Insular Urbanism in the Garden City?
Zurich is building itself anew: in the city’s residential districts dozens of housing developments are being demolished and replaced – often by buildings of exceptional quality; smaller new replacement buildings are already scattered throughout the entire urban area. Such replacements accelerate the process of social change, which is aﬀecting Zurich, like all other cities: the population is becoming younger, with more children, and more educated; socially weaker groups are losing out.
Designing an entire new housing development is a challenge of urban dimensions which, compared to cities with a more small scale property ownership structure, oﬀers unique potential. However, in Zurich this poten tial is not being suﬃciently exploited, as so far planning has always stopped at the plot bound ary. In this perspective the street, and with it the city, stands at the edge of the perimeter, whereas from an urban planning viewpoint it should be precisely the other way around! But to arrive at a view that would accept increased density as urbanization the prerequisites in terms of construction and planning legislation are lacking. As long as every new development is planned as an island in a vast archipelago nothing can be changed as regards the neglect of the greater whole.
We argue the case for a massive widening of planning horizons in the future: why not create planning zones for quarters in a state of change that would allow a certain coordination of the individual projects? And, are all the building regulations that date from the era of garden city concepts – front garden building lines, regulations about distances – still appropriate today? Given the density required do they not excessively restrict room for manoeuver at the cost of usable outdoor spaces? And what if district streets were planned as public open spaces extending from facade to facade and includ-ng the present-day front gardens? In the next twenty years the concern should be to develop not just strong settlements but also strong urban neighborhoods. In this regard much re mains to be done.
And we draw attention to the fact that a major part of the old and by now inexpen sive housing stock is urgently needed in the long term, so that older and younger people and lower earners can still ﬁnd their place in the city. It is desirable that a serious look should again be taken at gentle renewal without improvements to comfort levels – otherwise the city will grad ually lose its diversity and its soul. — Daniel Kurz