Can we fix it…yes, we can!

“Building is an obsession here in Rotterdam,” was one of the first statements I heard when I arrive and was greeted by my Venezuelan friend Alonso, who has been teaching graduate classes at Erasmus University for the past three years. My first steps out of my train had already confirmed that fact as I was immediately confronted by the construction site that is the Central Station. However, I would come to learn in the subsequent days just how much of the City’s identity is tied to rebuilding.

If Rotterdam was to place a newspaper ad in the classifieds the heading might read, “desperately seeking facelift”. This desire to reinvent itself is not, however the result of an identity crisis – as may be the case in other cities I’ve visited (e.g. Manila). No, the impression I get is that the City considers its high degree of accessibility as a valuable distinction. Rotterdam’s resilience is the result of its ability to adapt and improve over time.

Following the complete destruction of Rotterdam, there was a vision to create “Manhattan on the Maas”, the river that divides the north and south halves of the City. All the features of a modern city were realized including high rise buildings and broad streets to accommodate auto traffic.

“You can find the works of all the famous architects here,” was another statement I heard on more than one occasion. And, it’s true. Several world-renowned architecture and design firms are based in the City – e.g. O.M.A., West8, & MVRDV (I’m not an architect so I won’t act like I know any of them – my host wrote down the names for me). Rotterdam’s openness to creative ideas makes it, not only attractive to architects, but also a bit of an urban planner’s paradise within a country where most cities are defined by their historic character.

The constant construction extends to their streets as well. Due to the soils here, streets sink on average 1 cm per year and most must be rebuilt every 20 years or so. This offers traffic engineers the chance to rethink the design and functions of a street every couple decades.

As part of the Central Station project, the major street that in the past separated it from downtown has been buried underground to create a space that is more welcoming for people on foot.

Most of the infrastructure projects being constructed will vastly improve conditions for walking, biking and transit users. But even if it isn’t perfect, the next generation of designers will always have the possibility to make it right a couple decades from now.

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About Denver Igarta

This blog was established to document my search for streets that my 5-year old can play near without my constant supervision. Where kids can live active lives and learn independence. My quest began when I was selected as an Urban and Regional Policy Fellow by the German Marshall Fund, for info: gmfus.org/cdp/fellowships. I am a multi-modal transportation planner for the City of Portland (OR), America's sustainable transportation capital. SHORT BIO/PROJECT DESCRIPTION Denver Igarta (October-November 2011), Urban Planner, City of Portland Bureau of Transportation Project: Livable Streets Where People Live: Fostering People-Friendly Streets by De-emphasizing Automobile Traffic in Residential Areas Cities: Munich, Rotterdam, Copenhagen, Malmö Denver Igarta is an urban planner with the Transportation Bureau of the City of Portland. He works on a broad range of transportation policy, street design initiatives and pedestrian, bicycle and freight planning efforts. He recently served as one of the principal authors of Portland's new bicycle plan. He is currently staffing two “active transportation” projects: a rails-with-trails project along the Banfield Freeway and a local street system plan for one of the state's most diverse neighborhoods. He performed his graduate studies at the University of Dortmund, Germany and the University of the Philippines and holds a Master of Science in Regional Development Planning. Portland is struggling to reverse generations of auto-oriented development patterns and make neighborhood streets more “livable” (people-friendly) by restoring their multimodal and placemaking functions. Mr. Igarta's research will evaluate how cities in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have enacted policies to restore the multiple functions of public streets through traffic management, green infrastructure and giving priority to sustainable travel modes. He will meet with local practitioners, policymakers and civic leaders involved in transportation planning, traffic safety and neighborhood livability projects, street design, and implementation of multi-modal traffic policies. The ultimate aim of the study is to compile a set of best practices and policies implemented in European cities that have broadened the role of residential streets beyond automobile mobility. Additional focus will be given to understanding how acceptable policy tradeoffs are determined within city agencies and the level of public support for measures that restrict car movements, such as reduced speed zones, bicycle streets, shared spaces, residents-only streets and residential parking restrictions.
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