Monday, 28 March 2011

Woonerf for the Denburn Valley Development.

Word comes from the European Commission that, for the sake of the future, for the sake of sustainability and for the sake of liveability, it is their aspiration that petrol and diesel vehicles be banned from urban centres by 2050.

As radical pedestrians and utility cyclists, naturally, this is exactly the sort of thing we want to hear. This weekend, the taste of exhaust pollution in the centre of Aberdeen was quite disgusting, the noise-stress was unbearable and the vast majority of people (pedestrians) were, as usual, crammed into their tiny pavement allocation by the car drivers who use the space allocated to them on our town centre's roads to the exclusion of all other potential utility that might be gained from that precious urban space.

Future carpark.
In the light of this new anti-motor transport policy development in Europe, it seems all the more perverse that Aberdeen's political and business interests are intent on pushing ahead with urban dual carriageway projects which will deliver large numbers of high-speed drivers into the town centre at a higher rate than ever before. This, of course, will necessitate the creation of more car parking space, which will in turn induce more journeys by car into the city centre. It's like the 1960's version of urban planning. Quite embarrassing, really. One of the places earmarked for a big new car park (sometimes euphamistically termed or "traffic hub") appears to be the city's historic Union Terrace Gardens. This is deplorable.

A radical daydream creeps into our consciousness, a vision of a pleasant city centre which is proud to display both its heritage and its faith in the future. One of the major arguments put forward by those who want to redevelop Union Terrace Gardens is the fact that they are 'poorly utilised'. Well, we're not sure that a city park loses utility when unoccupied by people - it continues to provide ecological services; oxygen generation, urban wildlife habitat, sound baffling and the like - but, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, and it has been pointed out elsewhere that the Denburn urban dual carriageway is, likewise, 'poorly utilised'.

A woefully underused urban asset.
No pavements. WTF?

Another argument for decking over the Denburn valley is to conceal the unsightly urban motorway. But, wait a minute - why conceal something which is barely used? Why not just do away with it? Keeping such a big road seems a bit, em, short sighted when private petrol vehicles are to be banned from town centres in less than 40 years time. We say dig it up and lay turf. We say plough it up and plant trees. A small service road on the woonerf model could be retained for emergency vehicles and utility services, but, most of the time it would be used by pedestrians for pleasant sunlit walks in the serene and valley. Maybe the Denburn itself could run in the open once more.

Aberdeen Woonerf!
A "woonerf" is a shared space urban landscape - it's a policy pioneered in the Netherlands in the 1970's. "Woonerf" is a term increasingly used in the English-speaking world to mean an area where motorists have priority equal to or lesser than other road-users, thus increasing the livability of the city at the human scale, even as residential density increases. Based upon principals of filtered permeability and shared space for transport corridors and thoroughfares these woonerf areas were pioneered in Groningen and other towns in the Netherlands, Flanders and Germany to encourage walking and cycling by giving them a more attractive environment free from traffic and a time and convenience advantage over car driving. Why can't we have that?

A further argument put forward for decking over the Denburn valley is that the current gardens are often shaded - and this is true in the evenings. With our new plan to turn the existing dual carrageway into a new contemporary garden, the Denburn Valley Gardens (if you will) would encompass both east and west slopes of the valley, so some part of the gardens would always be in direct sunlight. The existing Victorian gardens would be fully retained at practically no cost, and when the sunlight moves off them, garden users can cross over to new, modern gardens on the east bank, terracing down from Belmont Street, accessed by footbridges over the railway line which itself would be retained lending scenographic drama to our showpiece city centre and displaying the latest tilting train TGV technology.

One of the intentions of the European Commission's policy is to move half of journeys under 200 miles onto rail. Retaining sight of the railway (and, perhaps, new platforms for passenger embarkation) would display the fact that rail travel is at the heart of our city's vision of the future - not the dead-end car-dependent motorcentric vision which today predominates to the detriment of our environment.

