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Node and place, and the distinctive features of railway stat redevelopment

In Chapter 3, the node and place dimensions were placed in the context of current trends. This has made it possible to better define the specificity of the task of station area redevelopment. From a transport development point of view, we highlighted the flexible accommodation of growing infrastructure capacity and the furthering of both physical and organizational integration of different transport modes. From a property development point of view, we stressed the need for an understanding of the specific urban context (in which city and at what particular location in that city?), of the peculiar combination of strengths and weaknesses of the location, and of the implications of the accessibility issue. In the last section of Chapter 3, we pointed out the need for an integrated node-place perspective on station area redevelopment. However, it has also been said that a satisfactory analytical framework could be introduced only after a close examination of the case studies.

Railway stations are very peculiar locations. They are, ambivalently, both nodes and places (Bertolini, 1996a, 1996b). On the one hand they are (or may become) important nodes in emerging, heterogeneous transport and communication networks. On the other hand they identify a 'place', a temporarily and permanently inhabited portion of the city, an often dense and diverse assemblage of uses and forms accumulated through time, which may or may not share in the life of the node. As redevelopment objects, most railway stations areas are thus— and fundamentally—neither essentially nodes, as are airports for instance, nor predominantly places, as for example obsolete urban industrial lands or waterfronts. Both node and place dynamics tend to be equally strong at railway stations, resulting in a set of characteristic redevelopment dilemmas. These are described below.

A physical dilemma

In the compressed space of station areas, growing amounts of node-related and place-related structures must be accommodated, catering both to passengers passing through and residents, employees and visitors living in the location. The property development ideal of maximum land exploitation and the transport development ideal of maximum infrastructure flexibility must find an improbable synthesis. In order to realize synergies and manage conflicts very creative planning, architectural and engineering solutions are required, while exceptionally high costs seem inevitable. Some individual examples, such as Euralille in France, or national programmes, as the Swedish national railways' Travel Centres programme, have been more successful than others in coping with this unique challenge. In Lille, development of a critical mass of urban activities has been physically combined with construction of the HST station and improvement of the urban-regional connections. In Sweden, property developments at stations are programmatically seen as a complement of a specific transportation potential.

Four sorts of possible strategy can be identified in this respect. A first one is the physical integration of transport and property developments, as has been most notably done in Lille. Also, in Amsterdam the whole Zuidas plan hinges on the choice of an appropriate model for integration of infrastructure and property development. This is an attractive strategy, but a difficult one to implement. As we have seen, Euralille was in many ways an exceptional case, and in Amsterdam several questions are still to be answered. In most other situations a second, more flexible strategy could be more apt. Partly in the Utrecht Centrum Project and entirely in Basel EuroVille, the answer to the physical dilemma has been to keep the two orders of development as separate as possible, breaking up the plan into several autonomous subprojects. Nevertheless, the existence of an accountable, long-term framework of infrastructure works, as can be seen in Basel but not yet in Utrecht, appears to be a necessary condition for successful application of this strategy. In King's Cross in London, property-transport coordination strategies have long proved inadequate, but more recently a way out is being sought by giving priority to transport development concerns. In this, King's Cross typifies a third, essentially transport-led possible strategy. The opposite is being done in Zentrum Zürich Nord, where an urban development perspective (which is not property-led) dominates, representing a fourth possible option. The limit of both these latter approaches is however that synergies might get lost as opportunities on the other side of the equation are missed (that is, urban regeneration in King's Cross, public transport growth in Zürich).

This dilemma coincides with the distinctive feature scale and complexity.

A functional dilemma

Ideally, development of station areas will always be a matter of conceiving and implementing short-circuits between modifications in the accessibility and modifications in the activity profiles of the location, in both the material and the perception spheres. As a result, rich, 'urban' mixtures of uses are being in most situations. Multifunctionality is desired because it is an essential element of the liveability, attractiveness and security of the station area, and because it improves both public transport and long-term property exploitation prospects. Many believe that without a high, 'urban' degree of functional mix, station areas will never regain the centrality that they have lost.

However, there are two main problems. First, a less vague, more situation-specific commitment to multifunctionality than now often is the case is needed. Among the cases analysed, this has been—or is being—achieved in Lille Euralille and in Zentrum Zürich Nord, while it could be emerging in King's Cross. In Lille, it has been done through an early and firm commitment to a diversified package of activities. In Zürich, it is being done through the indication of minimum percentages of 'other' functions for each parcel. In King's Cross, it could be done through an incremental identification of diverse programme elements by a public-private-community partnership. Less convincing, because they are too vague, appear as yet the strategies adopted to promote multifunctionality in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Stockholm, or

Basel. A second point is that achievement of multifunctionality in practice tends to remain highly problematic. Realizing multifunctionality requires a difficult combination of 'providing orientation' and 'letting it happen', imaginatively catering for both profitable and less profitable elements. Only the most innovative approaches seem capable of achieving this synthesis. Among those researched, Euralille and Zentrum Zürich Nord certainly deserve—again— citation, together with emerging views of the King's Cross development.

The functional dilemma can be seen as a result of both partiality as a distinctive feature and colliding functional interests. Functional differences lead almost automatically to a subdivision of such projects. It seems obvious that functionality plays a leading role as a criterion for subdivision. That interests may collide in the interplay between players in the process is a more or less self-evident outcome, which is visible throughout all of the case studies.

