Shopping for the Future in the Mariahilfer Strasse in Viennahttp://www.shapedscape.com/media/reviews/photos/original/44/8c/66/840-Mariahilfer-Strasse-copy-Ricky-Rijkenberg-1-6-47-1454408478.jpg
Initially, the Mariahilfer Strasse was an elegant shopping boulevard, but in the last decades it became very heavy with traffic. The City of Vienna decided to redevelop the street into an inviting, pedestrian friendly avenue. The design was commissioned to the Amsterdam based Bureau B+B urbanism and landscape architecture, together with the Viennese architects orso.pitro.
The 1,6 km long street is divided into three zones. Pedestrians rule the heart of the street. Local traffic, buses and suppliers are allowed in, but they have to behave like guests. Here people can stroll and linger freely. The two outer zones are designated 'shared spaces'. In the shared space principle, the street is considered to be a place to be, rather than a place to pass. Cars, bikes and pedestrians all use the same space, causing everybody to be more considerate.
It took some time for the people of Vienna to get used to the idea of shared space: Viennese are fond of driving and did not want to give up the convenience of speeding through the Mariahilfer Strasse. Shopkeepers were afraid business would slow down with driving and parking less easy. There even was a referendum about the new design. Prior to the referendum, the City organized information meetings, together with the designers. Prototypes of the new outdoor furniture were placed in a test setup on the street, so the inhabitants could experience the difference. In the end 53% voted in favor of the design.
Today the Mariahilfer Strasse is paved from facade to facade on a single level, using the granite from a nearby quarry. The street is divided into different zones by subtle lines in the pavement; a fast lane in the middle and slow lanes on the sides. The fast lane goes straight through the middle of the street, ignoring the curbs. This way, the slow lanes vary in width, creating natural city lounges on the broader spots. Here the outdoor furniture is placed: benches, water elements and planters with flowering trees. The city lounges are islands of tranquility in the lively shopping street. The Mariahilfer Strasse turned into a bustling boulevard where people can both shop and relax. Visitors, residents and shopkeepers are all very positive about the transformation. Business did not slow down: the laid back layout invites people to spend more time in the Mariahilfer Strasse, spending more money as a consequence.
A short history of shopping street design
While the people of Vienna had to get used to the idea of discouraging motorized traffic, the concept of course is not new. Bureau B+B has a long record of transforming city centers, dating back to 1977. Back then, it was very fashionable to ban cars from shopping streets. Modernistic urban design dictated a separation of functions. Bureau B+B believed this resulted in artificial and boring shopping streets, so they designed the so called 'shopping-erf' in Baarn (The Netherlands), where cars were tolerated in moderation. In 1987 Bureau B+B designed 'The healthy Core' for The Hague, in which they focused on the individual qualities of the main streets in the city center, creating coherence and identity at the same time. After this, many projects followed, from Hilversum, Maastricht and Nieuwegein in the Netherlands, to, most recently, the Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna.
Tailor made quality
The most important aspect of designing shopping streets is considering the context. Even though most shops are clones of a retail chain, the public space design has to be tailor made. Every location is unique, nobody wants all the shopping streets in Europe to look the same.
Authentic places with an unique local identity provide an attractive alternative to internet shopping and shopping malls. By investing in high quality public space, city centers can compete with all the other possible leisure activities.