Candidate – The Netherlands
Submission by: OKRA
Project name: Utrecht
Thanks to a lot of effort last decades, Utrecht could be regarded the cyclists’ capital in the world. The space that became available after motorized traffic was reduced, has been transformed into parks and places for recreation, further improving quality of life.
The different projects share the same approach: Reduce the impact and barriers of fast traffic to create space for pedestrians, cyclists, encounters, relaxation, and nature. Because of this, each one creates a meeting ground on a location that used to be a barrier between neighbourhoods.
All of these projects are designed to reinforce the green network of Utrecht, creating new connections and entrances. The Catharijnesingel brings green-blue nature to the heart of the city, introducing double banks with slow water streams specifically for their effect on biodiversity. Park Oosterspoorbaan has a similar role, creating a green lung from the outskirts directly into the heart of the city. Together they create a network of synergy.
None of these projects have a specific scope on economic development, rather they are committed to increase the quality of life and stay in Utrecht, resulting in a more resilient and attractive place to live and visit, which indirectly will improve the city’s future economic prospects.
Each of these projects revolves around reducing paving and adding water and trees into the urban atmosphere. Yet again, individually this has a strong impact but the network on urban scale that they contribute to together has significant positive effect on climate adaptation. Catharijnesingel and the future adjacent Tuinen van Moreelse project both are part of a general strategy OKRA made for water management for the entire city: “De single als klimaatadaptive drager”
Wellbeing of visitors/users
Each of the locations has been embraced as a new place to enjoy of stay. Where in the past they functioned as deterring barriers, today they form the most attractive connections for slow traffic. We took into account that each one has places to exercise, to sit, to walk their dog, to meet neighbours, etc.
Selection, origin and quality of the products and materials
Each individual project shows great care for maintaining the historic qualities of the site. Whereas Park Oosterspoorbaan is still recognizable as a former rail track by maintaining the catenary portals. The original tracks and railway sleepers are still recognizably present, this time as part of the new design as park. Catharijnesingel was designed to have an aesthetic that is as much as possible in line with the historic atmosphere of the rest of the park around the centre by Jan David Zocher, with subtle modern additions like a wooden quay. For Croeselaan, the choice was to maintain its role as road for motorized traffic, but significantly change the balance between paving and vegetation, creating a more park-like appearance.
The overall design
The 3 different projects chosen all display a wide diversity of ideas and contexts in one city. Each-one is a faithful reinterpretation of the historic qualities and specifics of the site, brought in line with today’s needs. Here it is the method of adding green, and giving space to slow traffic, that takes privilege. Distributed as they are, together they contribute to a network of greenification. Together with the upcoming urban developments like Merwede, where these ambitions are fully integrated in the urban design, the change is becoming noticeable not on one location but throughout the city.
The impact on the environment
Partially thanks to its improved humane and green character, Utrecht has become one of the most attractive places in the Netherlands to live. Although this has an undeniable downside in the form of inflated housing prices, the popularity is testament to the success of the city’s progressive and green approach and politics. Eventually it is hopeful that other cities take over a similar approach, leading to healthier cities in general. The initiative to design a city that accelerates the move from car transportation to bicycle and public transportation by positive impulses that also improve quality of life, rather than by just adding burdens for people who have no choice but using the car for their mobility should be a reference for other cities.
Innovative value off the project
Generally, Utrecht has been able to present itself more and more as a progressive city, and a reference in giving space to people instead of cars. Thanks to innovations like the world’s largest bicycle garage, returning water to the city on massive scale, prowess to fix mistakes from 20th century panning, and strategic solutions for making large parts of the centre car-free without logistical problems it is attracting international attention. This recognition, through awards like European Prize for European Public Space in 2022, affirms the positive moves the city makes and helps initiate the next steps.