Solution guidelines (1996)

The document entitled UCP: analyse, diagnose en oplossingsrichting ('UCP: analysis, diagnosis and solution guidelines') was published in June 1996 (Bestuurlijk Platform UCP, 1996). It shows what can be done if the 'real' interests are brought together. The spatial-functional concept of 1995 was cited as its basis, but in practice that basis seems to have been abandoned. More important is the fact that some crucial dilemmas of the development are finally being confronted. In this document, a way forward is agreed upon by the key actors. Its point of departure is an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the area. The strengths are the 'enormous' demand for offices due to the central position in the country, the 'biggest' public transport node, the popularity of HC and of Utrecht's historic centre, and the international reputation of the Jaarbeurs. The weaknesses are the widespread perception of the area as unpleasant and insecure, and the ambiguities in the organization of functions (what is public? what is private?), as well as in the connections between the railway station, HC, the congress and exhibition complex, and the city centre.

The guidelines concentrate on the layout of public space. This is seen as the crucial point of intervention in solving the problems (Figure 6.6). While still allowing for flexibility, the envisaged solutions require radical intervention; and that would never have been possible without the commitment of the four key actors. Parts of the HC shopping centre will be demolished, and others will be drastically altered. The Jaarbeurs will embark on an ambitious programme to diversify its activities in the culture and entertainment sphere. The national railways, together with the local transportation companies, will pursue a total concept for the node, with all transportation flows being handled under one roof.

While much is asked of the partners, the new configuration of the area offers some clear advantages for each of them. The present route from the historic city through the shopping centre and to the congress and exhibition centre is both maintained and reinforced by keeping pedestrians at the first level (a condition posed by HC). However, the labyrinthine shopping centre will be transformed into a true shopping mall, with two spacious and airy cross-axes. It will have no more than four entrances—instead of the 15 it has at present—each abutting on a public square or park. A direct and open link between the railway station and the city is achieved by demolishing part of HC and replacing it by a station square. From the square, people can enter a new railway station balcony, giving access to all the different transport networks. The new 'total' station will also be a link between the city centre and the western districts on the other side of the tracks.

The document (Bestuurlijk Platform UCP, 1996) is more generic on programmatic and accessibility issues. It is said only that the office content will have to be substantial, in view of the great demand (the property market and the economy are picking up), but also to finance the many unprofitable elements. Furthermore, the congress and exhibition grounds are indicated as a good location for large-scale public functions, because of the availability of space and the excellent accessibility by car. Specifically, the location is considered suitable for a casino, a mega-cinema, and event halls, all functions that would be difficult to fit into the old city. Even more generic is the section of the document referring to traffic issues. The need to overcome the barrier effect of north-south rail and road infrastructure is reiterated. But no details are given, as 'it must be further researched and elaborated how the traffic in the future will pass through the area' (Bestuurlijk Platform UCP, 1996, p. 15).

Some key choices that were presented in the 1996 guidelines are courageous; they are testimony to a breakthrough. However, as mentioned, some delicate issues still have to be solved. The provisional urban design plan (voorlopig stedebouwkundig ontwerp, VSO), which was published in February 1997, was meant to provide answers. The document (Figures 6.6-6.8) begins by restating the general objectives of the UCP (improvement of public space etc.). What follows is more interesting. The main problem, according to the analysis, is the barrier that the area forms between the eastern and western parts of the city. The main objective is to give clarity—and a feeling of security—to the pedestrian public spaces, integrating them into the existing networks (Figure 6.6). The solutions entail reinforcing the axis formed by the city centre and the congress and exhibition centre, improving—with a new station square—the relationship between the city centre and the railway station, and realizing a new station complex, in accordance with the 'one-terminal' concept (Figure 6.2). The key indications of the 1996 guidelines are thus maintained.

There are some important urban design specifications. Possibly the most striking one is the so-called 'city boulevard' (stadsboulevard, Figure 6.8). The city boulevard is seen as a means to solve the accessibility-liveability dilemma. Existing roads will be upgraded into a four-lane

Fig. 6.8 VSO, the city boulevard: solution of the accessibility-liveability dilemma? (Source: UCP)

ring road around the area. They will lead to underground parking garages (for a net total of 11 600 car parking spaces, against a net total of 21 000 bicycle parking spaces). The ring will also provide bus lanes and bicycle paths and footpaths. It will be lined with rows of trees, and will run along the canals. As a result, while performing necessary traffic distribution functions, it will also become an integral part of the network of public spaces. Accompanying measures (such as park and ride, integral parking and accessibility management, detour of through traffic, but also development of attractive alternatives) will help to check traffic flows. Even so, the guidelines state that in the light of the ambitious programme, and all transport alternatives notwithstanding, car traffic in and to the area will increase. The ambivalent, dilatory conclusion is that

For the next planning phase the issues will be: 'How can the quality of access to the UCP area for all transportation means be guaranteed, without this being at the expense of both the development of the location and the liveability in the existing city?' (Utrecht Centrum Project, 1997, p. 12)

Besides providing a more detailed approach to traffic issues, a second crucial clarification has been made with respect to the 1996 guidelines. Now, building volumes must be indicated in detail. Compared with previous plans, the programme envisages more offices (around 360 000

m2), most of which will be concentrated on the west side. Also on the west side there are large-scale urban entertainment functions (including casino, mega-cinema, mega-theatre, urban entertainment centre, and food courts). Most of the new dwellings (of a total of 1845 housing units, or about 220 000 m2) are concentrated on the east side, where the music centre will be expanded. The new activities are expected to generate no less than 20 000 new jobs. The office supply will be diverse, not only in size and in market segment (about 15% in the most and least expensive segments, about 35% in the two middle segments), but also in the sort of office environments represented. Rather than following actual demand, an innovative product will be created on an already desirable location, including a new business centre on the western station square (about 100 000 m2, complete with accessory services and possibly a World Trade Centre). Also, the housing supply will be varied, but with a net prevalence of apartments for sale (85%).

An important issue is the financial strategy. It has been decided that each of the long-term partners will develop its own areas, to avoid the complications of redistribution of values. At the same time, the surpluses will feed into a common purse to partly finance—together with central government subsidies—the unprofitable elements. Each partner's share in the common purse will be determined on the basis of the development capacity that the plan allocates to its areas. Phasing will be crucial, with each step seen as a self-supporting (and self-financing) whole. Land development costs are estimated at 1 billion guilders. To that amount 600 million guilders must be added for upgrading of the transport network (also outside the area), and 200 million guilders to renovate the transportation terminal. If construction costs are included, the total amount of investment in the area would add up to 3 billion guilders in ten years (19982008). However, a detailed financial plan will be presented only in the definitive urban design plan, at which point a detailed infrastructure plan will be elaborated. The citizens of Utrecht will incur no costs—or so the planners say—when the plans are carried out. All the investments will be financed by property revenues and by central government subsidies.

Table 6.2 gives an overview of the main structural data.

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