B401 The city highway reinvented, 2019


Article extract, by Kobe Boussauw (Vrije Universiteit Brussel – Cosmopolis Center for Urban Research), Oscar Broeckhoven (51N4E), Koen Van Den Troost (Tractebel). Originally published in Ruimte Issue number 42.

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Support for large-scale road infrastructure in densely populated areas is declining, and this argument is strongly present in a number of ongoing debates about the future of existing urban highways. In Ghent, this led to an exploratory spatial study into the future of the B401 viaduct.

Through a participatory process, a proposal for the transition of the B401 viaduct was developed, based on the premise that the transformation of the viaduct will not come about through a new 'wharf of the century'. This transition method does not simply follow the path of least resistance, but is a way of making the project futureproof, in the sense that unexpected evolutions can be absorbed. This incremental approach presupposes an open learning trajectory, with space, time and stakeholders as preconditions. The proposed transition could start immediately with minimal interventions, temporary arrangements, experiments and test phases. In this way the B401 becomes a laboratory for the city: a place where new initiatives and new forms of urban life can be tested.

The spatial framework that structures this transformation is quite specific: dimensions and locations are examined, profile studies define widths and routes are determined on the basis of local opportunities. This framework is a steering instrument and at the same time flexible enough to respond to new questions and needs throughout the transition process. [...] Experiments within new partnerships between public and private actors, inhabitants and governments, start-ups and established values can feed current dynamics and, after evaluation, they can be given a more permanent place on the viaduct or elsewhere in the city.

It goes without saying: the transformation of large-scale road infrastructure from the past must provide additional qualitative urban space. Just as the construction of the viaduct entailed the demolition of a section of the city, its redevelopment must strengthen the urban fabric.