Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

11 July 2011

What is the purpose of the London Eye?

I recently visited my friend Rachel in the city of London. I have a lot of pictures of the London Eye, the United Kingdom's tallest Ferris Wheel and possibly the most pointless tourist attraction in London. As you can see below, I have a lot of pictures of the London Eye, because I was trying to take pictures of other things.

I was photobombed by a ferris wheel (but also a young couple; see first image). Why is this part of the skyline in London? Why did it ruin my precious pictures? I pondered on the purpose of this permanent festival ride.

Me: "What is the freaking point of this thing?"
Rachel: "I heard British Airlines makes more money from this than their planes. Did you want to ride it"
Me: "Not at all"
Rachel: "It cost around 20 pounds"
Me: "That is ridiculous...can you drink on it?"

You can drink on it, actually.

What is the London Eye? Let me throw some information down. The wheel is located next to the River Thames. The wheel can take up to 800 passengers per 30 minutes ride. It has had a lot of businesses attached to it, currently it's British Airlines.Wait, scratch that. It is now owned by EDF energy. This ferris wheel really does make its rounds (pun attended). The London Eye site lists facts on their site. But, I found the wikipedia article on this structure much more enlightening. Particularly, the quotes.

"The Eye has done for London what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris, which is to give it a symbol and to let people climb above the city and look back down on it. Not just specialists or rich people, but everybody. That's the beauty of it: it is public and accessible, and it is in a great position at the heart of London"- Sir Richard Rogers (wrote a book about the project)

"The Eye... exists in a category of its own.... It essentially has to fulfil only one function, and what a brilliantly inessential function it is: to lift people up from the ground, take them round a giant loop in the sky, then put them back down where they started. That is all it needs to do, and thankfully, that is all it does"-Steve Ross (G2)

So, we have this giant ferris wheel that is made simply to take people higher. This is much more different than the other megaprojects we have discussed in this course. It isn't really taking anybody anywhere. It is not serving a everyday function, like a bus or plane. Also, I find the comparison to the Eiffel Tower of interest, but I think we could argue that this does not really represent London the way the Eiffel Tower represents Paris. I haven't seen t-shirts with the London Eye on it. I haven't seen black and white photographs of the wheel hanging in the dorm rooms of undergraduates longing to see the world. And another thing, I think we could argue that this isn't as accessible as the first quote suggests. I couldn't afford it, because I dropped a ton of poundage to even eat in that city. If I couldn't pay, I am sure others could not. So....what is the point of this? To me, it just sounds like an expensive carpet ride above London. But this thing is making bank (it is visited by 3.5 million people annually), but it has also dealt with the high cost to keep it rolling (such as the rent).

But then this had me thinking about the Fulkirk Wheel. I was assured this has an everyday function: transportation. It has connected waterways that make water travel much easier for that area. But, it is also a tourist attraction. It offers boat rides. It sells tee shirts. It has a cafe. It has those large balls you can use to walk on water. How is the Fulkirk Wheel serving a greater purpose than a ferris wheel? I mean it has to; it is a canal. I want it to be more than anything.

This post is a work in progress and I'll update it as soon as I find some answers.

1 comment:

Patti said...

That second picture might be my favorite pictures of you ever.

That's fascinating about how much money the London Eye makes--I skipped it when I was there, since I am terrified of heights. (Thirty minutes of cowering in the center of a tiny glass room? No, thank you!) I wonder if megaprojects like this are starting to be considered as tourist attractions first, rather than simultaneously with their function.