Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A couple Essen images

As someone known for partisanship with regard to historic buildings and "traditional commercial districts," a city like Essen demonstrates that 1950s commercial buildings can work in a commercial district just fine, so long as attention is paid to urban design and a focus on creating and maintaining lively streets, or in this case, walkways, with the pedestrian at the forefront.

Essen's city center is still a main shopping district, although there are vacant spaces, especially further from the core. During the week, stores stay open to 7pm or 8pm.  This was past closing time.  There are many cool stores.  Seeing the four-story Mayersche bookstore reminded me that bookstores still exist.

Some of the public spaces are a bit tired, and there probably isn't enough money for maintenance (after all, Europe although not Germany, has been in a Depression for six years)--e.g., lots of old gum stains on the sidewalks.

But there are many nice treatments, and spaces are used for restaurant patios, food sales, etc.

I bought a great herring sandwich from a seafood vendor.

I was surprised to see that graffiti was not removed from prominent public infrastructure. This is the the entrance to Rheinischer Platz subway station.

Many of the public spaces are set up with playground equipment for children. I was surprised to see the use of stainless steel equipment, which is expensive, but will last. While we do see some use of stainless steel bike racks and street furniture in the US, I've never seen a stainless steel swingset or teeter totter.

And in keeping with my discussion about how we need to consider the "civic architecture" aspects of transit infrastructure, I liked the light art treatment in the train station underpass, which also serves as a covered station area for many of the local buses serving the station.

German cities have a very organized, network approach to transit.

 There is the U-Bahn (underground/subway/tram), S-Bahn, suburban railroad services, and then regional and national railroad services run by Deutsche Bahn, the national railroad system.

 In Essen, the local bus system uses the same (plain, yellow) painting scheme for the tram cars.
The city's tram system, running underground in parts of the city, as well as serving suburban destinations, is designated separately from the U- and S-Bahn transit subnetworks.

The logos to denote Underground and Suburban Bahn services are the same across Germany, making it easier for people to find and negotiate transit services. The bus, U-bahn and S-Bahn services are run by the regional transit provider.  In Essen, that's EVAG, which in turn is a member of the regional transport association, VRR, which coordinates cross-jurisdictional services.

Most systems have a day pass option and a tourist card option that bundles transit service with discounts to museums and other cultural attractions.

Separate bike sharing (local, plus DB has its own Call-A-Bike program) is promoted by the transit provider, which also promotes but doesn't run car sharing. Most of the "advertisements" on the locally shared bicycle program promote sustainable transportation.

While there are advertisment boards in the public space, the local transit system tends to not run ads in shelters or on buses and tramcars, unless the messages relate to government-sponsored events. Bus shelter ad spots are used to promote sustainable transportation.


At 8:25 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Richard, glad you are in Europe although the weather looks good.

The pedestrian only streets seem to be far more successful there than in the US. Lack of big box competition?

A bit surprised on the advertising since outdoor is probably a bigger category in Europe than in the US --again a function of a more urban envirornment.

Ridership numbers?

Essen is about the size of Cleveland, and the regional model could have been an interesting one for a region . Imagine Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, Erie, Pittsburgh, Buffalo. That is 3 or 4 states, and I doubt it could ever work.

Likewise an intergrated payment unit for DC or Baltimore.

Federal role in forcing that standard -- one card to rule them all?

I'd agree that Germany is not as clean as we imagine, although I'd guess the locals would blame immigrants.

At 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Essen is closer in population to DC and is bigger than Cleveland- and it is significantly denser than either city. German cities do not have suburban sprawl as we have in the USA. It is interesting to see how close the essen hauptbahnhof is to the city center [ stadtmitte] and also to see the historical buildings that were salvaged after the massive RAF bombing raids [ Essen was pulverized- more than 90 % destroyed] ironically the Synagogue - which is on the edge of the center, was probably the least damaged structure of larger size. I was impressed at the efforts made to rehab the really old Imperial aged [ 1870-1914]buildings downtown.

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Essen is not a particularly good example of a cycling place- but if you leave the center I am sure you will see that like the rest of Germany- they put most of the bike paths on the SIDEWALKS unlike here in the USA where we cater to bike racers and male cyclists in sports mode. There are many cities and towns in germany where you see msotly women on bicycles, smoking cigarettes and carrying groceries on their sit up bikes. Muenster is a choice example of this. But so is Koln, Recklinghausen and other cities.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

300,000 daily riders. But complaints that the region is disconnected, that Essen's transit isn't the same as local transit in the Ruhr. In other words, Essen has decent transit, and the unusual for Germany I guess fact that the tram lines get to some of the suburbs, but that many of the other parts of the Ruhr do not.

