Towards an agenda for research and practice putting railway station locations in their urbanregional context

The points discussed in the previous sections can be seen as sources of reflection for practice and sources of inspiration for a research agenda. Some of the themes to be explored have already been treated in this book but need further refinement and empirical verification. A first point concerns fostering the circulation of knowledge among researchers and practitioners on specific aspects of each of the node-place dilemmas discussed above, and of problems and solutions in practice. A second contribution of research should be to improve the understanding of the role of context and process variables in specific railway station area redevelopment situations, giving attention to the scope of generalizations. This appears to be a condition for learning lessons.

There are some areas of enquiry that this book has touched upon only marginally. Perhaps the most intriguing ones are the implications of the wider spatial-functional context of a railway station location. Because of its ambivalent nature, this context is shaped both by the accessibility of the transport network and by the features of the railway station surroundings. Multiple geographical scales are represented in the compressed space of railway station areas. Railway stations are the interface of transport and information flows that span the immediate surroundings, the urban region, and selected national and international spaces. Their capacity to link physically and symbolically distant domains is the source of both their potentials, their constraints, and their contradictions. Metropolitan space is increasingly organizing itself around specialized activity poles, distributed over vast urban regions. Within emerging multicentred systems, traditional and emerging subcentres are connected with each other and with centres outside the region through material and immaterial networks. The generalized trend towards clustered redistribution of activities in this urban-regional space is further accelerated and may possibly be structured by innovation in rail transport. Here we refer to the expansion of regional railway systems (such as S-Bahn in Germany and Switzerland, and RER in France) on the one hand and the HST network on the other. The possibility is particularly interesting if set within the framework of a sustainable approach to urban development.

The most dynamic railway station areas are invariably those that seem to be caught up in these urban-regional dynamics. Some examples, though not fully capitalized upon, can already be cited. In Germany, the initially opposed location of Kassel's HST station on the periphery of the city has induced the emergence there of tertiary concentration, while the central station area is searching a new role as Kultur-Bahnhof (culture station). In Zürich, controversy and uncertainty still permeate the redevelopment of central HauptBahnhof Süd West and its surroundings, while Zentrum Zürich Nord promises to be one of the most intriguing large-scale urban projects in Switzerland. In the Paris region, the opening of TGV stations on the metropolitan periphery, as at Massy or MarneLa Vallee-Chessy, offers both unconventional challenges and opportunities for urban and transport development. In Amsterdam, the realization of an office centre around the central station, while strongly supported by the municipality, has come to a standstill. In contrast, 'spontaneous' property dynamics around peripheral railway stations have been intense. The local government is now trying to catch up, by giving some direction and meaning to the reality of 'eccentric clustering'. In the UK, an overarching development strategy for station areas along the Channel Tunnel Rail Link is being sought, even though it is still unclear which organization could promote it. This has required looking beyond the King's Cross-St Pancras terminal to the Stratford railway lands and to locations further down the east Thames corridor.

A negative but nonetheless equally interesting theme is the non-materialization of urban development effects at new exurban HST stations. This is the problem at the infamous TGV 'desert stations' in France, but also at peripheral X 2000 stations in the Stockholm area. Finally, among the cases surveyed, Lille Euralille and Stockholm City West are the most intriguing examples of how a station complex could be developed into a link between an urban region and an (inter)national space.

Awareness of these multicentred dynamics is still limited, and so is the elaboration of its implications, for the economy, the environment, and the general quality of life of an urban region. In order to provide a firmer foundation to railway station area redevelopment programmes, more fundamental research is needed on the potential roles of railway station locations in the emerging multicentred urban regions of Europe. Station areas could be seen as potential 'centres of centres' within the region and as links between the region and the (inter) national space: that is, between the local and the global. The focus should be on relationships of competition and complementarity between locations in the context of evolving transport and land-use patterns. The conditions required to realize this vision need to be explored in depth, but so do the limits to the potentials of railway station locations (for instance, owing to the dominance of private transport). In the process, the combinations of factors behind current station area redevelopment initiatives discussed in this book could be further disentangled, making choices and their implications clearer to those involved.

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