Context railway station area redevelopment in Switzerland

Railway station area redevelopment in Switzerland has a relatively long history. The first projects were launched at the beginning of the 1970s. In March 1991, the magazine Hochparterre counted some 40 railway station area redevelopment initiatives in the country, ranging from major projects at Basel's and Zürich's central stations to more modest projects in Locarno, Lucerne and Neuchatel (Figure 8.1). Some of those ventures began to stagnate in the 1980s and 1990s. New ones have since been started. Most notable among these is the ambitious plan to redevelop the industrial areas north of Zürich's Oerlikon station.

A favourable context for station area projects in Switzerland has been stimulated by at least three developments (CEAT, 1993):

• national programmes to modernize, coordinate and integrate rail and public transport—in particular Rail 2000 at the inter-urban level and new S-Bahn systems at the intra-urban level (as in Zürich, Basel, and Bern);

• a growing awareness of the environmental costs associated with road congestion, and especially of its negative impacts on the quality of life in the main urban centres (again, as in Zürich, Basel, and Bern);

• the persistent financial difficulties of the railway company (as well as looking for ways to cut costs, the company is searching for new sources of profit, which include the valorization of its property assets at stations).

The actors involved are national and local railway companies, local governments and other institutional bodies such as the post and telecommunication company, private professionals, developers and investors, environmental and local interest groups, the media, and the general public. For the national railway company, railway station area redevelopment is essentially a way of improving the performance of transportation nodes and of valorizing its property assets. Other interests may coalesce around the goals of promoting public transport (the station area as transportation interchange and traffic generator), restructuring the urban fabric (creating/reinforcing an activity centre, diminishing barrier effects), and placing activities on national and international networks (the station as node of material and immaterial flows).

Fig. 8.1 National railway network and main station area projects in Switzerland.

Next to this general framework, individual plans might have been triggered by local singularities. Local governments might have been actively promoting a project as part of a city marketing strategy, as in Basel. Or property owners might have made a concerted effort to replace obsolete functions, as at Zentrum Zürich Nord. In all cases, there seems to be a prevailing belief that a general shift towards train and public transport will make, at least in the long term, stations favoured locations. This belief appears to be increasingly shared by most actors, including market parties.

In 1993, Decoutere and Rey concluded their extensive review of station projects in Switzerland with the admission that 'we are still in a learning phase' (CEAT, 1993, p. XVIII). In their opinion, over the past 20 years we have seen the 'emergence' of the issue. For two decades, the railways and the municipalities have been 'throwing the hot potato at each other' in an effort to avoid responsibilities. At the same time they observe a rising interest on the part of the confederation and several cantons (namely Bern, Zürich, and Basel) in the context of policies combining public transport provision (S-Bahn) and urban development at stations. Other positive signs are the growing media coverage of mobility and urbanization themes, public reflection on the potential roles of station areas within a metropolitan Switzerland, and the accumulation of experience by actors involved in concrete station plans. However, there are some persistent signs that things are not all going well. The limited interest shown by private investors in general, the ambiguity of political expectations vis-à-vis the railway company, and the insufficient awareness of the many conditions required by a successful implementation, are some of the less promising signals. In that light, Decoutère and Rey reached some mixed conclusions in their analysis of the Swiss case. As important explanations they cite: the novelty of positive evolution; a too technical and functional perception of the transport and mobility issue; and the incremental, non-revolutionary nature of rail innovation in Switzerland. Most importantly, a too 'localistic' approach has failed to capitalize on the specificity of railway station areas. The drawback of that approach is that it does not take their supra-local 'interface' potential into account (as opposed to the French approach).

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