IMO, there is a lot of interesting regional cooperation--like what Charlie said. The thing about it though is unlike the US, where the region charlie mentions has four states, here there is only one, North Rhine Westphalia. I think that must make a difference.

But also because of the massive economic dislocation resulting from the final steel plant closings in the mid-1980s, and the realization that they were totally screwed, with no big mass employment opportunities on the horizon.

(e.g., my line about PGH and Baltimore, about "a desperate willingness to experiment, because they have no other choices.")

This led to the Emscher Park Intl. Building Exposition, focused on reusing old industrial plants, landscapes, and reviving the Emscher River.

They have continued to build on that effort, including the Ruhr region being the "Capital of Culture" in 2010, and post-2010 events and investment in continuing the effort in other ways, plus ongoing environmental remediation of the river.

That puts them ahead of many other regions.

I probably won't get to learn enough about it to be as definitive as I'd like to be. We'll see.

I should spend more time here, but I will be going to rush to Hamburg, and do some stuff there too.

I will ask my NRW contact about the single state as an issue.

At 7:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes in Germany the states and regions operate as defacto governments. I was in Recklinghausen 3-4 times for the Ruhrsportsfestspeil - its a lovely town and quite old going back over 1000 years. It is beautifully set up for cycling and you see many cyclists- and the town center is all pedestrianized. The ancient town wall still exists and defines the city center. All of the areas retail is in the city center. remeber- wal mart had to leave Germany because german people do not like big box suburban stores and prefer city shopping. In many ways Germany is like the USA was before we destroyed our passenger rail system and our streetcar lines. They built everything up and did not abandon options as we did here.

At 9:27 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I always think of Cleveland and Washington as the same size, although in 20 years Cleveland has shrank a bit and Washington has grown.

In terms of the single state, also goes to financing. Muni bonds in the US both a gift and a curse.

+1 for bike paths on sidewalks.

Also am curious on the war on cars thing in re: Germany. Seems as if they have it both ways -- Autobahn and bikes/streetcars. How did it get there?

At 5:39 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

for whatever reason, I think that it wasn't an issue of competitiveness, in the way that it was understood that cities needed more city-specific and appropriate transportation solutions that weren't car dependent, but that it wasn't zero sum/either or.

It's not like I can get into the countryside. And plenty of people drive, and people complain that transit could be better. (Apparently one problem in the Ruhr is that cities outside of Essen have different track gauges, so you can't interoperate tram systems.)

But you also have car free centers, etc., but I imagine that happened starting in the 1960s, based on the work of Jan Gehl in Copenhagen, as a kind of response to the car--but out of a recognition that it would not be possible to provide parking spaces for everyone to drive without demolishing buildings.

But the original design of the autobahn was to be separate from cities. (That was the case with the US Interstates too and there was a recognition that the design wasn't city appropriate. But the lure of the 10 cent dollar--the other 90 cents was paid for by the Federal Govt.--led people to go for the money and projects without advocating for more urban-appropriate highway treatments.

Plus, there is that other European thing about trams/undergrounds/railroads. They didn't get them.

PLUS, there is a greater understanding of the economic and environmental costs of automobility, which is why gasoline is taxed so heavily and registration fees can be very high. Plus the parking issue.

If we were to take similar steps, we could invest more in transit and more people would ride it.

At 6:43 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Oops. I meant that many European cities didn't get rid of their tram systems.

I don't know how soon systems became municipally run.

But probably for the same reason that the GM consortium didn't fully get rid of streetcars in Philadelphia--because the underground streetcar tunnel in Downtown was hyper efficient at moving transit passengers, and they couldn't convert it into a bus tunnel because of engine exhaust--trams kept running because they were efficient. (And undergrounds kept running for obvious reasons.)

At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the Germans were the real innovators in saving center cities and historic areas- not the danes or dutch as much- and in Germany there was REAL historic preservation way before any other countries were aware of it. The castle district along the Rhine was put under protection in the early 1800's as tourism and the "Romantic" movement swept the German states.


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