Impressions from the two-day seminar on the urban development of Hovinbyen, Oslo,
March 19-20th, 2015.
The planning and building authorities recently announced four winners of the ideas competition for Hovinbyen in Oslo. The jury describes it as a completely new type of transformation, where Oslo has an opportunity to go in front as a role model for Europe. At the conference "Reclaiming the Inner City Fringe» the planning and building authorities invited speakers from all over Europe to exchange ideas on urban transformation.
Ingrid Fallet, student at Oslo School of Architecture and Design, currently doing her diploma on the role of light rails in urban development.
Daniel Ewald, landscape architect MNLA, former editor and current board member of KOTE magazine.
Throughout the conference, there was heavy emphasis and enthusiasm on temporary interventions and its use in development areas. From Helsinki we saw temporary projects like container squares, cat festivals and the rebirth of public saunas. These projects were founded by the municipality, and have been successful in creating vibrant public spaces.
Ashford Ring Road in England, and the famous New York High Line, were shown as examples of how transformation of infrastructure can link neighbourhoods and create new urban qualities. Others include architectural coverup and/or highlighting necessary infrastructure, such as substations and sewage treatment facilities, as seen in the redevelopment of the London Olympic Park.
From Berlin, Elke Plate showed examples through an economic perspective of how the city holds on to its industrial heritage. One factory job gives four service jobs, she said, and is important for the city, both in terms of people working there and the resulting tax income. Relocating the industry facilities here was not strategically wise nor desired, as it is also a key identity of the city. As such, the facilities are instead incorporated with the urban redevelopment and referred to as elements of pride rather than shameful objects to be torn down and replaced.
Hovinbyen is laden with existing and former industrial sites, and aerial photos of this asphalt jungle were shown at the beginning of the conference, but the question remains - is it an absolute necessity to relocate all of the industry in order to create a more attractive urban centre?
Build upon identities
The topic of the second day of the conference was, by and large, “people first” - examples of participation, more on temporary interventions, and what creates identities in development areas. SLA’s temporary parklands in Fredrikshavn was a much admired example, supplemented by the speakers with examples from among others, Rotterdam and Copenhagen. Pilot projects which can give symbolic value, can be another way to create identity as shown by a humorous example with the Ill de Nantes mascot puppet elephant, which has become more or less the symbol of the craftsmanship and creative inhabitants of the island.
The message, not entirely new, but clear: Involving the citizens in the planning process is crucial for a successful outcome. We also need to account for lifestyles that we cannot foresee or plan for at the moment, maintaining an open mind as to how people will choose to live and work twenty years from now. A dynamic process, allowing for the unexpected - as such processes take time, both on the planning table and in the minds of the inhabitants as Professor Overmeyer pointed out.
"The city of the future is the city of the suburbs" states Wulf Daseking, professor at the University of Freiburg. The current suburbs also suffer from loss of identity: When you come into a city you should know where you are. If you are in the centre of Oslo, in Frankfurt or Copenhagen, you will. But would you be able to know your whereabouts if you avoided the city centre and went straight for the suburbs, where arguably most of the inhabitants live? Ask yourself, if you started out in Økern when first visiting Oslo, could you really tell it apart from the outskirts of any other city in northern Europe?
The masterplan is dead?
An important aspect pointed out for Hovinbyen, is to keep old industrial buildings and fill them with new context, not erasing history. Focusing on the diversity, with a variation in architecture, program and mixes of use. But how would we like to live in the future? Should we mix working and living in the same building?
“The masterplan is a dead word”, states David West, urban designer and founder of Studio Egret West. “Instead, draw a manifesto for change”, he proposed, “and concentrate on the high quality stitches which tie the city together. We need to look beyond boundaries, use narratives and encourage collective ownership.” The importance of designing processes, as opposed to the one and only final plan, was emphasised in West’s engaging talk and throughout the conference. And in the end - if everything fails, West reassures us: We are, in fact, not the final answer. Someone will come after us and change things.
Public transport system as the backbone
Flexibility, adaptable solutions, temporary interventions as well as freedom from the planning authorities to make bottom-up changes were all mantras throughout the conference. Flexibility may be the key, but some things also needs to stay fixed. Interestingly, one of the less discussed topics in the conference was among the most important: Establishing quality transport networks that will sustain through shifting dynamics and phenomena, which in many cases can be interpreted as urban development trends.
The first thing to do, states Professor Daseking, is to introduce a robust transport network inside the neighborhoods, such as “a tram as a green line in the middle of the street”. Why is this crucial? If you look at redevelopment projects such as Riesefeld in Freiburg, the tram was built before the housing - this way, the tram worked as a generator for investment in the area, securing independence from the car from day one. If public transport comes later, everyone is used to their car, and by then it’s a lot tougher convincing people to change their habits.
Back to Hovinbyen
The Masterplan of Oslo sees the possibility to accommodate between 50-60.000 people, and at least double the current number of employees in Hovinbyen. The competition gives visions for the future of the area. The planning starts now. In the years to come it will be crucial to evaluate and change the plan based on experiences from the development. We were encouraged to keep in mind that some things must be left to chance. Maybe the key is not to control it all. At the same time, there is a need to pull in one direction. The competition jury was challenged to collect the four winning teams and make them work together on a vision that combines the qualities of the winning entries - and when the smoke from the Hovin chimneys turns white and Pope De Vibe rolls out in her chair with the verdict, we will know what to expect.
And finally: Our projects are, as mentioned, not the last word. The next generation of planners will be the ones working with these areas in the future. Better to let them create the new qualities than to clear up old mess. Or let them create the new quality mess. In any case, take the risk. As Daseking pointed out: Those who have the best idea should do it!
For more information visit: http://byplanoslo.no/tema-hovinbyen