One year ago, Kathrin Krell was tasked with closing several streets to motor vehicles over the summer, when the number of cars decreases in Zurich.
Wondering about the best way to do this, one day she came across a folder at her office in the city council.
It contained information of an initiative that had never been implemented before: ‘Time Management Public Space’ was its rather longwinded name. Krell read the documents and the studies that had been conducted. The results seemed to envision a promising and still relevant idea. In addition, she was aware of other calls for more public places for people to meet, from political and popular levels, but also as a result of the increasing densification of Zurich. So she gathered civil servants and told them: “Let’s make this concept real!”
And the project was reborn as ‘Brings uf’d Strass’ -Bring it to the street.
The hidden value of the streets
Using valuable public space for roads and cars is something people have grown used to. However, that space could have different uses. What if streets close for traffic so neighbours can enjoy close-to-home outdoors activities? We could use that public space to host a meeting point, as a place for activities, an improvised park, beer terrace or a workshops space. In fact, so long as the local community can agree, the uses of that space seem quite endless.
Rather than applying this concept to well-known areas in the centre, as initially envisioned, Krell trialled it on a smaller scale so as to better measure success, choosing just three streets to begin with.
“The main goal was to show the quality streets can have as public spaces besides carrying traffic,” explains Kathrin Krell, who became ‘Brings ufd Strass’ Project Manager.
The streets were closed to motor vehicles for five weeks, and the results speak for themselves.
Meet the next-door neighbour
The residents gathered outside around tables with food. Associations organised a gardening workshop. “We didn’t plan it, but there was an initiative from two different associations that wanted to provide that possibility. We helped them with the material, and they organised neighbours that had the equipment to water the plants,” says Krell.
A giant chessboard was set up. Boxes with card games, boules, and balls were made available on the street. Drawing sets and ping pong tables were borrowed from local schools.
And there was an even wider snowball effect: an artist showed up, creating outdoor sculptures, local shops brought their stands outside, and restaurants added a summer terrace for customers. Bars that had turned into takeaway places were back to setting tables outside. A bike shop established a pumping station, and a silent disco even set up shop.
To deal with the summer heat, residents adapted. In one street, a fire hydrant was made available to refresh the space and play with water. An open space also hosted benches and surfaces for sunbathing.
“And we had the studio Konrad, where you could go and make your furniture for the street,” adds Krell.
Somebody that was often in Studio Konrad was Elio Fistarol. He is a student living on Konradstrasse, one of the streets in the initiative. This street, he explains, focussed on building and carpentry, whereas the others were hosting games and other types of activities. “They put out a container with tons of wood, and you could go there and build something you dreamt of.”
Every Wednesday, professional carpenters came over. “You could tell them what you wanted to do, and they’d help you along your building process.” Studio Konrad helped inspire local artisanry, creating tables and chairs, as well as other ready-to-use items such as football goals. Once ready, the residents would use them for breakfast or diner together. “You build for a purpose. I am biased because I am young, and I like to build stuff,” comments Elio, “but I found it absolutely great,” concludes Fistarol.
Rated as a positive experience
Residents on one of the streets considered had thought they already had easy access to an enjoyable public space, because they are situated next to a green space. However, they realised something: as neighbours they weren’t talking to each other in the park, whereas they did in the street during the summer.
Krell mentions other fears, such as the project leading to more noise and littering, even when it came to the silent disco. “This was a big fear before it started: that it would be some tourism. That on Saturday evening people go out in these streets and residents would have to deal with a lot of littering and noise and so on. But this didn’t happen.”
Krell doubts the Covid19 pandemic has had a relevant impact on the optimistic opinion residents may have of the project, but instead, it goes back further in time. “For a long time, probably more than ten years, people like to go outside more, and they use the public spaces different than they did in the 90s.”
A factor that may have contributed to the success is the average number of cars. In particular, Rotwandstrasse and Konradstrasse register fewer vehicles than the third street Fritschistrasse, and lower than Zurich’s average of one car every second household. On the other hand, one of the biggest areas of opposition to the project comes from the need of residents to find alternative parking spaces for their cars for its duration.
Bring it to the street Second Edition
Despite finding a place to park being a challenge, the overall feedback was positive. 66% of the people chose ‘I liked it, and I would do it again in my street’ or ‘I do, but I don’t want it again in my street’, over ‘I don’t like it.’
“People are starting to see streets differently, and we get more and more questions like ‘why so many parking lots?’, ‘Couldn’t we use them differently?’, ‘We want more green’, ‘We want to live more outside,’ ” comments Krell.
Zurich city council has already started to search for new streets for summer 2022. This time, including a few changes to make it even better. The replication started by involving neighbourhoods’ associations in the Swiss city. Also, they will implement it on different streets.
Any area can be good to show residents leveraging public spaces to engage in activities together. “Definitely, keep doing more of them,” states Fistarol.
“Our goal is that the people who live in these streets or work in these streets benefit,” concludes Krell.