It’s fantasy Bucharest time again.
The city council last week announced a whole range of projects designed to make the Romanian capital even more amazingly wonderful than it already is. Central to the project are plans to make a number of the streets in the city centre pedestrian-only, including Strada Academiei, Piata Lahovari and parts of Bulevardul Unirii and Strada Brezoianu. Much of Calea Victoriei will be closed to traffic at the weekend, and two pedestrian bridges will link the Old Town area with the other side of the Dambovita river. As many as six new underground car parks – including one underneath Strada Nicolae Tonitza in the Old Town and another underneath Piata Walter Maricineanu at the entrance to Cismigiu Gardens – are also being proposed.
Indeed, so many proposals are there that it would take quite some time to go through all of them. (If you have the time and the inclination you can view all of the documentation relating to the plans on the council’s website, via this rather thorough if complicated map). We, meantime, have taken a look at a few of the more interesting ideas.
Parc Izvor – Pod Mihai Voda (Project 1 on our map)
One of the most ambitious ideas is the construction of a huge, square, raised walkway for both pedestrians and bikes across the Dambovita. It will link Izvor Park (that’s the one next to Casa Poporului) with the western end of Strada Lipscani (where the Holocaust Memorial is).
The bridge will named Pod Mihai Voda: the name, apparently, of a bridge which crossed the river in much the same place before being destroyed in the 1980s. Of all the projects that were announced last week, this is probably the one we would most like to see happen. It will not play havoc with the traffic on the splai (unlike others, see below) and will create a rather attractive and practical feature in an area of Bucharest that is too often forgotten, overawed as it is by the Casa Poporului.
Parc Sfintii Apostol – Podul Calicilor (Project 2)
Another bridge, this time at surface level, linking Strada Selari with the Palace of Justice and the park behind it. It looks lovely in the mock-ups but we see a huge potential problem. The embankment (splai) on the south side of the river is, at this point, one of the busiest roads in Bucharest. There is nowhere for the traffic to be diverted, meaning that any pedestrians wanting to use the bridge to get to the park will have to play a rather dangerous game of chicken once on the other side. If the bridge is used in any large numbers traffic will simply grind to a halt, with tailbacks likely as far as Grozavesti. We can’t see this one happening, especially as there is already a bridge just a few metres further east.
Sala Palatului (Project 3)
While we agree in principle, you only have to look at what has happened to Piata Universitatii for a vision of Sala Palatului’s future. The council needs to convince us that ‘pedestrianise’ isn’t just code for ‘cover with concrete and then neglect.’
Bulevardul Unirii (Project 4)
We have in the past disagreed with proposals to pedestrianise the Unirii, and we do not see this plan being much different. In brief, traffic will still run on Unirii, but will be pushed to the side, the central section being turned into a kind of long park, and opened to pedestrians. While creating a pleasant promenade from Piata Unirii up to Casa Poporului might well be a winner on paper (the mock-ups look lovely) we do not see it rejuvenating or reinvigorating what is a ghost town. But we could be wrong.
Calea Victoriei (Project 5)
There are two proposals for Calea Victoriei. The first is to reduce the number of traffic lanes in the northern part to two (allowing for the pavement to be widened: as anyone who has walked Calea Victoriei will know, in some places there isn’t any pavement at all). The second is to close the street to traffic altogether at weekends. Both are sound ideas, and, we might add, only made possible by the recent reopening of the controversially widened Strada Berzei/Uranus. Maybe Hala Matache didn’t die in vain…
Of course, how many of these projects will actually get off the ground remains to be seen. All are currently at the public scrutiny stage, and we have no doubt that some will join the projects in this post about the Bucharest that never was. Even those which are completed may end up doing more harm than good: the city council’s track record over the past few years in this department is poor. You only have to look at how badly the ambitious plans for Piata Universitatii and Bulevardul Magheru were executed to be fearful of seeing yet more expanses of concrete and nothingness appearing in the city centre.
We will indeed believe it all when we see it.