And who is it for? Nearby office workers might be enticed to eat their lunch up on this corporate dream jetty, but signs banning “hot food or open drinks” hardly make such a scenario sound relaxed or idyllic. If the developers had really wanted an attractive park-like space with mature plants, they would have been better off just creating a park.

So why is it here at all? Essentially, it seems an infrastructural gewgaw to drum up a little attention for the blah condominium cluster that surrounds it. As The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright has reported, this massive redevelopment of former docklands in the North Greenwich Peninsula saw developer Knight Dragon buy the land surrounding The Tide at knock-down price and receive a £50 million ($63 million) grant toward the construction of new housing.

Despite this, the developer still wangled the local borough down from their usual requirement of 35 percent affordable housing to 21 percent, leading overall to a net loss of more than 500 affordable homes in the area. Arguing that this reduction was necessary to make the project financially viable, the developers have nonetheless found cash to create yet another starchitect-designed un-bridge.

Tantalizingly, things could have been different. Walk onto the riverfront with your back to the new apartment blocks and the site’s potential shines through, in some actually quite nice landscaping that has been created along the water. Wind-whipped reed beds rise from the Thames’s tidal sludge, with sweeping views of the ex-industrial banks opening up along a quayside that’s pleasant to walk along if you don’t look behind you. This softer, more genuinely public feel could have humanized the rest of the development.

A side view of The Tide. (Jeff Moore)

This missed opportunity contributes to the project’s sense of ugliness, and suggests that it’s high time for a different inspiration than the High Line. Back in 2009, what got many people excited about the original High Line was the idea that the project had rediscovered a community asset hidden for decades, turned it into something beautiful, and invited the public to rediscover it.

Ten years later, Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s new project has none of that excitement. It’s shallow greenwashing tacked onto a bad development, intended to add a cultured veneer increasing the value of nearby real estate, but revealing an ultimate barrenness of invention. It certainly makes 2009 seem a very long time ago.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. illustration of a late-1800s bathroom
    Design

    How Infectious Disease Defined the American Bathroom

    Cholera and tuberculosis outbreaks transformed the design and technology of the home bathroom. Will Covid-19 inspire a new wave of hygiene innovation?

  2. photo: A cyclist rides past a closed Victoria Park in East London.
    Perspective

    The Power of Parks in a Pandemic

    For city residents, equitable access to local green space is more than a coronavirus-era amenity. It’s critical for physical, emotional, and mental health.

  3. Perspective

    In a Pandemic, We're All 'Transit Dependent'

    Now more than ever, public transportation is not just about ridership. Buses, trains, and subways make urban civilization possible.

  4. Coronavirus

    The Post-Pandemic Urban Future Is Already Here

    The coronavirus crisis stands to dramatically reshape cities around the world. But the biggest revolutions in urban space may have begun before the pandemic.

  5. A pedestrian wearing a protective face mask walks past a boarded up building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. Governors from coast to coast Friday told Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances and ordered nonessential business to shut their doors.
    Equity

    The Geography of Coronavirus

    What do we know so far about the types of places that are more susceptible to the spread of Covid-19? In the U.S., density is just the beginning of the story.

×