#movingcity - More is better: the accessible, polycentric city
The challenge: a buzzing centre with sleepy suburbs
Since the turn of the 21st century, more and more of the population growth in the Netherlands has been happening in and around the large cities of the Randstad. But cities like Groningen, Zwolle, Arnhem, Nijmegen, Amersfoort, Haarlem and Eindhoven are also growing fast. A shortage of space is compelling densification but also making these cities lively and attractive places, each with a highly accessible centre. Main railway stations offer a wide range of mobility options, from international trains to public bicycles. The Station area in Leiden (image right) is an example of such a development. At the same time, vitality at the cities’ edges, in the suburbs, is decreasing. Residents of these areas are more inclined to rely on their cars for daily transportation; after all, they’re parked just outside. In addition, the motorway is often closer than the station. However, continuing growth on the city fringes is reaching a tipping point, creating new opportunities. Peripheral neighbourhoods have become so fully fledged in terms of services and population that they can function as city centres in their own right.
The solution: hubs as nodes in a polycentric city
If we take a fresh look at the urban structure, the advantages of having multiple centres become apparent. Together, these mini-downtowns can form a well-connected network that guarantees easy access to recreational opportunities, educational institutions, medical services and other functions necessary for a healthy, sustainable life. No longer do we all need to focus on a single city centre: the way is clear for the polycentric, 15-minute city. Paris is a leading 'ville du quart d’heure' (image right). And in the Netherlands, Utrecht is actually aiming to become a 10-minute city. This hyperlocal approach creates cities that are not only livable but also sustainable. After all, a polycentric system prioritises slow and therefore clean traffic.
New mobility hub typologies will play a key role in this shift. These go beyond well-known types like park-and-ride locations and railway stations, which serve mainly as places to transfer from one means of transport to another. The new types of hub offer a wide range of shared mobility modes as well as services like shops and social functions, making them ideal nodes within “peripheral centres”. As such, they can drive improvement in an area. Logistics hubs currently used only for transshipment can take on a more important role in a neighbourhood by expanding their focus in this way. By housing multiple functions under one roof, they can bring new appeal to currently dormant areas. This can be especially valuable in areas suffering from socioeconomic deprivation and/or transport poverty. The latter is present where residents have few means of mobility to choose from, for instance because transport services are limited or nonexistent, or because connections are inadequate, making travel inevitably time-consuming. Transport poverty makes it difficult for people to participate in social activities.
When mobility hubs "new style" are incorporated into a city in this way, they are not a goal in themselves but a means, as part of a broader transformation strategy. They will not only help to realise the city’s mobility ambitions but also contribute to inclusivity, public space and the energy transition. Clustering parking and enabling people to switch to shared mobility will allow for the redesign of current parking areas, creating room for densification and greenery, for example. As such, hubs can drive improvement in an area. Moreover, differentiating mobility hubs into types – neighbourhood, district, public transport junction, private, and regional – allows the city to make appropriate choices in every location with regard to various aspects. Together these hubs make up a well-connected network of smaller city centres.
The advent of the new polycentric model raises the question of how these junctions will be distributed across a city. The fact that cities are largely already designed makes it extra-complex to add in hubs serving a mix of transport modes. Doing so will mean transforming the existing city. To get a clear picture of how it might be done, we researched the spatial integration and impact of hubs in suitable prewar neighbourhoods on behalf of the five largest Dutch cities (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht and Eindhoven). One conclusion: a hub strategy needs to start with the entire network to be effective. A single hub in isolation adds little; what’s important is the system as a whole. Accessibility is best served through a network of lots of small hubs rather than a few large ones. A network of mobility hubs can create “superblocks” in the urban structure, enabling the restriction of traffic on 70% of streets. Hubs will accommodate shared cars, bikes and scooters, which will facilitate travel between local centres along larger arterial roads.
The traditional monocentric city model – a single centre surrounded by suburbs – is ripe for an overhaul. Peripheral areas are full of opportunities for shifting to a polycentric network that will make the 15-minute city a reality. There are preconditions, however: these hyperlocal neighbourhoods will have be able to serve residents’ everyday needs, and accessibility to, from and within them will have to be well organised. Mobility hubs provide a solution in both cases. Offering a mix of transport modes, they will function as infrastructural nodes in a travel network, enabling residents to get around quickly and efficiently. The new types of hubs will also serve as neighbourhood meeting places, which will attract additional services and buzz. Hence, mobility hubs are the centres where urban accessibility and livability come together.
["Tomorrow I'm gonna rent a bicycle"]