The Union of the Baltic Cities: Seminar Örebro

As I wrote before, Örebro is working on redeveloping a north-south corridor that leads through its core (pullsåderprojektet). This corridor consists mostly of a railway and big road that runs parallel to it. Several departments of the city’s planning office have done studies related to this redevelopment. They have looked at, for instance, what to do with the railway: have it in a tunnel, elevate it, or leave it at the same level.

Our workshop area: the southern part of the traffic corridor in Örebro. In this picture the right side is north.

Our workshop area: the southern part of the traffic corridor in Örebro. In this picture the right side is north.

To gain more inspiration for their project, Örebro hosted a Union of the Baltic Cities (UBC: a cooperation of cities in the Baltic region on the exchange of knowledge on planning and related issues) seminar, where the redevelopment of the area was the central theme. Planners, architects, environmental experts, and all sorts of chairs and directors, gathered for several days in Örebro to work hands on with the challenges that the city is facing. I also had the privilege to participate, because I have been working on a project in Örebro.  

The conference had a busy schedule and the days were planned from 08:00 till 23:00. Interesting presentations were held to get everyone more familiar the context of Örebro’s planning reality. The city architect Peder Hallkvist and the traffic engineer Anna Kero introduced us to current projects and took us on a guided tour through the project area.

In addition to this, other speakers, such as Tobias Nordström (Spacescape), Charlotta Johansson (Luleå University), Fredrik Eliasson (Regional transportation office), and Sofia Westerlund & Mårten Setterblad (Nyréns Architects), presented their research and projects that were related to the project we came for.

Analyses made by Spacescape, about the bicycle and pedestrian street network. Download their full report here (Swedish)

Analyses made by Spacescape, about the bicycle and pedestrian street network. Download their full report here (Swedish)

After being completely updated about the current situation, it was time to get to work. We took part in workshops, trying to come up with practical ideas. The participants were divided into four groups, each of which covering a different part of the corridor. I participated in workshop area 2, an area which covered a central part of the city around the southern train station.

In total we had five hours to make a plan for our area. Considering the fact that we did not have so much time to lose, we decided to walk for two hours through our area, because we thought it would be best if we would experience the area first hand. While walking, we were constantly discussing the area and brainstorming about possible solutions. At this time my study about the barrier effect was not yet finished, and because I was working in a group the outcome of the workshop is not at all linked to my study on the barrier effect.

During the other two and a half hours we used to merge all our ideas and draw them up for the final presentation. Our plan was based on four pillars, which together were supposed to decrease the impact of the railway as a barrier, enhance the integration between East, West, North and South, and do so while trying to minimize costs.

The four pillars of our plan

The four pillars of our plan

One of our ideas, The Green and the Blue Corridor, was to take the two most visible physical barriers in the city and transform them into places that would bring people together. The idea behind the Green Corridor was to transform the current unused railway tracks, which are situated along railway tracks that are still in use, and make it into a park. The area of the unused tracks is wide enough to create a nice walking environment with green spaces, while still maintaining a safe distance to the active tracks. As inspiration for this new park we used the High Line Park in New York, which is a green space on unused elevated subway tracks.

The wide unused strip of land next to the used train tracks

The wide unused strip of land next to the used train tracks

We came up with the Blue Corridor during our trip through the area. We tried to follow the river as far as we could, only to be blocked by the railway. A huge detour led us back to the river and into a little park that at the moment is quite isolated, as it lays between the river and the railway, there is no natural flow through this park. However, when following the river even further its banks turn into a park which continues far outside the city.

We felt that it would be nice for both residents and tourists to be able to walk along the river side, as this would allow them to walk from inside the city centre right into the park area.

Besides opening the new space, that would be created by using the old rail tracks, for the public, we also planned new houses, offices, parking facilities and a tunnel so wide that it should feel as a square.

Our final Pillar was public participation, which should help plan attractions in the newly developed park area. It should help answer the question: what attracts people to this new park in order for it to become a vibrant area? The city could come up with ideas to kick-start these brain storm sessions: an integrated bicycle lane for connecting the north and south, a playground, skate park, open-air art exhibitions, and/or whatever they come up with.

The ideas developed during this short workshop are, of course, not intended as fully developed plans ready for implementation. No, they function as inspirational mechanisms, as they force outsider professionals to look at a development with a fresh pair of eyes. In addition, local planners can exchange knowledge with planners who have been dealing with similar projects in their own cities. This exchange of knowledge and ideas did not only take place during the discussions after the presentations, but, maybe even more so, during the many informal conversations at the lunches and dinners.

Written by Sascha Benes. Follow him on Twitter, Linkedin and .