Transforming cities, developing societies.
Migrating population, abandoned expanse.
Unused urban space, gaps in the built environment, forgotten spaces. Abandoned spaces are a part of every city. They mostly depict the city’s historical wounds, in the form of ruins or abandoned buildings, but can also be beautiful spaces lost with time. The Bhangarh Fort in Rajasthan and the ruins of the Vijayanagara empire fall into the former category, while the city of Fatehpur Sikri and Machu Picchu of the Incan civilization confirms the latter.
Economic, environmental, and political decisions often lead to the formation of unused spaces, mostly industrial, where physical space is vacated. On the other hand, the social and technological development of cities causes buildings and structures to lose their original purpose. Our desire to think beyond the present may make some activities and thus spaces, redundant.
However, these spaces have a high potential to be integrated into the urban community with a little transformation, depending on their location. An unused railway track, for example, can be converted into a green corridor connecting two different parts of a city.
Neglected to Vibrant | Tramway
Urban vibrancy depends on the quality of public spaces throughout the city that caters to people. The largest share of public space are streets, ironically being the most neglected and unused parts of the city. Almost 70% of the streets are dedicated to automobiles, leaving only 30% for the people. Out of this percentage, most spaces are left abandoned, turning them into dark, dingy, and unsafe spaces as opposed to cheerful spaces of informal interaction and coincidental meetings.
Vibrant urban parks, squares, sidewalks, and lanes provide spaces for leisure and exercise, as well as boosting the local economy. The Cheonggye Stream Park in Seoul, South Korea proves exactly this. Built in 2005, the space was successful in restoring vegetation, improving air quality, and creating a healthy and attractive environment for the people of Seoul. Once a neglected space, the stream park now hosts street fairs and cultural festivals, enhancing the local economy.
Conversion of abandoned tramway to urban parks has environmental benefits as well. When urban spaces include greenery, an ecosystem of indigenous natural life can be created in the built environment. This in turn increases urban resilience allowing the urban society to connect with natural life.
Abandoned parts of a city provide us with an opportunity to make cities denser, with more livable areas, with better public transportation and better aesthetics, while reducing environmental impact. Former empty spaces can acquire a purpose previously unfulfilled in the locality. Shortage of residential areas can be addressed, especially to accommodate the rising number of people migrating to urban areas.
Developing a dense city with car-free areas improves livability, by encouraging impromptu interactions and informal meetings. Reconstructing or repurposing abandoned areas contributes to the aesthetics of the city as well, eliminating collapsing structures, trash-filled areas, and potential dump yards.
A well-designed urban park is like a safety valve for a city, a breathing space for people. It not only boosts energy levels but is also a source of civic pride, making people feel more connected to their city and its culture. On the other hand, a poorly planned or badly maintained urban park can become a dangerous and fearful place, repelling people and their interactions.
Torino Stratosferica: Abandoned Tramway to Vibrant Urban Park
Who could guess, a 700 meter, abandoned tramway would become Turin’s newest green space? The former tramway was handed over to the cultural association Torino Stratosferica for temporary conversion. In 2020, the green strip was approved as a public space for a few months to give respite to people in the covid-19 pandemic situation. It provided space for outdoor recreation with social distancing.
The urban park was named Precollinear Park, after the Precollina neighborhood in which it is sited. It unites four neighboring districts, over two sections- one section over the bridge and another tree-lined strip in the middle of Corso Gabetti.
Torino Stratosferica’s urban park has now become a permanent attraction due to its success as a recreational space as well as an outdoor event venue, classroom, and exhibition space. The 1980s saw the construction of a light railway line. But this was closed as the new vehicles were too long for the existing platforms. The abandoned tram was thus converted to an urban park. Through this conversion, Turin also emphasized how emergency pandemic adaptation can become a valued community fixture.
A big part of the tramway was already shaded by mature trees, with thick wild grasses occupying the central reservation. The challenge for Torino Stratosferica was to convert this overgrown space into a usable and interesting space for the public.
The Precollinear Park is equipped with wooden seating, bright yellow benches, and flower pots. A zig-zag path highlights the sloping land, leading to a small platform set up for events. A yellow container has been installed, serving as a storage space, bar, and information booth. All these were painted yellow to maintain a uniform tone. Colorful installations adorn trees, honoring a late friend of the Torino Stratosferica association.
The park was reopened in summer as a public park to house an open-air exhibition on potential urban transformations for the city of Turin. More than 700 residents participated in the project development process, collaborating and sharing their thoughts and ideas. The crowdfunding campaigns successfully raised over 2500 euros! With the park establishing its permanence, several exhibitions and workshops are being planned. Additional design implementations are also being thought of to upgrade the urban park. Plans to plant the edges of the strip with cooling, carbon-absorbing bamboo are in place.
Torino Stratosferica’s Precollinear Park proves how cities and private organizations can convert unused, abandoned spaces into enjoyable and safer ones, without spending too much. If the focus is on the community’s values, needs, and potential, public spaces promoting the happiness and well-being of people can be beautifully created.