Bi directional bike path, only three lanes of traffic. Total! A lane has been removed to the benefit of cycling and walking and art and public  celebrations.

Rotterdam: City Centre as City Lounge


Dutch company West 8, Urban Design and Landscaping Architecture, has recently redesigned Coolsingel, Rotterdam’s main downtown arterial. If you have been to Toronto’s waterfront, you’ll have seen some of their designs, the most eye catching one the Simcoe Wave bridge.The stunning brand new Rotterdam central train station was also co designed by Adriaan Geuze of West 8.

The Simcoe Wave Bridge in Toronto is designed by Adriaan Geuze of West 8.
The Simcoe Wave Bridge in Toronto is designed by Adriaan Geuze of West 8.
Rotterdam Train Station
Stunning Rotterdam Central Train Station is an attraction on its own.
Rotterdam in 1900 still had a water filled Coolsingel.
Rotterdam in 1900 still had a water filled Coolsingel. My grandfather must have seen it when he was a little boy.

The Coolsingel has gone through a number of alterations throughout the last 150 years. It started as a canal-like waterway (A ‘singel’ is a water body, similar to a canal), was filled in with rubble in the 1910’s to make space for roads, got street car tracks and eventually -in 1967- a subway underneath its surface.

Other than the church, city hall and the post office not much was left of the downtown core.
Other than the church, city hall and the post office not much was left of the downtown core after the nazi’s bombed the core to rubble, leaving over 900 people dead.
Rotterdam before the reconstruction began. I remember large swaths of the downtown core still being empty with deer grazing behind the Music Hall.
Rotterdam before the reconstruction began after the war. I remember large swaths of the downtown core still being empty with fenced in deer, grazing behind the Music Hall. The Coolsingel cuts diagonally through this image. My grandmother would take us out to the Bijenkorf (not in the photo yet) to buy a Dinky Toy. The Bijenkorf has a piece of art in front of it that is simply known as “The Thing”

“Don’t mention the Germans”

Rotterdammers have always complained that the city doesn’t really have a core. Nazi Germany is partly to blame for that as it bombed the entire city centre on May 14, 1940. The entire historic heart was gone.

After the war, in the spirit of modernisation, wide roads and high rises were quickly built to accommodate growing wealth and a growing need for stores, offices and housing. Actually, there was a shortage of housing and that is partly why there are so many Dutch in Canada.

In the sixties and seventies, the city started to look like downtown Delhi.
In the sixties and seventies, the city started to look like downtown Delhi, including soot covered buildings.

The Coolsingel area is fairly wide and so it got four vehicular traffic lanes; still there is a fair amount of space for pedestrians. The area is also used for public displays of support, such as celebrating the local soccer club winning a competition. City Hall with its big balcony is situated at the Coolsingel. It is not ideal though as it a thoroughfare, not a square.

Coolsingel is pretty blah nowadays.
Coolsingel is pretty blah nowadays.

Two halves don’t make one

The Coolsingel splits the city centre in two halves and that is how I have always experienced it too. There is the Bijenkorf and de Lijnbaan and beyond on one side and the Beursplein and Hoogstraat and beyond at the other side. Despite digging a tunnel with stores underneath the Coolsingel to connect the two halves, it always remained two halves. (Rotterdammers give their structures folksy nick names, the tunnel is called the “Koopgoot”, liberally translated as the “Shop Trough”).

Here is a Google streetview grab from ore or less the same angle as the next artist impression pic from West 8.
Here is a Google streetview grab from more or less the same angle as the next artist impression pic from West 8.
Bi directional bike path, only three lanes of traffic. Total! A lane has been removed to the benefit of cycling and walking and art and public celebrations.
Bi directional bike path, only three lanes of traffic. Total! A lane has been removed to the benefit of cycling and walking and art and public celebrations.

City Centre as City Lounge

The car is just too dominant in the picture.Therefore the City started an ambitious program recently, the “City Centre as City Lounge”, which will affect more areas, such as the area where the above ground railway tracks used to run (I remember they brought the railways underground when I worked in Rotterdam in the early nineties.)

As you can see in the images, there will be more trees (‘urban green’ in landscape lingo), larger spaces for cycling and walking and there remains space for public transport, above and below ground. Some buildings have to go too. While the city was bombed, not everything was gone as you can see in the images. The new space will emphasise these ornaments on the buildings that survived.

Dream Big

The entire project will cost about 50 million euro (CAD 70 million in 2015 exchange rates).

Yes some cities dare to dream big. Can I suggest to think big for Elgin Street?

Sources: I took all images from the internet, from Google, West 8 website and from people who diligently scan old Rotterdam postcards to share with the world.

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