Urban Transformation around European High-Speed Rail Stations: "Star-chitecture"
A GMF blog post by Ben Adler in September 2009 discussed the economic potential of high-speed rail, citing governmental and business leaders in Strasbourg, France, who agreed that their area had benefitted from the “High-Speed Rail Effect,” a host of civic advantages that can result from, or arrive alongside, new High-Speed Rail (HSR) service. These effects include attraction of new businesses, increases in tourism, and investment in local transportation infrastructure such as light rail or metro that serves the train station.
I am currently in Europe completing a German Marshall Fund Comparative Domestic Policy Fellowship, where I’ve been investigating examples of the HSR Effect. After nearly 30 years of HSR in France, and its rapid expansion over the past decade in Spain, Italy, and other areas, there are many examples of the ability of HSR station projects to stimulate urban renovation and economic growth. The HSR Effect has been generated most successfully when urban planners and politicians use policy tools and design principles to coordinate economic development, local transportation investment, and housing and commercial development.
In some cities, new train stations with high-speed service are being built as iconic architectural attractions. In much the same way the so-called ‘Guggenheim effect’ is credited with transforming Spain’s Bilbao through the iconic Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, a few HSR stations have been designed by some of the world’s most famous architects. These stations strive to create a new identity for a revitalized neighborhood, or even the city as a whole.
Calatrava also designed the beautiful Oriente Station in Lisbon, the Stadelhofen in Zurich, and the HSR station at the airport in Lyons, France. Of his newest station, Calatrava said, “It was my goal to create a 21st century transportation facility that would not only unite Liège with the rest of Europe, but would also serve as a symbol of the city’s renewal. The project, as a whole, creates a new gateway into Liège and re-establishes a relationship with the city.”
While great architecture alone is not sufficient to generate the HSR Effect and transform areas around rail stations, at its best it can improve the experience of large numbers of travelers and change the reputation of cities.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.