The young people of West London want to keep Hammersmith Bridge car free

Hammersmith Bridge. Image: Getty.

The young boy, his face creasing into a frown, was anxious to remind his mum that he did have asthma and that fewer cars would be a good thing. “Yes, you’re right,” the mum conceded, before replying that, having initially been in favour of reopening the bridge to all vehicles, public transport, cyclists and pedestrians only would now be their choice. 

This was just one of the 120 or more interviews I recently conducted regarding the closure of London’s Hammersmith Bridge to motorised vehicle. The survey suggests that the closure has led to a range of benefits for bridge users, and that they are open to alternatives for how the bridge could be used in the future. 

That future is to be decided by the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham, which owns the bridge. The council, working alongside Transport for London, which operates the bridge as part of its Strategic Network, has reaffirmed that it will be re-opened within three years and restored “to full working order and to its Victorian splendour”. 

Despite the council’s proclamation, there remains much uncertainty -- not least, as to who will foot the bill for the repair work. One thing that is clear is that the bridge does need to be repaired. But is reopening it to all modes of transport really the only option?

Whilst it cannot be denied that the closure of the bridge to motorised vehicles has had a negative impact on some, a greater number of those surveyed (48 per cent), acknowledged that it did bring some benefit. One Barnes resident reflected that the bridge “feels very natural as it is”, while an elderly lady confided that “before I felt nervy crossing on foot, with vehicles constantly going past”. 

Those who believed that there were some benefits cited improved air quality as being the single biggest (38 per cent). Others believed the biggest benefit was an improved experience of crossing the bridge (29 per cent), whilst one in five (21 per cent), identified that the closure of the bridge to motorised vehicles as something which had encouraged a positive lifestyle change. 

A young couple explained that, although the closure of the bridge to motorised vehicles meant ordering a takeaway, or getting an Uber after a night out was problematic, it had encouraged them to make positive lifestyle choices. “Yes, we’re trying to cook and he’s definitely walking more now.”  

Foregoing luxuries such as taxis and takeaways may not resonate with those who depend on the bridge for essential day to day activities, although the way in which respondents want the bridge re-opened in the future just might. Almost as many people (41 per cent) believe that the bridge should be reopened to public transport, cyclists and pedestrians only, as those who believe it should be reopened as it was previously used (43 per cent). 

The former choice was the preferred option (48 per cent) among those aged 29 years and under. One teenage girl explained that, although re-opening the bridge to cyclists and pedestrians only was her first choice, she believed that it was public transport which would help “provide for the elderly”.  

Many respondents suggested smaller electric buses, whilst others are clearly concerned that returning to a high-volume traffic flow is a threat to the future of such an iconic structure.

In a new-found appreciation of the bridge, one respondent seemed to echo the thoughts of many; stating that the bridge had the potential to become a “sublime public space”. 

When respondents were asked whether they could see any benefit for the use of the bridge as a community market one day a month, three quarters (76 per cent) answered yes. This figure rose to 8 out of every 10 respondents (83 per cent) of those aged 29 and under. Two boys suggested that “a market would bring the two sides of the bridge together”, whilst a nineteen-year-old beamed that a street performance space “would be next level”. 

With London holding its first Car Free Day last weekend, it certainly seems that there is an appetite among city users to reconsider how we use our streets. Although the wheels are already in motion for motorised vehicles to be rumbling over Hammersmith Bridge within three years, it seems that the young are already imagining alternative ways in which this iconic structure could be enjoyed by future generations.  

Charles Critchell is the founder of Fare City, a city transport think tank. You can find it on Twitter at @fare_city.


Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.