September 23, 2021

Motorways to Waterways: The Utrecht Moat

The Utrecht City Moat is the Cheonggyecheong* of Europe – the demolition of an underused motorway for an historically significant waterway.  The result, opened in 2016, is dramatic:

The mid-70s motorway meant to feed traffic into the city centre was another example of the excesses of motordom: vastly overscaled and essentially unneeded.

Traffic now has only one lane in each direction, which turned out to be enough.

It took four decades to convince local government to restore the moat. The story is here:


*Cheonggyecheon is the nine-kilometre restoration of an historically important river covered over for an elevated freeway – and now one of the jewels of Seoul:

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  1. How are the Dutch so much more emotionally mature than us in North America that they are able to both acknowledge and undo these types of past errors? Is it the beer?

  2. Why do such projects even get off the ground?
    How do we calculate the damage that they cause?
    What do we believe about the reparations needed?
    Can we hold ourselves to zero damage in the future?

  3. I agree that we are where we are. What I think about however, is that the urban renewal project under discussion produced a massive spike in carbon emissions beginning with the first demolitions, the highway construction and operation, the deconstruction of the project after one kilometer of construction, and then the final reconstruction as an urban water course and green space. Today when faced with such archeological elements of the city our actions going forward will require us to accept these elements for what they are and incorporate them into new constructions rather than needlessly remove them. For example, the design brief might have stated: remove vehicles from this zone, imagine affordable living inner city walking village, with open air markets, trades and crafts working there, green spaces and public squares, max three story building strictly enforced, all construction maximizing the use of renewable materials, locally generated renewable energy supplies, all residential units family oriented with an attached studio flat. Please note, removal of exiting construction is not allowed.

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