Cities on rails an introduction

Railway stations and their surroundings are the focus of ambitious redevelopment plans throughout urban Europe. A complex set of factors—as diverse as the promotion of sustainable transport and land use, the stimulation of local economies, technological and institutional change, the business cycle and the spatial impact of globalization—drives these initiatives. Both differences and similarities are found among the national and local approaches, and there is certainly much to be learned from looking across borders.

As Europe changes, patterns of urban development are also changing, falling into step with the ongoing process of internationalization. The redevelopment of railway station areas throughout Europe is often an important part of urban restructuring. To many, these processes appear fragmented. Moreover; the information they provide is partial; it rarely sheds light on any relevant developments taking place elsewhere in Europe.

Yet it is surprising how much information about this subject is available on individual projects. It is also surprising how widely this knowledge is spread among the parties involved, so that no one party has the whole picture. Another problem is the rapid obsolescence of the information. The planning and development of railway station areas takes a long time, and so knowledge gets out of date, changes, or simply disappears in the course of the project. It is for the same reason that the actors involved in one redevelopment process learn relatively little from others participating in the same process. As redevelopment plans are continuously changed and adjusted, it does not pay to make the effort to learn. However true this may be for most railway station redevelopment plans, the full scope of the problem is even more apparent when we compare different railway station sites in Europe. Although there is already a wealth of experience in the continent that could be applied, participants in any one project know very little about railway station area redevelopment elsewhere. The benefits of sharing this knowledge are obvious. An open exchange of information helps the parties to put their own experiences in perspective. Furthermore, it can help to solve problems, by showing how similar situations have been addressed.

In a Europe without borders, capital flows can migrate from one metropolitan area to another. It is often concluded that those cities that are the most competitive will gain the greatest advantage. In order to remain competitive, cities and metropolitan areas will have to mobilize their potential to retain and improve their market position for footloose capital. When we assess the competitiveness of metropolitan areas in the European context, we should keep in mind that their strength will depend upon their performance in key sectors. Railway station areas constitute one of these sectors. In a European development market, redevelopment strategies for railway station areas could prove increasingly important in attracting or repelling economic activities.

In those central cities where the redevelopment of railway station areas is impeded by conservation and heritage policies, extra constraints burden the development prospects. While the direct costs of redevelopment are likely to remain at the lowest spatial level—consisting of the railway station area and its immediate surroundings—its benefits tend to spread over a wider area. The metropolitan region is the first to benefit. Because the redevelopment process comprises various issues, as the spatial scale decreases so the need for a more integrated approach increases. Total integration, however, is a fiction. Therefore at this level the aims of economic development and transport and mobility improvement must go hand in hand with the aims of environmental protection and social integration. The constraints mentioned earlier refer to these complex relations. Although the constraints may seem enormous, the actors numerous, and the processes complex, a successful redevelopment of such areas can prove vital for the attractiveness of the city and the region.

The main objective of this study is to provide information about railway station redevelopment throughout Europe, and to analyse it, highlighting the similarities and differences. At the same time, this study places the redevelopment processes within their national contexts in order to understand their peculiarities, to identify which constraints generate specific problems, and to point out opportunities for specific solutions.

The complexity of the redevelopment of railway station areas can be traced back to its different components. The task involves different stages of development, different kinds of location, different actors, and different functions. In studying this complexity, one is free to choose one of these components as a perspective for analysis. The actor-centred approach is often used (e.g. Teisman, 1992). Despite the new insights that may be gained through such analysis, the results may be rather one-sided. A more comprehensive analysis—in which the major components are related to one another—seems to be a more promising way to tackle the complexity, because it is just these relationships that are responsible for the internal dynamics (or lack of dynamics) of the redevelopment process. Because the redevelopment of railway station areas can be viewed as a multifocus problem, it should be viewed from several perspectives at the same time; and that requires a more holistic approach.

The analytical framework for this study is derived from the planning triangle (Figure 1.1), which provides a general frame of reference. In the planning triangle, object variables (such as site and locational characteristics) interact with process variables (such as actors, interests, and intervening developments) and context variables (such as national planning systems, the social and cultural trends of each country, major economic developments, and internationalization processes).

The way in which the planning triangle is used as a frame of reference will be elaborated in subsequent sections of this chapter. First, the factors behind the present wave of railway station area redevelopment in Europe will be discussed.

Fig. 1.1 The planning triangle.

Driving forces behind railway station area redevelopment

The redevelopment of railway station areas represents a major effort for most European cities in one way or another. Pressure is mounting on these cities to take up the challenge. Most metropolitan areas in Europe have responded to it. Stimulated by the decline in spending by national governments (Spit, 1993), those cities have become more entrepreneurial (Kreukels and Spit, 1990; Parkinson et al., 1991). Throughout Europe, cities have embarked upon urban regeneration projects as a means to market themselves on an international scale. These efforts not only include the redevelopment of railway station areas but also apply to waterfront areas, inner-city housing projects and so forth. This shift towards municipalities' profiling themselves by undertaking the physical restructuring of inner-city areas is visible in most of Europe.

A combination of factors may explain the emphasis on railway station redevelopment initiatives in Europe. The combination includes both structural evolution and policy discourse. With reference to the cases described later in this book, the most important factors fall under five headings. These are elaborated below.

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