And so our radical daydream turns into achievable vision. We're not joking. This is now our stated vision for Union Terrace Gardens and the Denburn Valley, including Upper Denburn (you'll be hearing a lot more about Upper Denburn over the next few years - you heard it here first!).

It would look a little bit like this original human-scale vision for the valley, with greensward and gardens on both sides, a tiny Denburn Road woonerf full of dawdling pedestrians and the latest high-tech railway on display:

We'll be examining this radical new proposal in a bit more detail over the coming weeks with site-visits and the like. We'll do this in comparison with similar projects which have been delivered elsewhere, such as Cheonggyecheon Park in Seoul:

This is more-or-less exactly what we have in mind.

The "High Line" regenerated a disused railway viaduct.
At Denburn, we will turn a disused dual carriageway into a park.

We will also look at our new woonerf proposal in the context of the City Gardens Project "Turning Vision Into Reality" presentation material (particularly that provided by Charles Landry), which we believe supports our vision for high-liveability, human scale, mixed use, walkable places of refuge and tranquility, where creativity can flourish.

Here are some of Charles Landry's slides, as presented to ACSEF and as available to download from the City Gardens Project website:

High-liveability - Mixed use - Places of refuge

Human scale - Walkability

Comforting to read this.


John Aberdein said...

Yes, Alan, absolutely: water is the key to putting soul back in the city. What seasonal variation in volume with the Denburn? Are there potential tributaries to augment the flow if need be?

Alan said...

Hiya John, are you researching "Dam"? :)
Water alone will not refresh Aberdeen, but the proposal is much more imaginative than the City Square plan.
The Denburn runs in the open not too far from UTG at Mackie Place, at the bottom of Jack's Brae. Often its a dry-ish trickle, but at times its a full torrent and quite dramatically intimidating - you'd not survive if you fell in. Just a little further upstream it descends a series of scenographic cascades in the grounds of the Grammar School. It's lovely. Grammar school kids can often be seen emerging from the short-ish culvert which runs under part of the grounds and Esslemont Ave to Mackie Place.
At the Mackie Place infall (the last place where it can be seen before its outfall at Victoria Bridge) at the junction of Jack's Brae and Upper Denburn, just below Rosemount Viaduct there's an inspection hatch manhole, now open to the air and covered with a cage. From time to time the diameter of the culvert is just not enough to cope and the excess pressure vents from the manhole cage: water foams up vertically like a filthy geyser. The Westburn (or Gilcomston Burn) also runs in the open (though much less picturesquely) not too far from UTG and joins the Denburn somewhere under the HM Theatre (I think). There are mill-lades all over the place, but I very much doubt any of them would be rehabilitable.

Anonymous said...

I get quite angry when either Acsef or members of ACC always make the comment that the Union Terrace Gardens are underused, as if parks are meant to jam-packed with people all of the time. Gerry Brough of ACC said at the meeting of Inchgarth Community Council ....."parks are becoming less and less used for recreation..." as if that were good enough reason to destroy them. Parks and green spaces in a city or any urban environment have profound and positive effects on the health of the citizens. Parks provide spaces where people can get some fresh air, go for a walk, play football, exercise of just enjoy the surroundings. As technology, traffic, artificial light and noise increasingly dominate our towns and cities, a park or green space can be an oasis of tranquility and calm that has a genuine effect on stress.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff, i love the high-line. Would this be developed through to The Green and Union Square, there would be a lot more people backing it if it did!

Other Aberdeen said...

We don't see any reason why the Denburn Woonerf wouldn't connect with the Green and Union Sq. That'd be fantastic. Spread the word.

connor.milligan said...

You're missing the point about the Denburn.

Yes, it's underused but not because it's a bad road. but because the roads around it are bad. You can go along the Denburn just fine, but either end of it, is a nightmare.

As someone who HAS to drive in town to do a job I use it every day of the week, and If they proceed with the urban dual carriageway project then it would help people get about the town quicker, and keep them off of roads like union street.

If it's quicker to go around the centret then through it, then more people would do it, makes the city centre LESS congested?

