This is the 8th episode of a series 25 building blocks to create better streets, neighbourhoods, and cities. The question is whether a distribution of services over the whole area contributes to the quality of the urban environment.
The central parts of cities like Siena, Amsterdam and Barcelona are overrun by visitors and tourists. Partly because Airbnb has increased its overnight capacity by withdrawing homes from their actual destination. As a result, these cities see their real estate prices rise ans residents leave, making room for expensive apartments, boutique hotels and corporate headquarters. Eventually, old city centers will become amusement parks that offer twenty-four hours of entertainment.
The need for distributed centers
There are no objections against visiting nice cities. The underlying problem is that many of these cities have few other places of interest left, partly due to destruction in the Second World War and their rapid expansion afterwards. Therefore, some cities are in urgent need to create additional attractive places and become polycentric. This aligns with the intention of cities to become a 15-minute city. The figure above is a model developed for this purpose by the council of Portland (USA).
Because of this policy, the prospect is that residents can buy their daily necessities close to home. At the other hand, tourists will be spread. What attractive neighborhood centers look like will be discussed in a subsequent post.
Cities without an inordinate number of tourists and visitors also observe a steady grow in the number of events, all competing for the same locations. For this reason, it is advisable that cities have a few ancillary centers each with one or two crowd pullers that divide the stream of visitors. An example is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and its newly developed public space around. In world cities such as London and New York, such centers have existed for years, but they are sometimes difficult to find because they are spread over a large area.
Amsterdam too urgently needs one or more ancillary centers. The area between Leidseplein and the Rijksmuseum has potential but lacks unity due to the chaotic intersections of roads and tram lines. The presence of a train or metro station is an advantage, that is why the area near Station Zuid also has potential.
Next decade, many visitors will still arrive by car and the best policy is to seduce them to leave their cars at safe transfer points to continue their journey by public transport. For visitors who intend to stay longer, this solution is not optimal. Many will dismiss the perspective of carrying their luggage to the hotel by public transport, although taking a cab is an alternative, albeit expensive. The alternative is the presence of a couple of affordable hotels next to the car park and the development of these areas into attractive public space, with shops, cafes, and restaurants, as a starting point to visit places of interest in the city. These centers can also accommodate major events, such as a football stadium, a music hall, cinemas and open-air festivities, because of the presence of large scale parking facilities. The Amsterdam Arena district is developing in this direction. It used to be a desolate place, but it's getting better. There are excellent train and metro links.
And what about the old 'old' city center?
The public spaces in the old city centers must meet the same requirements as the whole city to prevent becoming an amusement park for tourists. Aside from its carefully maintained and functionally integrated cultural legacy, centers should provide a mix of functions, including housing, offices, spaces for craft and light industry and plenty of greenery dedicated to its inhabitants. The number of hotels should be limited and renting out by Airbnb prohibited. There will be shops for both residents and tourists, rents must be frozen, and the speculative sale of houses curbed. Space over shops must be repurposed for apartments.
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