Euralille evaluation

The redevelopment of the railway station in Lille is perhaps one of the best-known redevelopment projects in Europe. Although the widespread enthusiasm about this project has inspired others (especially governments and developers elsewhere in Europe), some critical comments have also been heard. Reviewing the redevelopment of the railway station area in Lille, four observations can be made.

The first two concern the actors and the process. The municipality has been the mainspring of the initiative. The mobilizing and binding role played by Pierre Mauroy epitomizes the process. Mayor for more than 20 years, president of the Communauté Urbaine (the metropolitan government), former prime minister, senator and president of the Société d'Economie Mixte (SEM) Euralille, Mauroy has been the physical link between different levels of public decisionmaking, the private sector and the local population. Thanks to his multiple roles and political influence, he has been able to put together and maintain a solid coalition involving a broad spectrum of the local and regional élites, both public and private. This group first lobbied successfully to have the TGV stop in the city. Then they formed the study association Euralille, which later turned itself into the public-private partnership of the same name. To guarantee this cohesion as well as support and acceptance by outside interests, innovative negotiation and communication tools were conceived and applied. These innovations include Japanese-style quality circles, opinion polls among the local population, discussion forums, and public conferences with experts. On the side of the private sector, a particularly important factor has been the involvement since the outset of regional, national and international banks. Without their commitment, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to carry the project through the difficult economic period. In contrast, the railway company SNCF had an essentially reactive role, limiting its action to the transport sphere. As in Zürich (Chapter 8), it can be argued that by so doing they may have reduced their risk, but they may also have missed the opportunity to profit fully from the development.

With regard to the process (the second observation) it was noted that the dimensions and the content of the project have been adapted many times in response to changing economic and political circumstances. The elements giving identity to the new parts of the city were, however, firmly committed at the outset. The ensuing flexible implementation mainly concerned the commercial parts. What has been finally built is impressive. But it is also important that allowance for future growth has been explicitly included in the plan and provided for in its implementation (for instance, office towers could still be added). The programme, while adhering to a strong overall concept, was conceived as a collection of independent and manageable projects to be implemented by autonomous agencies. For each project, specific investors and users have been sought. The vision (an accumulation of highprofile urban functions around the transport node and the related decisions and investments) is 'hard'. The way in which it materializes is 'soft': for instance, the amount of office floor space was reduced after negotiations with investors; amendments to the shopping content were made to protect the existing local businesses from competition; and project elements were transferred to adjacent municipalities to ensure their support.

The third and fourth observations deal with the concepts of node and place far as the node is concerned, the third observation focuses on the acquired nodal position within the north European high-speed train system. The increase in the accessibility of the station area in Lille is among the most spectacular. As cited, according to the FAST study commissioned by the European Union (Arenas et al., 1995) Lille will be the most accessible city in Europe by the year 2020, up from eleventh place in 1991. The campaign promoting the project has capitalized on these facts, giving the material improvement a symbolic aura. Lille, and Euralille, have suddenly gained a place on the mental map of Europe. Interconnection is indeed the concept around which the whole plan revolves. It must be stressed, however, that not only the TGV has played a role. The Lille Europe/Flandres station complex also enjoys excellent connections to regional and metropolitan transport (TER, metro, tram) systems. Euralille is not just accessible by public transport; it is also directly connected to the motorway bypass (périphérique), and 6000 new car parking spaces have been provided. Improvements of all transport levels and modes have thus been an intrinsic part of the development. However, pedestrian connections to, from and through the area do not always make the grade. Neighbourhoods on the eastern side of the TGV tracks are difficult to reach from the station complex, but so also is the new congress and exhibition centre. Furthermore, transfers from one train station to the other are quite complicated and time-consuming, making actual TGV-TER integration difficult.

With regard to the place concept, since the programme was initially circumscribed, the leading idea has been to accumulate a dense 'urban mass' at the point where the degree of interconnection was highest, thanks to the TGV and the local and regional transport networks. The new high-profile functions that have been introduced include an international business centre, an international congress and exhibition centre, and a regional shopping centre. These exceptional elements have been deliberately embedded in a diverse urban district. An important aspect of public investment has been to ensure the diversity of functions. For example, besides offices and shops, other functions such as housing, education, recreation and culture have or will get a prominent place. The rich network of public spaces linking the elements to make a whole must be also seen as part of this 'urban' strategy. However, one question still to be answered in Lille is whether the new and the existing (station and neighbourhood) will develop a positive, dynamic relationship, or whether an island effect will prevail. The first appraisals of the impact of Euralille suggest that complementarity effects are prevailing. However, the current difficulties in marketing the offices raise doubts about the basic assumption that centrality in international transport networks would translate into centrality in international activity networks.

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