Personally, I want union street etc pedestrianised, but unless the council seriously upgrade all the surrounding roads the city will grind to a halt. Holburn St needs looking at, as does King st and Market st. The College st / Wapping st / Bridge st junction area is fine for now, but close off union street to cars and it just wouldn't cope!

OtherAberdeen said...

Connor. You don't HAVE to take your car into work. You just CHOOSE to. A policy which will see the closing of roads like the Denburn Dual Carriageway and the abandoning of other old-fashioned urban dual carriageway projects which were cooked up in the centre of the car-crazy 20th century will HELP you switch to a form of transport less damaging to the city, its people and the wider environment.

connor.milligan said...

And destroying a perfectly useful road will not help city centre traffic one bit. the same number of cars will use the roads, all that will do is force them up from an out of sight dual carriage way onto the already overcrowded streets.

Get rid of the Denburn - make the problems worse.

Upgrade the roads around the city centre - less cars in the city centre.

Most cars in the centre, are not going there, they are only passing through as it's the quickest route.

Make the quickest route through Aberdeen and people go around the city centre and people will take it.

Just remember that a lot of the vehicles you see on the roads, especially during the day, are not there by choice, they are just people out trying to do a job. As much as it's all well and good to say you don't need a car and take the bus, for a lot of the traffic that simply isn't possible.

OtherAberdeen said...

Time and again we see attitudes like this, Connor. The attitude which simply cannot see over the driver's wheel. The thinking that assumes that more cars travelling faster and faster on more roads is ipso facto the desirable outcome. You want to "help" [motorcar] traffic and you chose to blame the inadequacy of the existing roads for motor traffic congestion. To paraphrase Joe Dunkley - You like to pretend that it's an engineering problem, because engineering can always be replaced or "upgraded" with some new, different engineering. And you like to pretend that it's not the volume of traffic or the behaviour of motorists which causes congestion, because acknowledging this would mean giving up hope that one day the congestion will magically be solved. But the thing is, the thing you can't or won't see is that the cause of motor traffic congestion is actually motor traffic itself, too much motor traffic; too many motorists, behaving irrationally and offering rationalisations which do not stand up to scrutiny. Once you realise this, you'll see that building more or "upgrading" roads to tackle congestion is like letting out your belt to combat obesity. Many decades and worldwide experience now points irrefutably to the conclusion that building roads for cars merely induces more motor traffic.

Only policies which lead to a shift in transport modes by a reduction in the use of motorcars (like roadspace reallocation away from use by motor-vehicles, as we advocate in the main body of this post) will deliver a sustainable reduction in motor traffic congestion. Yet the old-fashioned motorists of Aberdeen stick to the old discredited roadbuilding polices of the 1960's. Like the people in the US midwest who Barack Obama ridiculed for clinging to their bibles and guns, the car-crazy folks of Aberdeen can't see over their dashboards; they want more, bigger and faster, "better" roads, "upgraded". It's embarrassing.

Those unfortunate addicts who seek the help of Alcoholics Anonymous are invited to consider why they do the same thing over and over again, yet expect different results. Were the extent of tasteless self indulgence, waste of natural resources, and disastrous externalities not so catastrophic, it would be amusing to observe how closely aligned the rationalisation strategies of addicts and motorists are.

connor.milligan said...

for the record, I DO HAVE to drive in the city centre.

I simply can not do my job without driving in the city centre.

You have to realise that a huge amount of vehicles on the road during the day are doing a job, keeping the economy going.

It's simple, get rid of the denburn road and me and many like me will emerge from the out of sight dual carriageway and up on to Union Terrace / Union St / Bridge St only making the problem WORSE

OtherAberdeen said...

LOL: "Keeping the economy going"
Yes, that's right. Only people driving around a lot in motor-vehicles can do that. Obviously.
But seriously, perhaps the OtherAberdeen blog is not for old-fashioned car-dependent people like you. You'd be far better off looking at this one: