Thursday, 1 January 2009

Assen is 750 years old

750 years ago, some time around 1258, a new location was needed for the Maria in Campis monastery. A village and then a town grew up around this location, which was named Assen.

200 years ago, in 1809, city rights were granted by Lodewijk Napoleon, brother of the more famous Boneparte, who was King of Holland at the time.

Why is this of interest in a cycling blog ? I have often heard British people excusing less than excellent accommodation for bicycles on the grounds that British cities are too old to have been designed for bicycles. I've even known Americans make similar excuses, somehow imagining that Dutch cities were all razed to the ground in the 1990s and rebuilt around cycle paths. They weren't. Dutch cities are every bit as old as British cities and generally much older than American cities, or indeed than the United States of America itself. Of course, some have been changed dramatically and others are amongst the newest cities in the world and have only existed since the latter half of the 20th century. However, either way, bicycles are part of the transport policy.

Assen is an example of an older city. The centre has existed since long before either bicycles or cars were invented and as the city continues to expand quickly, the planning style dates from every time between 750 years ago and "right now". The city centre was not designed around bicycles, nor around cars for that matter, but nevertheless it is now wonderful for cycling and also for walking. This could also be seen as a good example of how to accommodate cyclists well in a "pedestrianized" space.

Back in the 1950s and 60s, even the early 70s, motor vehicles were king. Streets in the centre of the city looked much as in the first photo, which was taken in the mid 1960s. Note the narrow pavements and lack of specific space for bicycles. The city had been given over to the motor vehicle.

Move along to 2007 and the same street looks like the second photo. This second view is of the city which was attractive enough that we decided to make it our home.

The street is only for use by motor vehicles at specific times of the day and then for access only. This is an example of the action that has been taken in Assen to transform it into a bicycle, and human, friendly space. It didn't happen by chance, but was deliberately engineered. As there has been some confusion about this, please note that this is (thankfully) not shared space. It's closed to motor vehicles except for access at particular times of the day. A second revolution on the streets made this possible.

If you live somewhere which is less pleasant to cycle around and would like to see it transformed as this city has been, come on one of our study tours, or send your elected representatives.

Another blog post shows what it is like to cycle to this city centre and another is about the type of policy which brought this about.

These, and several more comparative photos, came from the book "Assen Verandert", which I reviewed a while back. The picture at the top is from an advert in the local paper giving details of the Burgemeester's new year presentation on the 5th of January.

2 comments:

melancholic optimist said...

I think the big problem in American cities is not so much that the infrastructure was developed before bicycles, but that it was developed specifically for cars, in a lot of cases. Portland is certainly an example of that (especially outside the main city center, which is older and was probably designed for horse carts).

Thankfully there's at least starting to be a lot of talk about changing that in places, so hopefully the talk will turn into action. At least it's nice to know that city government is very interested in doing so.

njh said...

It's hard to believe they really the same location! The buildings are different, the road width is different (in the first it diverges towards the camera) the building on the left has been changed and the end of the street is completely invisible. It's amazing what 40 years can do to a streetscape. But I think I prefer the look of the buildings in the 60s photo.