Time for action at Jubilee Gardens

Jubilee Gardens is a classic case study of a precious piece of public space, at the heart of London, that has been neglected, wrestled over and abused by everyone. Labour in the 1950’s built the original Dome on it, but then the Tories knocked that down. The site was wasteland for many years, with rubble buried underground. In 1977 it was presented for the Queen’s Jubilee as a garden, with a few miserable trees and an expanse of grass that summed up the corporate and private ambitions of its time. We now need to return to its name and make Jubilee Gardens fit for a Queen and present it to her on the sixtieth Jubilee of her reign in 2012. The Queen is a unifying figure and for the rest of us Jubilee Gardens can become a place of rest, repose and enjoyment. Corporate and government interests have tried their best and will be needed to support good governance and finance for a world class site. There is incidentally already 2.6 million pounds in the kitty, with 2.4million promised and 350,000 pounds per year maintenance. Now that everyone else has tried, at last, local residents have the opportunity to deliver and make the garden beautiful for themselves and visitors to enjoy.

This will require government and corporate hands to trust the people. It is our land and we will make it good. We will mobilise local residents, local businesses and active citizens in their thousands to get the job done. We will create hundreds of jobs and provide at least ten sustainable jobs for those who have been long-term unemployed. We will build sixty fountains and seats out of mosaic. We will plant three hundred trees. We will celebrate the important role of Queens in English history (Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Victoria, Elizabeth II) and we will design a place around the concept of being free of the fear of violence – making a safe space for women. The making of the garden will include homeless people, ex-offenders and those suffering mental health problems, because working outdoors on projects that create character and detail is good for our health and well-being. Check out Social Enterprise London.  The garden will be evidence of ordinary people’s determination to make a difference to their environment, by being environmentally sensitive and using principles of re-cycling and employing local people (thus minimising transport and waste products).

Where no one else can do the job, we may need help from abroad. But in this instance we will not require any expensive designers to be parachuted in from afar. There will be plenty of people from around the world, already here at the Southbank, to help us get the job done. At Southbank Mosaics’ studio it is quite normal for there to be Spanish, Chinese, French, Twi, Yoruba and English conversations going on at the same time.

With the climate change debate, the paradigm has changed. It is now unacceptable to bring in expensive designers to duplicate what can be done better and more environmentally sensitively here. Foreign designers may have an eye catching trick to tempt one’s gaze, but they lack an understanding of the nuances of history and what makes this community tick. They have no interest in a sustainable environment, unless they can charge expensive maintenance costs. Usually, of course, they will be too busy to reply, with other more important jobs on. 

Jubilee Gardens will be a test for the political parties. Are they interested in the climate change debate? Do they want environmentally sustainable solutions that help us get out of this financial and environmental wasteland, or will they chose the same old expensive and unsustainable future? 

We’ve waited long enough. Now is the time to get the job done.