A financial dilemma

The technical difficulties and conflicting requirements of railway station area development tend to be translated into high additional costs. Constraints on public expenditure imply that compensation is increasingly sought in the property market, especially when investments beyond those in the main transportation infrastructure are concerned. This may ignite a circular logic (Edwards, 1992, unpublished; Bertolini, 1996b): it demands more intensive exploitation of land and consequently yet more complications and higher costs, with the possible paradoxical result of paralysing the entire initiative, as in King's Cross at the beginning of the 1990s. A second problem is that, whatever the initial commitment to diversified functional programmes, the reciprocal attraction between high costs and high profits implies that offices tend to chase away all other uses, as most strikingly in Central London during the 1980s. Also, in the Amsterdam case and (above all) the Utrecht case great amounts of offices tend to be seen more as a necessary condition of feasibility than as a valuable element in their own right. Seemingly only in those examples where the public actor has had a strong and imaginative role in the definition of the programme, and has also been capable of assembling enough resources to sustain it, has a different course been followed. Both in Euralille and Zentrum Zürich Nord this has been the case. In both examples, a diversified programme was put together on its own merits, while financial feasibility studies and the early and direct involvement of private partners helped in building support for it.

The financial dilemma is directly related to the actors' opinion of risk and risk management as a feature. The case studies focus on financial risk, which is the most visible. But upon closer examination the case studies also reveal other kinds of risk (management), such as public safety or security.

A temporal dilemma

This is perhaps the most important dilemma. The place-development and node-development processes of railway station areas each tend to follow an autonomous track. This is translated into different kinds of uncertainty.

On the property side, conditions change constantly and unpredictably, sometimes dramatically. For instance, many station initiatives were conceived during the property boom of the 1980s but reached the implementation stage in the midst of the property slump of the early 1990s. In several cases (King's Cross and Stockholm City West, for example) this brought the development process to a total halt. The sponsors were forced to reconsider both their goals and the means to attain them. Elsewhere, only a few examples were flexible or solid enough to withstand the property crisis without drastic amendments (as at Euralille).

On the transport side, public transport investments and policies appear also to a great extent exogenous to single station area development initiatives and thereby difficult to foresee. The general implication is that a plan that is too dependent on a particular property market or transport policy context could thus easily and rapidly become outdated. This has been most clearly the case for the London Regeneration Consortium plan for King's Cross, but it is also true of the early approaches in the Amsterdam and Zürich areas. In London, changed property market conditions and a different terminal solution forced withdrawal of the plan. In Amsterdam and Zürich, efforts were initially directed towards central station locations. Inherent complications and market preference for peripheral locations were first ignored, but had later to be acknowledged and capitalized upon. On the other hand, the need to activate and/or manage in time largely autonomous property and transport dynamics is central in the current approach to the Amsterdam Zuidas. Also, in London a more flexible approach is on the rise. Swiss projects such as Basel EuroVille and Zentrum Zürich Nord go particularly far in trying to combine flexibility of the parts and coherence of the whole. Both combine a 'hard' framework (for example, the network of public spaces, a package of infrastructure investments, the conditions of implementation) and a 'soft' filling, allowing for variations in social and market demand. While profiting from an exceptional combination of circumstances, Euralille also is much more adaptable and articulated than a superficial consideration would suggest, as it accounts for—but is not dependent upon—future expansion of its office content.

The temporal dilemma is closely connected to both scale and complexity as a distinctive feature, and to partiality and interdependence of design. The a is that, because of their scale and complexity, such processes tend to get divided: thus a separate plan has to be developed for each (functional) part. Again, because of the complexity of all plans involved, the development and implementation generally take a long time, thereby generating a temporal dilemma.

A management dilemma

The ambivalence of railway station areas does not stop when their redevelopment is completed. Most cases analysed here are still in a planning or early implementation stage, but the management challenges that will be posed by the renovated station area—both as transport interchange and as urban activity complex—are already apparent. The uncertain status of the future node-place conglomerate—neither public nor private, but both public and private— adds to this problem. Innovative future management structures are already being discussed in Utrecht and Amsterdam. In Euralille, after completion of the development phase, the responsibility for its management will fall on the municipality. The local authority says that it will treat it just like any other district, but not everybody is convinced that this could really happen. Elsewhere, the issue has not yet been explicitly raised. But it is likely to emerge, especially where extensive interaction between the railway station and the city is desired. Some (e.g. Euricur, 1997) have proposed adopting the (air)port model of an autonomous (air)port authority. However, as discussed in Chapter 2, railway station areas are nodes and places of a very different nature. In brief, the public place, or 'urban' component, has a much greater influence than in most (air)ports, implying a much more dense and diverse array of functions present and of actors involved.

All of the distinctive features mentioned earlier come together in the management dilemma. In addition, all other dilemmas culminate in management, too. Therefore it is no coincidence that the management of such a development process appears to be one of the most important emerging factors for success.

The dilemmas, as outlined above, are always present in railway station area redevelopment processes. They often represent the source from which problems or difficulties start, although most of these are felt only when brought forward by one of the parties involved, thus drifting away from its real source. A profound understanding of these dilemmas and the difficulties they create during the process improves the understanding between the parties. Compromises and cooperation can be reached more easily in a redevelopment process when a far-reaching understanding of the respective positions can be established. In this way, respect can grow between the parties, and the shared objective to redevelop the railway station area is strengthened.

The above sketch of the dilemmas, however, also raises a practical question: how can they be addressed and surmounted? The case studies show a wide range of approaches and varying results. Success, however, does not depend on any one factor, but always on a number of factors in combination. This will be dealt with in the next section.

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