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Street Life: Nijmegen (The Netherlands)
• Year: 1991 - present
• Location: Nijmegen city centre
• Planner and designer: Municipality of Nijmegen, Urban Development Department in collaboration with Soeters Van Eldonk Ponec architects, Michael van Gessel, Cepezed
• Commissioned by: Municipality of Nijmegen
• Status: Partly realised, partly being implemented
Nijmegen, characteristic city on the river Waal
Blessed with a rich history, Nijmegen can be characterised as a historic city on the river, situated in a green varied landscape. The Roman past, the ancient walled city and the 19th century urban development give the city an exciting cultural-historical character. The post-war reconstruction has provided the city with a modern centre. The city actively promotes itself as a podium for all sorts of events.
The city centre recaptures its attractiveness
The bombing of the historic city centre on February 22nd 1944 represented an important break with the natural development of the old city. The reconstruction provided the city with a modern centre. The city centre was rebuilt according to the urban design and planning tenets of the day: wide avenues, large scale office buildings and austere architecture. After the optimism of the 1960's and 1970's there followed in the 1980's a period of stagnation and recession. The number of visitors declined, turnover fell and the number of jobs decreased. The city centre threatened to lose its competitive position vis-à-vis surrounding cities. This recession was the reason for the plan Centre 2000, presented in 1990, an innovative scenario for a city centre with ambitions. The chances of success of this operation were reinforced by the development of the large urban extension De Waalsprong for 12,000 dwellings at a very short distance from the city centre.
Since 1991 the municipality of Nijmegen has been working on the redesign of the public space in the city centre in conjunction with a number of infill projects. The objective of this operation is to heighten the attractiveness of the city centre. During the reconstruction period the accessibility allowed to car traffic exerted a great influence on the development of the centre. The recapture of space for the pedestrian is an important starting point in the philosophy of Centre 2000 in the plans for the redesign of the public space.
The incomplete and elongated shopping area is being restructured via a number of interventions in the urban structure. The starting point is the creation of a coherent urban fabric with new opportunities for urban functions such as housing, shopping, parking, cultural activities and hotels, cafes and restaurants. Under the motto 'intensification of the core', locations are being sought which offer space for new impulses in the city centre.
Public space as a melting pot
The starting point for the re-design of the public space is not the city centre functions such as housing, employment, shopping and traffic, but the public space itself, which is perceived as a sustainable framework for the city. Centre 2000 is based on an overall structure of public spaces comprising streets, squares, quays, green spaces, canals etc. In this overall structure interconnecting links play a crucial role. These are designed as continuous lines. The squares, in contrast, each have their own character without affecting the coherence of the public space as a whole.
The public space is perceived as the backdrop for ever-changing urban activities. The design chosen is tranquil, multifunctional and with as few obstacles as possible. The design, the choice of materials and the colours are restrained and coordinated. Special attention is devoted in the plans for the themes of water, lighting, relief and culture.
To strengthen the identity as city on the river, rainwater is made visible at different places, via cascades, illusions and other water objects.
Since the city centre is a 24-hour living organism special attention has been paid to lighting. In addition to a group of light fittings specially developed for the city centre's historic buildings, public buildings and ancient trees are illuminated. Water elements and benches are illuminated by spotlights and the Waal river quay is illuminated by high light pillars.
The Nijmegen city centre is situated on a lateral moraine, unusual for Dutch cities. In the plans for the public space relief is utilised: steps, slopes, balconies, bridges and steep edges have been carefully designed.
Culture is integrated into the designs for the public space in the form of modern sculptures (for example by Tony Graag, Narcisse Tordoir and Dennis Oppenheim), by means of the visualisation of architectural findings and by the organisation of many events in the public spaces.
Improvement of the urban structure
In addition to the improvement of the public space, Nijmegen is carrying out a number of infill projects to improve the urban structure.
The Mariënburg master plan of Soeters Van Eldonk Ponec architects is an example of this. The plan creates a new shopping route between existing shopping streets and aims at a more comprehensible urban structure. A multiplicity of new functions enables a more mixed and intensive use of space in the Nijmegen city centre. In addition to shops and dwellings, the Lux theatre and cinema and a new library and municipal archives have been built. The natural altitude differences have been maximised in an ingenious way in the project. Two street levels over each other, related to the altitude changes at both ends of the newly created street, enable a shopping centre to be created at two levels. Steps, bridges and slopes link the two levels. Ancient monuments have been accommodated respectfully in the urban design context and the detailing of the public space has been carefully carried out.
At the eastern entrance to the city centre the new Valkhof museum, designed by Ben van Berkel, has been constructed. In this museum archaeology and ancient and modern art have been combined in a surprising concept. In front of the building a modern square has been designed, providing space for various urban activities. From the square there is a wide vista over the river landscape. The square has been given a 'golden edge' in the form of a long bench with lighting along one side of the square. A series of steps links the square, the city, the ancient city walls, the Waal river quay and the museum. Under the square a large parking garage has been built.
At various locations projects have been realised to fit into the theme of Centre 2000. New housing blocks and various banks and offices have been accommodated in the city centre.
The redesign of the public space is continuing apace. Large parts of the pedestrian precinct now have new paving, lighting, green spaces and street furniture. Noticeable aspects here are the Stationsplein, the Kelfkensbos (in front of the museum), the squares and the vicinity of the Mariënburg project and the Grote Markt.
Centre 2000 as a strategy
The aim of the coherent vision for the city centre is to mobilise the various actors in the field to realise concrete projects which can be implemented. Both private and public funding (European and municipal) have been combined in the implementation strategy. The various projects have been developed by means of an interactive process between municipality, investors, the people and institutions. The political philosophy of Centre 2000 - sustainability of the urban development - is hereby guaranteed.
The municipality has itself carried out the supervision of the development of the public space over the whole process of policy, design and implementation, to guarantee coherence in the public domain. For the development of the infill plans a tailor-made project structure was chosen in each case. The Mariënburg project, for instance, has been realised via public-private cooperation between the municipality and ING Real Estate, whereby both parties bear their full share of the risk - and yield - of the project.
In recent years individual entrepreneurs have built on the expectations they had of the development of the Centre 2000 project. The quality of the shops has been improved in general. The municipality has calculated the total investments in recent years to have been as high as 800 million guilders (about e 365 million). In this way the Centre 2000 project has had the flywheel effect envisaged by the municipality in 1991.
From 1996 onwards a monitoring exercise of Centre 2000 has been in place. In this the effects of the policy being pursued in the city centre are measured. The most recent measurement took place in 2000 shortly after a number of representative aspects of Centre 2000 had been completed. This measurement shows the following: an increase in the time spent in the city centre by visitors, proportionately more visitors come from outside the region than hitherto, and the general level of appreciation of the city centre has risen, in particular with respect to the design of streets and squares. If this trend continues then the centre will move towards a higher level in the service centre hierarchy.
The urban plan of the Mariënburg project was awarded a prize by the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment in 1999 for its intensive use of space. The whole approach in the centre and the redesign of the public space was considered to be one of the 38 best plans in the field of urban and landscape architecture in 1997-99. In its comments the jury of experts praised the integrated approach to the public open space and the buildings, and showed their admiration of the designers and administrators who proved the 'courage' to take on such an operation for the long term.
The new shopping street in the Mariënburg has received the International Council of Shopping Centres award.
The successful approach of Centre 2000 will have a sequel in the period up to 2015, building on the same philosophy but including new opportunities.
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The Journal of Urbanism