Is Geneva's bold new urban plan the solution?
David Winch, UN
Geneva is bursting at the seams. The key sectors that power the city finance and banking, high-value manufacturing, luxury goods and, last but not least, intergovernmental services are each among the most rapidly growing in the global economy.
As a result, Geneva land use is tight and traffic will invariably get heavier, say urban planners. Sweeping changes have to be made in the Palais des Nations area to harmonize development, increase public transport options and provide for the steady demand in office space. The citys response is wrapped under the deceptively bucolic title Jardin des Nations. Unknown to many staff at the UN, it is already in full swing.
Tram long overdue
For international civil servants, the endless tram-line construction since 2002 across the Rue de Lausanne, over the railroad bridge on Avenue de France and up to Place des Nations has the been most visible sign of change. Tram line 13 is scheduled to be finally completed this winter and may be whisking passengers to Cornavin for Christmas shopping. TPG bus route no. 28, which links the WTO building and Nations with the airport and Meyrin, is also part of the equation. These will be rounded out in 2004 by the opening of a new RER (regional express railway) station, called Sécheron, near the WTO and WMO buildings. The RER connections will eventually reach from Nyon, to Chambésy, across Geneva via Cornavin, and one day as far as Annemasse. In time, the Place des Nations traffic circle may be redesigned, from the current chaotic bump-and-honk, chase-the-pedestrian arrangement to a more smooth-flowing roundabout. The iconic Chair sculpture may be moved across the street to the broad ITU lawn. The goal is to keep traffic moving around the Nations area, and to accommodate the ever-growing numbers of UN, national-mission and NGO employees converging every day on an attractive quarter of Geneva. Improving public transportation is just one element of the Jardins des Nations project, which will try to integrate growth all the way from Lake Geneva to the airport tunnel and Ferney-Voltaire. An extended tram line, for example, may eventually reach the Ferney tunnel. Another key is decreasing stress on ill-suited 2- lane back roads, such as the Route de Colovrex, leading from France into the Nations area. This may be done through the construction of the Route des Nations an ambitious one-kilometre-long road-tunnel project, starting at the WHO building and emptying after Grand-Saconnex, near the autoroute. The budget for further studies is now at the debate stage, but if all goes well construction could begin by 2008, one city planner told UN Special. Some estimates project that such a tunnel could cut peak traffic in Prégny-Chambésy and the on the Route de Ferney by 50 per cent.
Other elements, in the plan coordinated by the City of Genevas urban planning and land use department (DAEL), together with Prégny-Chambésy and Grand-Saconnex, may include:
- closing the railway entrance at the back of the Palais des Nations to all but commercial deliveries, courier services, supplies and equipment;
- closing and moving the UN Tennis Club and the dilapidated temporary units of Sismondi College near Place des Nations, to be replaced by an office complex;
- ensuring that parking is proportionate but not so ample as to encourage car use;
- developing an attractive Cours des Nobel corridor from the UNAIDS building to the International School and the Ecumenical Centre.
The broad outlines of the Jardin des Nations project were approved in public consultations last winter, but political debate could be sparked in winter 2003-04 by several controversial elements. The most dramatic, and potentially the most jarring, element of the development is a series of office-tower complexes, 16-stories on average, up and down the Route de Ferney from Place des Nations to Grand-Saconnex.
In one plan, as many as 5 new towers are forecast by 2015 or so: one near the South Korean mission across from the Intercontinental Hotel; two complexes at the crest of the hill, adjacent to the World Council of Churches and the European Broadcast Union buildings, respectively; a large complex in Grand-Saconnex centre, close to Palexpo; and finally, one at Les Feuillantines, directly opposite the historic WIPO building.
This urbanization would be hard to miss on tree-lined Route de Ferney, which offers a slice of a verdant parkway in the centre of the city. Years of cranes and bulldozers await commuters along this route while the 225,000 sq. metres of new office space (twice the volume of the ILO building) are being built.
The approach of building high-rises to cope with demand is far from a consensus choice. A recent Tribune de Genève report on the Jardins des Nations options featured a debate between different green options : one architect fully endorsed the upward growth, arguing it saved farmland in the region; other urbanistes decried the effect of high-rises on the urban fabric of a smallish European city.
While decisions on the future of the tower projects have not yet been made, much of the Jardins des Nations project is already unfolding before our gates. UN staff need not be silent about such momentous changes to their neighbourhood.
David Winch (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an editor at UN Geneva .
* For a complete roundup of Jardin des Nations information, see the Geneva web site at: www.geneve.ch/jardindesnations.