What is it with ferris wheels at the moment? I’ve just returned to Sweden after a holiday back in Melbourne, where the most visible sign of change on the skyline of my native city is a giant wheel. On my return I learn that Gothenburg are planning on building a giant wheel too. Why this obsession with glorified amusement park rides?
Melbourne’s wheel, the Southern Star, cost A$100 million to build. A littler over month after completion it suddenly stopped working. During my visit a delegation of Japanese engineers were flown in who subsequently ruled the wheel inoperable for at least the next six months.
Naturally people are asking why, during a world financial crisis, was A$100 million spent on something the city arguably really doesn’t need and doesn’t even work anyway. Well according to their website a “flight” (this is their word for a ride) on the wheel is “…an experience like nothing on earth.” Maybe no one has told them about the taller London Eye. Or the Singapore Flyer. Or the Star of Nanchang, Great Berlin Wheel, and Great Beijing Wheel, as well as a host of other structures all taller than the Southern Star.
But the Southern Wheel does have some advantages. For one it is the only permanent observation wheel in the southern hemisphere. And it also has the world’s first LED lighting system. Just in case you’re into that sort of thing.
The Southern Star will supposedly attract 1.5 million visitors a year, presumably after they’ve already seen all other wheels mentioned above and still have some change left over to see some more.
Gothenburg’s proposed wheel isn’t quite as grand, coming in at a lazy 60 metres. (The Southern Star is 120 metres, the London Eye 135 metres). But assuming that the whole point of a giant observational ferris wheel is to provide a good view of the surrounding area, Gothenburg’s planned wheel makes even less sense. The truth is Gothenburg is not short of lookout points. What they lack is something to look at. It’s a small compact city with a low-rise skyline. Any elevated spot above a fifth floor usually provides a good view of the city and its surrounds. At present they already have one ferris wheel, which at 25 metres is sufficient for seeing right out to the city’s outskirts. On top of this they also have an 80 metre high skyscraper, and a 116 metre tower each with their own viewing platforms. Considering there is nothing much to see from either of these places other than rooftops, what can a 60 metre ferris wheel possibly add?
According to a poll in the Göteborg Posten, 54% of the public think it’s a great idea. As with the Southern Star the potential pull of tourists is the motivating key. But who are these people who travel large distances just to see ferris wheels? Even Facebook, where fan pages exist for things as banal and irrelevant as duct tape, dried leaves and Bono, lacks any evidence of ferris wheels’ supposed mass appeal. A group called ‘Ferris Wheels are the Greatest Things Ever’ has 53 members while another called “I Love Ferris Wheels” has one. Basically vast sums of money are being spent trying to attract a demographic that doesn’t even exist.