24th October 2019

My favourite street – Stephen O’Malley

Streets can be brilliant. An armature around which we all sculpt our lives. Their complexity and variety ranges from delight, vitality, opportunity for expression and contact with nature, through to places of frustration, with a foreboding sense of dread and exposure, with windows onto the lives of vulnerable citizens.

Streets are inherently conflicted, trying to reconcile the competing interests of movement and place. Our urban districts are founded on a sophisticated, highly evolved network of streets. Our urban life relies on this skeletal framework of routes to convey people in a multitude of forms, as well as freight, gas, electricity, data and drainage. They are expansive and everyone has a stake.

Our streets continue to evolve, and they need to change. People are making a positive choice to live in cities, bringing with them vitality and expectation. We continue to grapple with the impact of the digital world on our lifestyles, affecting how we shop, how we eat and how we live. Our outdated carbon heavy transport systems underpinning our sedentary lifestyles, have taken a toll on our physical and mental health, as well as contaminating the places we live. Part of this has affected our changing climate, with our weather patterns becoming more extreme.

For me, Rue Garabaldi in Lyon is one street that has undergone significant change in response to these drivers over the last 10 years. Garibaldi Street was conceived in the 1960s as an “urban highway.” It was there to facilitate car traffic in the city centre but the time of the ‘Queen car’ is now over and the requirements for layout and quality of life have changed. The four lane 800m Vauban-Bouchut section had a series of space hungry underpasses that were infilled and removed, reducing the amount of highways and repurposing the space for city life, such as walking, cycling and public transport, as well as trees, SuDS and habitat.

One of the masterstrokes was the repurposing of the obsolete underpass at the Lafayette hopper, which has been converted into a rainwater storage space at the heart of a new Sustainable Urban Drainage System network. At the corner  is the “Garibaldi-Bonnel”, the new square Paul Bocuse hall, completed in November 2016 . This new 4000 m² space is an esplanade dedicated to pedestrians. It is open and secure, with benches and tree planting. This new forecourt makes it easy to reach Boulevard Eugène-Deruelle, the shopping centre and the Part-Dieu train station. Access to the parking of the halls and its bicycle storage is improved. Taxi station rue de Bonnel and parking spaces for deliveries and coaches are also part of this redevelopment. So, what can the UK learn from this street? Very simply, It is change on this scale that is going to make the difference to our cities in the UK. It offers a completely different experience to people in the city, creating new space for nature to inhabit and providing contingency measures, in the form of nature based solution, to deal with climate change. This began in Lyon with the metropolitan districts publication of their ‘Tree charter’ in 1994. It’s quite clear we have some catching up to do!

My favourite street – Stephen O’Malley