Zentrum Zrich Nord evaluation

From a planning perspective, the redevelopment of the railway station area of Zentrum Zürich Nord is a very interesting case. With respect to the conclusions, we note some remarkable similarities with and differences from Basel EuroVille. The first observation, concerning the initiators of the redevelopment process, highlights both.

The initiators were the private owners of the property in industrial areas north of the station. However, they soon contacted the city and the railways to form a partnership. The whole planning process has been steered by this partnership, of which the main actors are the

Table 8.5 Zentrum Zürich Nord: main structural data

Surface area

63 ha (station area, outside project perimeter, is 10 ha)

Mainly private (Asea Brown Boveri, Oerlikon Biirle) 10%

Area ownership

Public open space for park and squares, transferred to the city without compensation

Public traffic areas, transferred to 10% the city without compensation

Total surfaces

840 000 m2 (160 000 m2 of buildings preserved long term)





240 000 m2 (average density 200%) 315 000 m2 (average density 200%) 270 000 m2 (average density 180%) 15 000 m2 (average density 70%)

municipality and the private landowners. The local authority had not only the vision but also the political acumen and influence to implement it. Continuity in political leadership was provided by Ursula Koch, the city alderwoman for urban development. That continuity has proved to be a decisive factor. On the other side, there were enlightened landowners with the material and cultural resources to play an active part in the process. The vision of and relationship between these two main actors are the keys to interpreting the result. An essential element was the early achievement of a cooperative atmosphere and reciprocal trust. Furthermore, the timing of the open and closed phases in the process has been of the essence. After an initial closed stage, when the agreement between the partners had to be consolidated in order to protect the politically vulnerable project, a more open stage followed. By then, within an established framework, local groups were encouraged to suggest and promote innovative uses of the site. The role of the railway company has always been ambivalent. The railways were initially active in the partnership, bringing in their own redevelopment proposals. But they have subsequently withdrawn their land from the plan. In so doing, they have arguably limited their risk, but it is also possible that they (and the initiative) are missing an opportunity. The development is the biggest of its kind in Switzerland, and, because of the attitude of the railways, the station and its immediate surroundings might be less integrated in the project than is possible and desirable.

Our second observation also refers to elements of similarity and difference. In Zürich, as elsewhere, the duration of the process has forced the actors to adopt a process approach. It is hard to identify clear stages in the development, but the process approach to development is explicit. In the former industrial areas, some buildings will be maintained in their present use, whereas others will be given new uses. Yet other buildings will be demolished and new ones built in their place. Some of the new uses could be temporary, while other ones could be or could become permanent. Built-in implementation mechanisms ensure that coherence (the urban multifunctional quality of each section, and the network of open spaces) is guaranteed in each phase. Of course, we cannot know everything that will happen within this frame. The idea is that the interplay of supply and demand (in both market and social terms) will determine much of it. The plan provides the conditions and a vision to start with, acting as a guarantee of quality and certainty for investors. A gradual transition of the area from industrial to fully urban is envisaged. The development plan (quantification of uses, urban design guidelines, public-private contracts) is the 'hard' component, while its interpretation in terms of specific functions, users, and investors is the 'soft' component.

As for the node-place concept, both aspects come to the fore in the development process. This leads us to our third and fourth observations. One of the main objectives is to achieve a broad mixture of users and uses (industrial, residential, and service) at both the area and the parcel level. That objective has been both firmly stated and imaginatively provided for in the planning framework. The guiding principle of the development is to create a multifunctional and dynamic urban district. The service sector will have a prominent function, but abundant space for modern industry, quality housing, and public amenities is also ensured. Imaginative regulations and financing mechanisms have been devised to guarantee that a true urban mixture (including less profitable elements) is obtained. Particularly innovative is the idea that the area could serve as an incubator for different uses. For example, next to permanent high-return/highinvestment functions with a lower urban value (such as offices in new buildings) temporary low-return/low-investment functions with a higher urban value could also be developed (such as cultural production and consumption in refurbished buildings). A possibly vexing problem in Zürich is closely connected with other priorities of the Swiss railways: there is no clear idea of how the railway station should be integrated into the new development. Related to this is the problem of how the new and the old neighbourhoods, lying on opposite sides of the tracks, could become a functional unity.

As far as the node is concerned, the heart of Zürich Nord, Oerlikon, is the second station of the Zürich metropolitan area. It is essentially a regional station that has greatly benefited from the recently completed S-Bahn system. This provides fast and frequent connections to the city centre, the airport, and many other destinations in the metropolitan area. However, access to the national and international train network is indirect, as most national and international trains passing through the station do not stop there. It is in principle possible to increase the direct national and international links and to develop railway station capacity and services accordingly. But in reality, none of this is part of the Zentrum Zürich Nord project. For example, unlike the situation in Basel, there are no plans to put in a new station entrance on the north (project) side of the tracks or high-quality pedestrian connections from there to the existing station. This choice is related to the company policy of the Swiss railways. It may well hamper the full realization of the development potential of the site. A final point is the clear priority given to public transport: a direct (underground) connection to the motorway ring has been envisaged, but it will not be implemented for at least the next 30 years. The choice is virtually identical to that in Basel. Quite interestingly, it distances Zentrum Zürich Nord from the cases of Euralille, Utrecht, Amsterdam and Stockholm, where excellent, direct accessibility by car is seen as a precondition to property development at the railway station. Swiss cases appear alone in this. (The role of accessibility by car is marginal also in the next case, the King's Cross railway lands, but this is situated in a very different metropolitan context.)

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