Sunday, June 10, 2007

Rheinufer Promenade, Dusseldorf

I arrive in Germany to sweeping rain and gusty winds. It’s a quiet Sunday morning, and my program coordinator for Germany has a car waiting to pick me up. The driver gets a glint in his eye when I say I’ve never ridden the Autobahn before. Before I know it, I’m strapped to my seat zipping at 200 kilometers an hour, much like a ride at Disney. What is even more exhilarating/nerve-wracking is to watch the other cars zip by. I find out later that Sunday mornings bring out every speedster and their favorite sports car!

My plan is to spend the next few days looking at brownfield redevelopment and riverfronts in the Ruhr region, a historic industrial area in the northwestern part of this country. Today this area is no longer the production mega-machine that it used to be. The next few days are likely to be very different from Spain where re-imagining places often include celebrity designers. I’m sure to see excellent design here, but what I am most interested in is to see ways in which the industrial culture of this region is revealed and celebrated.

Dusseldorf is my first stop, and I am eager to get to its riverfront- the Rhienufer Promenade.
The skies clear as I start. For years Dusseldorf’s waterfront was dominated by a huge highway, separating the city from its river. The Rhine is beautiful, not unlike the Delaware – a wide working river that has served as the economic spine of this area for centuries. It was in the 1990’s that local government, with the help of state and federal funding, decided to bury the highway and join the city to its river. From what I hear, as the project progressed resources ran thin. The architects had to scale back the grand promenade considerably from their original design. As a result the final results are simpler, yet very successful in reconnecting the river to people in many new ways.

With the highway along the river buried below the promenade, there is room along it for bikes, and rollerblading. Above, a number of restaurants and their colorful umbrellas attract locals and tourists at all hours of the day. Boat tours take tourists for scenic tours of the Rhine from here. The landscape is simple - a double row of topped London plane trees with benches between. Sloped lawns attract sun-bathers and provide a flat foreground in for better views of the river. This is where the lunch crowd congregates, watching people go by. Remnants of the working river give visitors reason to pause and remember. (Yes, there is graffiti everywhere!)The north section of the promenade reconnects Dusseldorf’s theatre and restaurant area. In the night, a beautifully lit pedestrian link connects to the river and is heavily used in the evenings.

A restaurant and theatre sits snugly under a big bridge that crosses over the Rhine, providing a positive use in a location that is often dark and dank. This anchor gives pedestrians a great connection between the north and south sections of the promenade.
The southern section of the waterfront is where a number of new media companies, museums and offices are located. A building by Frank Gehry shimmers in the sun. Funky art pops up everywhere. As does a floating box that contains a restaurant in the middle of the river! There are very few cars with direct access to the river, except for a few local and service lanes. Making the area pedestrian and bike friendly is what makes this riverfront a huge success. Cleaning the river has been a huge focus as well and canoes now dot the waters. Everyone meets at the riverfront, it seems. My lunch meeting with a local Eisenhower fellow is at the riverfront - how appropriate!


Anonymous said...

What a great blog! I enjoy reading about your travels and all that you're learning.

That underground highway system must be astounding to see first-hand. Based on feedback from the PHS-hosted "GreenPlan" meetings, I know a lot of Philadelphians would love to have such a system here. Do you think it's feasible?

Keep up the great work,


Maitreyi Roy said...

Hi! Glad you like the blog - it's fun to write as I go. It's easy to imagine that anything is possible while travelling! I think that both GreenPlan Philadelphia and the Central Delaware Waterfront planning process reveal great aspirations that we have for Philly. I'm an optimist and I hope that there are opportunities to implement some of this great thinking someday. Yet, I was recently at Duisburg where I saw the most amazing park on an old industrial site - much was accomplished without changing what was there before. Quite extraordinary! Best, Maitreyi