London Sightseeing – a cruise on a River Thames Boat

How do Londoners and tourists regard the river Thames? This video was taken on a London City Cruise and you can hear the waterman’s commentary. I guess he loves the river but, like  Joseph Conrad, sees it as being as much a place of darkness as a place of light – while also being a river of  greatness, cruelty and folly, a place where kings are cruel and greedy, where most architects are fools and where the people  remain cheerful, cynical and long-suffering. My view is that the river and its banks need enlightened planners, brilliant architects and imaginative landscape architects. That, and some money, could put London high in lists of the world’s top waterfront cities. The Mayor of London and the Greater London Authority (GLA) put their weight behind the 2012 Olympic Bid. They should now accept the challenge of getting near the top of these lists:

Great Waterfronts of the World
17 International Cities With Wonderful Waterfronts
World’s Top Waterfront Cities
Top 10 waterfront cities in the world

I do not know whether Joseph Conrad belonged to The Company of Watermen and Lightermen but he had many years experience as a seaman on the high seas, on the River Thames and in the West India Docks. I’m sure he would like to have London on these lists. He loved London, loved the Thames and lived in Tachbrook St, London SW1V 2NG.

5 thoughts on “London Sightseeing – a cruise on a River Thames Boat

  1. Christine

    London should definitely be on the list. But it is probably a quiet achiever.

    There are so many other things that London is famous for – that it is almost a ‘by the way’ statement, “it is worth taking a ferry ride on the Thames from Greenwich to Central London” etc. Greenwich does have a well developed publicly accessible waterfront.

    Also, along the Thames itself, the character of the river changes constantly. Sometimes this character is its strength and charm sometimes it is a weakness when development becomes less cohesive and the riverside more foreboding. But the varying character overall, with its sense sometimes of stillness and sometimes of movement along the banks is a very good quality.

    It is enticing how sometimes buildings cling closely to the banks creating one type of opportunity and at other times set back from the bank with promenades and parks, while at others the jagged development edge allows an interesting layering of the buildings beside the water.

    The number one planning policy principle should be to start from the point of uniqueness – then explore the elements of sameness.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      Thank you. It is very useful to have a non-resident’s perspective on London. I entirely agree that ‘The number one planning policy principle should be to start from the point of uniqueness – then explore the elements of sameness’ and would add that the elements of difference are also in need of exploration. ‘London’ is not one thing and ‘the Thames waterfront’ is not one thing. Some reaches of the Thames are of high quality and historic importance – and should be conserved. Others are pretty shoddy and therefore require enlightened planning and design. This does not mean that Shanghai’s waterfront should be ‘Shanghaied’ (conscripted). There can be a ‘London way’ of moving forward. So I think there are two flaws in Rem Koolhaas’ argument (1) he speaks as though ‘London’ was a single thing (2) he implies that because London lacks ‘drama’ it would be OK for it to have ‘the full Shanghai’ treatment – which one might describe as ‘a cluster of pepper pots’ Shanghai, Hong Kong, Sydney etc have spectacular waterfronts which many people admire. The dull parts of London’s waterfront can be much better than they are without aping the waterfronts of other cities with different geographies, histories and peoples.

  2. Christine

    Absolutely agree.

    Sydney’s waterfront is so spectacular it is often neglectful of the rest of the city in the way other cities are not. The harbour is also a grand arena and very different to the grand arena of Port Phillip Bay – the setting of its southern sister city of Melbourne – which can also boast to being a river city (like London) as it is also set on the Yarra River.

    The Yarra river, because of the distraction of Melbourne’s bayside setting with its many bayside beaches, is also a newly discovered asset of the city.

    1. Tom Turner Post author

      I am glad to hear about the differentiation of Australian cities and wonder how this could be encouraged by differentiating their government structures. It is a bit too easy for national governments to think of how things ‘ought’ to be done and then creating too much uniformity (of schools, hospitals, parks etc etc). In fact there are lots of good ways of doing things and much to be gained from diversity.
      One of the big problems with the River Thames is that it has been run by an organisation (the Port of London Authority) which set up when it was a great port city. This has ended but the PLA often appears to act as though in hope of the port activity reviving. They do not encourage non-navigational use of the waterspace. The current mayor has argued for the PLA to merged into the Greater London Authority – and I think he is right. It needs to be a civic asset instead of an industrial asset.

  3. Christine

    How much activity on the Thames is port activity? Is it a significant proportion of the cities economic activity?

    What other navigational activities besides trade occur on the Thames?


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