Tower of the Olympic stadium and central post office in Helsinki. Two fine examples of Finnish functionalism from the 1930’s.
Nobody likes a parking tower, but everybody who knows Parking 58 in Brussels will mourn its demolition. That’s because Parking 58 is not just a parking tower. It’s also the most central, the coolest and definitely the cheapest viewpoint in the city. Everyone who knows his way into the building can take the creaky elevator to the upper parking deck on the 10th floor and see the city center in all its eclectic splendor - be it behind an electrified fence.
Amaury Henderick (via Flickr)
But apart from its alternative use as a semi-public panorama for the people in the know, Parking 58 is also an important symbol of the postwar urban disaster that befell Brussels. Back in the day, planners and politicians dreamt of a city cut accros by highways from every direction. All of them would converge at a giant crossroads downtown, where old and useless buildings had to make way for giant parking facilities.
In the case of Parking 58 the victim was a market hall from the 1870’s, making it another classic example of what became known as brusselization. Parking 58 actually was the first parking tower in Brussels, built to accomodate the extra vehicule traffic generated by the 1958 world’s fair.
It would make sense to preserve the parking tower as a monument to a certain idea of urban planning, while giving it a new purpose. The building could for example become a public green space, with running tracks and urban farm, as proposed during a previous edition of the annual car free sunday (‘Park 58’). Or the parking could be turned into social housing with a public roof terrace, as suggested by a group of urban activists.
The owner, however, has a more lucrative plan. He wants to tear down the building and create new retail and office space, and luxury appartments on the upper floors. The roof would not be public and, worst of all, the new building would contain an underground garage with even more parking space than the existing parking tower.
The fate of Parking 58 is now in the hands of the City of Brussels. But since the future offices will be occupied by the city administration there’s not much doubt about the outcome.
Not much hope regarding the design either if we can rely on the only rendering that was unveiled. The developer is awfully reluctant to give more details thus remaining faithful to the Brussels tradtion of secretive decision making and urban faits accomplis that gave us our catastrophic-but-beloved parking tower in the first place. Will the vicious circle ever be broken?
Paris is on the verge of a massive transportation upgrade, largely for the benefit of its long-neglected suburbs. Four new lines spanning 200 kilometers scheduled for completion by 2030 should drastically improve public transportation within the periphery of Paris. The so-called Grand Paris plan is on course to bring a transformation more profound than Haussmann’s famous boulevards. Read more here.
The postcard above takes us back to Brussels around 1970. In those days a highway viaduct existed along the largely residential Boulevard Leopold II. In the 1980’s the elevated road was demolished and rebuilt in Thailand, or so the story goes.
The Leopold II viaduct was a product of the postwar vision that cities should be accessible by car to be attractive. It was built to improve traffic during the World’s Fair of 1958 and connected the brand new ring road around central Brussels with the highway to Oostende. Announced as a temporary measure, the viaduct stayed for over 25 years, attracting ever more cars and chasing away residents. It was finally torn down in 1984 and replaced with a 2,5 kilometer-long tunnel.
The classic story is that the dismantled bridge was shipped to Thailand and rebuilt in Bangkok. But according to this article things are a bit more complicated. The Bangkok bridge would have been made up of parts of another temporary bridge that was put up next to the viaduct during its demolition (see picture below from Wikipedia).
In any case Belgian engineers constructed Bangkok’s first of many flyovers with used parts from a Brussels bridge as a gift from the Belgian government. This way the minister of Public Works hoped to get orders for more bridges and also buses. As this didn’t happen, the taxpayer-funded operation of moving the bridge was rather controversial.
The investment was not useless for the Thai though, because the so called Thai Belgian Bridge still stands after a second life of more than 25 years. Not bad for a temporary construction even if it seems that the bridge is now temporary closed for repairs. (Bangkok photo squaremarie-louise41.blogspot.be)
Now and then I am amazed by how emotional people can get about a tram. You probably know an example of tramophobia in your city. I am talking about the fear behind protests against new tram lines. Indeed some people still believe a tram is going to put them out of business, keep them awake all night, bring bad people to their neighbourhood or, worst of all, take away their precious parking spot.
But in Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Teresa neighbourhood the opposite is happening. A lot of inhabitants are demanding the return of trams to their steep, cobbled streets.
‘We want our tram’, mural in Santa Teresa - photo by Jorge Badaue
The Santa Teresa tram is one the oldest systems in the world, going back to 1877. Sadly, in august 2011 a tram derailed and crashed. Five people died and many more got seriously injured. The old streetcars have been out of service ever since. This has triggered several kinds of protests, including the mural pictured above. Even during this week’s carnival, the craving for the beloved ‘bonde’ is an issue (see photo below).
