Stockholm City West evaluation

As elsewhere in Europe, the redevelopment of Stockholm City West took a long time. Therefore it is not surprising that the first observation made in any evaluation of the process usually has to do with the stages of development.

Since its outset, Stockholm City West has been conceived as a stepwise development. The bus terminal—WTC complex was completed a few years ago, while the congress centre is in the planning phase, and successive expansions are still only hypotheses. At the same time, a vision for the whole area was made explicit early on. Provisions to allow future expansion have been made (technical ones, such as foundation work, but also political ones, such as consultation on and approval of the development principles). The vision and the procedure to define each implementation phase (city—railway cooperation, competition among developers, public participation) could be considered 'hard' elements; the 'soft' elements would be the documents interpreting the global vision for each implementation section (what exactly is to be done and how to do it in each phase). The ongoing articulation of the goals is the way the project can adapt to changing circumstances (such as demand from the market and/or society).

The second observation made in an evaluation is closely related to the first. As development processes take more time, interests tend to shift. The commitment of the (initially willing) participants tends to shift accordingly. In Stockholm City West, however, a good working relationship between the railway company and the city was maintained throughout the whole process. Together, they initiated and managed it, and now they are preparing the future stages. Of all the cases analysed, this is the one where the city-railway relationship seems to have worked best and to evident reciprocal benefit. The roles have been interpreted straightforwardly. The railway and the city have jointly taken both the initiative and the successive key decisions, while private consultants and developers (on a competitive basis) have further defined and implemented them. One reason why this partnership has been so successful is the fact that the municipality has a longstanding tradition of urban development as well as a broad view and ample resources. But even more remarkable is the degree of vision and professional expertise that the railway company has on property issues. The Swedish railways have a clear business philosophy. Most importantly, they are consistent in their implementation of it. They invest in their core activity (transport), and property development is seen as an integral part of this strategy (as a financial resource, but also as a direct contribution to the upgrading of the station environment). Conversely, the overall improvement in transport services makes station areas more attractive objects for property investment.

Our third and fourth observations deal with the node-place concept. As for the node, the Stockholm case shows well how better accessibility has more than a quantitative component. The station has been the object of the environmental programme, a nationwide effort of the Swedish railways to enhance the experience of train travel. Once an unappealing place, Stockholm Central station is now a pleasant public square enjoyed by a diverse public. The same level of quality is to be found in the adjacent bus terminal, a new facility that could be easily mistaken for an airport lounge. These qualitative improvements are actually just as important as the quantitative ones, which are also notable. The latter include the development of national high-speed train services and the expansion (reach and capacity) of the regional rail network. Both these national and regional systems are centred on Stockholm Central station, as is an extensive underground network. A direct rail connection to Arlanda international airport will be added in the future, and frequent rapid bus connections are already available. Furthermore, the station area is directly linked to an urban motorway. However, as in Lille, pedestrian (and bicycle) connections to and from the surroundings are weak.

The development was triggered by the realization that a combination with office space would have made it possible to construct a long-awaited bus terminal next to the railway station. This is the fourth observation, and refers to the place concept. From this initial idea, a vision for the whole station area gradually emerged. By covering and building over the tracks, a fully fledged urban environment could be progressively developed. Next to the completed World Trade Centre/(airport) bus terminal, an international congress and hotel centre is also planned. In successive stages, the accent will shift to housing, further adding to the functional mixture. For the definition of the programme, innovative tools have been employed. For example, a city-wide brainstorming exercise was held, involving representatives of the most diverse fields, from business to politics to culture. Furthermore, the successful insertion of additional outstanding functions to the area cannot be separated from the simultaneous upgrading of the whole station environment. Together, these efforts form an extensive programme of the Swedish railways to improve the overall quality of the 'train experience'. One problem is that while Stockholm is very well connected in terms of transport networks, the station area is not yet completely integrated with the existing city centre. That problem is manifest in the many obstacles that impede a free flow of pedestrians (and, consequently, functional continuity) between the station and the city.

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