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.