’What happened to the tram?’ - Photo by O Bonde que queremos para Santa Teresa
The state of Rio de Janeiro does have a plan to revive the Santa Teresa tram in 2014. Some local tram nostalgics however don’t appreciate that the tram cars are kept off the streets to undergo safety improvements. Riding on the footboard will be impossible and some seats have to make way for a corridor. This means fewer people will be able to take the tram, making it (even) more of a tourist attraction, and less of a transit solution.
Crowded tram in Santa Teresa in 2009 - Photo from Wikipedia
But is there a choice? No matter how reliable the system has been for over a century, the authorities cannot take the risk to let things unchanged after the deadly accident.
In the end it seems to me that the ones holding on to the ancient trams are not very different from tramophobiacs elsewhere. In both cases the opponents want to preserve an old situation or system that is outdated for affective or personal reasons, ignoring perfectly rational arguments in favour of decisions to the benefit of the larger society.
It’s largely forgotten nowadays but there was a (short) time when Brussels was an important hub for intercity helicopter travel. Belgium’s historic flag carrier Sabena indeed pioneered a network of regular helicopter flights from Brussels to other cities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France.
The city’s heliport opened in 1953 and was situated a mere 15-minute walk from the historic city centre, between the site of the city’s first railway station (Groendreef) and the magnificent Citroën building from the 1930’s.
The heyday of civil helicopter travel coincided with the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958. There were several daily flights to Antwerp, Rotterdam, Eindhoven, Liège, Maastricht, Cologne, Bonn, Lille and Paris. The Sikorsky helicopters carried about a dozen passengers depending on wind conditions.
The helicopters were not very fuel efficient though and it wouldn’t be long before the whole network was made obsolete by the rapid expansion of the European highway network.
In 1966 the heliport closed for good and soon after it was demolished. It gave way to the Maximiliaanpark and some bleak housing blocks. The only witness to the former glory days of air travel in the neighborhood is a street named Avenue de l’Heliport.
The picture above was included in a wonderful 2013 traffic-themed calendar by Plaizier.
phone booth variations
I already mentioned my love for the Orelhão (‘Big ear’), a type of public phone designed by Chinese-Brazilian architect Chu Ming Silveira in the 1970’s. They are found all over Brazil. The collage above shows a number of booths customized by artists, all in São Paulo. They are a creative element, present all over town. On top of that they are still used to make phone calls, even with so many cell phones around.
Just noticed that Google updated the satellite view of Brussels on Maps and Earth with images from last summer. One of the first things that caught my eye were the parts of the Leuvensesteenweg that were painted yellow to mark the new pedestrian zone Walking Madou.
Also hard to miss is the athletics track of the Fallonstadion, which was painted bright blue to prepare Kevin and Jonathan Borlée for the London Olympics.
Another remarkable place is the area of the former Josaphat station. It looks a bit like a desert in the middle of the city since it was completely covered with earth from the new train tunnel between Schuman and Josaphat stations.
On brusselnieuws.be I wrote a piece about the new images (in Dutch).
High-speed rail is generally regarded as the pinnacle of attractive and green transportation. But all too often, like with the new Fyra between Brussels and Amsterdam, it makes train travel more expensive and less flexible. In the end, costly high-speed lines might just push more people into cars. - my new contribution to the polis blog.
With plans for a new food hall, an urban farm on the roof and a new public square, the abattoir close to Brussels Midi station is trying to reinvent itself and its run-down neighbourhood. Urbanist Alexander D’Hooghe (MIT) designed a masterplan.
The abattoir site on a quiet day (Photo: Wikipedia)
For many Bruxellois, Kuregem (part of Anderlecht) is a no-go zone. The area between Midi station and the canal is mostly associated with unemployment, illegal trades and occasional violence. Still there is one big attraction in the heart of the neighbourhood: the market on the site of the abattoir. Every weekend it draws about 100.000 people, mostly non-European immigrants. The slaughterhouse itself is an important employer in a neighbourhood ravaged by industrial decline.
Render of the food hall with urban farm on the roof
Instead of moving to the suburbs, the abattoir chose to stay in the city and is now trying to renew itself and to resuscitate the neighbourhood with the same effort. With the new farmers’ market on Thursday evenings, it has already started to attract a different crowd of people stopping by for groceries (and drinks) after work. Next up in the pipeline is a new food hall with vendors and eat stalls inspired by the inner-city markets of southern Europe. This should establish the place as ‘the belly of Brussels’, a place to be for foodies. On the roof will be the first large scale urban farm in Brussels. The project also includes some twenty appartments in a community land trust, offering affordable housing to people from the local community.
Masterplan with large public square
And there’s more to come in the following years. The original glass and iron market hall from 1890 will be restored to its former glory. The surrounding area is to be reorganised completely in order to create a large multifunctional square of 60.000 square meters, open to all and fit for different activities. The masterplan was developed by MIT-professor Alexander D’Hooghe who explained his vision recently at TEDxBrussels.