An official and objective ranking of the seven bridges linking Newcastle and Gateshead

The Tyne and Gateshead Millennium Bridges, seen from the High Level Bridge. Image: Getty.

I’ve just got back from Newcastle. It was completely brilliant – great architecture, great cultural offering, great seaside, great pubs – and so it’s now a source of some regret to me that nobody made me do this years ago.

Probably the most brilliant of all the brilliant things about Newcastle, though, was the bridges. In one stretch of the Tyne, spanning less than a mile, there are seven of them, each linking Newcastle to Gateshead, a completely separate town across the river to its south that is in no way an extension of the city itself.

Image: Google Maps.

In my three days in the region, I managed to find excuses to use five of them, and gazed lovingly at the other two. I am thus the best qualified person there has ever been to draw up an objective ranking of them.

Here it is now.

7th. Redheugh Bridge

A road bridge carrying the A189 across the river from slightly to the west of Newcastle Central Station. There’s been a bridge on the site since 1871, but the current one only dates from onle 1980, which was not a vintage year for bridges as you can plainly see:

 

The Redheugh Bridge. Image: John-Paul Stephenson/Wikimedia Commons.

It’s… fine, I guess? Like, there’s nothing wrong with it. But it pales next to, well, literally all the other bridges on this stretch of the Tyne, so let’s move on.

6th. King Edward VII Bridge

Carries most of the East Coast Main Line trains across the Tyne, so it’s the one you’re most likely to have used even if you didn’t know it.

The King Edward VII Bridge. Image: Ardfern/Wikimedia Commons.

It opened in 1906, it’s Grade II listed, it’s bloody gorgeous, and in any other city it would be in with a shot of winning the Best Bridge Rosette. But this is Newcastle-Gateshead, my friend. There are better bridges aplenty.

5th. Swing Bridge

This one’s Grade II* listed (note the asterisk), and is even older, dating to 1876. The really cool thing, though, is that it moves: it uses hydraulic pressure to rotate, sitting neatly on its artificial island so that boats can pass.

The Swing Bridge, in the foreground. Image: Tagishsimon/Wikimedia Commons.

Seriously, though, how cool is that? It’s a bridge, but it spins. Honestly.

4th. Gateshead Millennium Bridge

The baby of the pack, this one is, as the name suggests, pretty recent, and only opened in 2001.

The Gateshead Millennium Bridge at night. Image: JaT/Wikimedia Commons.

Two cool things about this bridge. One is that it, like the swing bridge, it rotates, to allow smaller boats up the river – hence its nickname, the Blinking Eye Bridge.

The other is that it has a cycle lane. It’s a pedestrian bridge with a cycle lane. Screw you, drivers, this bridge is for real people.

3rd. Tyne Bridge

This is the most famous of the lot: its Grade II* listed magnificent arch is the best known symbol of the region, and if the design echoes Sydney Harbour Bridge that’s probably because it was designed by the same people, the engineering firm Mott, Hay & Anderson.

 

Tyne Bridge viewed from Quayside. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

It looms over the buildings of Newcastle Quayside, in a way the bridges of New York do but most British bridges don’t even attempt, and it features heavily in the last episode of one of the best BBC dramas there’s ever been, Our Friends In The North. So why isn’t it top of the list? Because there are other, even better bridges.

2nd. High Level Bridge

I mean, come on, this is just ridiculously gorgeous: a covered bridge, again the sort of thing that’s more common in the new world than the old, which carries a road on one deck and a railway line above it.

You can tell it’s one of the best ones because this one is Grade I listed. And it’s a great viewpoint to see the other bridges. It’s just realy, really cool.

The High Level Bridge. Image: Heworthjb/Wikimedia Commons.

Honestly, it would top the list, except for this one thing.

1st. Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge

The metro station at Newcastle metro is underground. You board a train heading south, expecting to remain underground, but suddenly you’re not just in the light, you’re high above the river, the cities spread out around you. And then, just as suddenly, you’re underground again, beneath Gateshead.

The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Image: Gareth James/Wikimedia Commons.

The bridge looks good in itself – much better than the Redheugh Bridge, even though it dates only to 1981. But it’s the magical experience of using it that really makes it brilliant. It’s beautiful. It’s a thing of wonder. It is a reason in itself to visit Newcastle. Honestly, go right now. You won’t regret it. I promise.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.