Five-Foot Flooded walkway by the River Thames in front of Greenwich University

The level of the Five Foot Walk in front of Greenwich Hospital (now Greenwich University) is just above the mean high tide level of the River Thames and about 1 metre below the flood defense level in this part of London. It therefore enjoys frequent floods – as do those who use the walkway. They run, jump, climb and carry each other through the water (more often boys carrying girls than the other way about for some reason). Despite this wonderful example, all the new walks beside the Thames are built high above the flood defense level. This costs more money and separates people from the water margin where, in Desmond Morris’ view, their ancestors evolved. And the separation is ugly.
The name Five Foot Walk is a reminder that the commissioners of Greenwich Hospital did not want any public access in front of their fine buildings but, after a long battle, were forced to concede a walk with a maximum width of Five Feet (1.52m). No problem – it is wide enough almost every day of the year. But post-Abercrombie riverside walks tend to be 5-7m wide. Why? Because the town planners are unobservant nutters who know so little about landscape architecture that they see no need for expert advice. See note on London’s Riverside Landscape (Abercrombie’s diagram is at the foot of the page). I speak as an ex-Town Planner – who proudly resigned from the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) because the organization was devoid of idealism and imagination. It reminded me of a local government trades union and it was a great relief when the RTPI Journal stopped squirming into my letter box.

10 thoughts on “Five-Foot Flooded walkway by the River Thames in front of Greenwich University

  1. Tian Yuan

    It seems that they are not brave enough when the flood comes! It makes me remember the first time I walked along this walkway. It was a very hot afternoon, the water roared when the wind blew strongly. I hope the flood came to me like the picture shows and I may feel very cool! Also, I hope the other people around me were very scared like them! Back to riverside design, I think it is good to add a little bit dangerous feeling in landscape design.

    The first man who controled the flood in China is Yu the Great:

  2. Christine

    The story or legend of Yu the Great seems like part bad news and part good news for China.
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    There is an indigenous myth in Australia about the thirsty frog that explains the cycle of droughts and floods.[ ]

    Wiki River has some interesting information on the categorization of rivers. Under this classification the Thames is a mature river while the Yellow River is an old river etc.
    [ ]

  3. Tom Turner Post author

    I am attracted by the idea of comparing the technology and mythology of rivers and flood control in the ancient civilizations: Egypt, Mesopotamia, India and China. I think rivers were homes to gods, or were actual gods, in each of these civilizations. But the meaning of God was not the same as in the Abrahamic religions. The older faiths arose in an animist context and their gods may have been closer to that of ‘forces of nature’ in the languages of modern Europe. One would however need to be careful: the fate of Yu is better than the fate of Yu’s father, Gun!

  4. Christine

    Since until recently this period of Chinese culture was considered legendary the work of archaeologists will be greeted with a more than usual level of curiosity and excitement.
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    The change from the Xia to the Shang dynasty (as the result of an anti-hero) also seems to be a pivotal event in Chinese history. The Shang dynasty through symbol and myth also suggests the possibility of links to other world cultures. [ ]

  5. Tom Turner Post author

    During China’s isolationist times it was fashionable to claim that the country was un-influenced by the outside world (This seems to be changing as China becomes more engaged with the outside world). The truth, surely, is that China and the rest of the world have always influenced each other. Good ideas arise anywhere and are sure to travel. I am hoping that some good Chinese ideas about dealing with floods can travel. My instinct is that ‘small and beautiful’ flood control measures have been neglected in favour of heavy engineering works. What is the design life of major dams? Could they survive a 1000-year flood event? What happens when they fail? Egypt’s climate used to be much wetter and the Sahara was green. If these conditions were to return the Aswan dam would fail and modern Egypt would be flushed into the Mediterranean. Small scale flood detention would not stop this happening – but gradual change would be more endurable than catastrophic change.

  6. Christine

    The OECD Report on Development and Climate Change in Egypt, under climate change scenarios predicts that “sea level rise will adversely impact prime agricultural land in the Nile delta through inundation and salinization, while the intensive irrigated agriculture upstream would suffer from any reductions in (predicted) Nile water availability.”

  7. Tom Turner Post author

    I value the impartiality of the OECD – but I think the time horizon of their concern is limited. You could say ‘who cares what happens in 10,000 years time?’ but since we care about what happened 10,000 years ago, why shouldn’t we care about what happenss in the future? Edmund Burke said decisions should be taken with regard to the past, the present and the future.

  8. Christine

    What an interesting question you have posed by your comment. Quite what and why do we care about the way things were in the past? What does the past mean for us in the present? And in the present how and why do we care at all about the future – especially horizons of 10,000 years!

    I first started reseaching the recent past in order to obtain a ‘fixed point’ to draw objective conclusions, to then be able to say something about the present and its implications for the future. The type of research I was doing was a little like archeology of history – where the physical site of analysis was historical texts.

    I found that the our perspective on the past can be value-laden and it may not always be so easy to be objective about it. Perhaps there are issues of presentation and interpretation similar to the reconstruction of archaeological sites that need to be considered also?

  9. Tom Turner Post author

    The idea comes from Edmund Burke’s REFLECTIONS ON THE REVOLUTION IN FRANCE. In considering the Principles of Statesmanship, Burke wrote that:
    ‘It is a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection. As the ends of such a partnership cannot be obtained in many generations, it becomes a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born. Each contract of each particular state is but a clause in the great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible worlds, according to a fixed compact sanctioned by the inviolable oath which holds all physical and all moral natures, each in their appointed place.’
    I think it is a good principle for the Conservation Movement to adopt.


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