Category Archives: Planning

Lunch in Graf Wilhelm Platz: Solingen

Graf Wilhelm Platz area in Solingen ticks a lot of boxes when it comes to town centres. First, it has an attractive bus terminal area (more on this below). It also has a town square, used as a market place for entry-level retailers, in addition to which there is a car-free on-street retail area (Alter Markt), an open mall (Muhlenplatz), and very good enclosed mall (Hofgarten). The city itself is known as the “City of Blades”, and is the centre of the German cutlery industry; about 90% of the German cutlery industry is located in Solingen. The name of the city was protected by law 1938. This makes Solingen the first city in the world to protect its name and products.

Photo from https://mapio.net/pic/p-20271125/

The Graf-Wilhelm-Platz bus transport centre serves 6 trolleybus and 16 standard bus routes, with a good number of these routes overlapping into neighbouring cities, making it very easy to get to. It provides the heartbeat for the centre of Solingen.The traffic passing through the transport centre is on a double road, similar to a train station (but it works without the tracks and synchronized switch points). There is a three-leg roundabout at the southern end, with one leg being a double road, with a cross-over where it connects with the roundabout. Basically this creates an unusual entry/exit to the roundabout, which works. At the Northern end again there is also a cross-over, plus three pedestrian crossings (see drawing below). The magic here is that there are so many conflict points along these bus stop areas/routes, but humans driving and walking in this area can and do adapt to this example of ‘good confusion.’

Now back to the start of this post about this town centre ticking a lot of boxes. Walking through both Alter Markt and Muhlenplatz there were many empty shops. In Muhlenplatz the local art community is trying to full this space with art displays, but it felt like art for the sake of art. Sadly this doesn’t feel like it is revitalising the city centres.

To finish, here is some population data on Solingen. In 2012 the city had 158,908 residents (down from 177,899 in 1971)  and a population density of about 1,800 people per km2. Looking at the local population density near the city centre, in 2015 the Solingen-Mitte district had 41,836 residents in an area of 12.51 km2, giving a density of 3,344 people per km2. This is similar to a number of places in Hamilton, when looking at census unit area data (see link).

I only visited this city for a few hours; the Hofgarten mall and transport area was nice and busy, but my visit was too short to understand why other parts of the city were under-performing (Note: rain and cold is normal and does not change the feel of city centres).

 

The problem in Solingen looks short term, most German cities work really well and Solingen should also. This link is good example of what the future looks like for Solingen. Solingen, the City of Blades – Business location for your future

HK Lamma Island build height

In Thomas More’s Utopia, ‘their houses are three storeys high’. The town of Yung Shue Wan, on Lamma Island, Hong Kong, allows ‘a maximum building height of 3 storeys (9m)’. The town has a population of approximately 6,000 people, living in an area of something like 8 ha (0.08 km2), which gives it a population density of around 7,500 people per km2.

The Hamilton district plan allows a 10m build height throughout the city, and our population density is about 1,500 people per km2. So based on no change to the build height, the Hamilton population could increase 2 to 3 times without needing to open up more land on its edges for housing. Hamilton could have a population of close to half a million, without change to existing height limits. The fact that Hong Kong has the world’s seventh highest life expectancy (New Zealand is 17th) suggests that living in higher density places maybe good for us.

Height limits are important in keeping a city to a human scale. Hong Kong’s cities are big, but Lamma Island allows trees to have an equal place in the landscape. Also, the protection of the green belt plays a major role in keeping the city liveable. On Lamma Island over 330 hectares are zoned as Green Belt. I’ll let notes from their zoning plan (no. s/i-li/9 page 54) explain.

‘The planning intention of this [green belt] zone is primarily for defining the limits of development areas, to preserve existing well-wooded hill slopes and other natural features, as well as to provide passive recreational outlets for the local population and visitors. There is a general presumption against development within this zone. Development within this zone will be strictly controlled and development proposals will be considered on individual merits taking into account the relevant Town Planning Board Guidelines.’

What also keeps the island peaceful is that the main method of getting around is on foot or by bicycle (there are no cars). This makes visiting here very pleasant, especially coming from the busy streets of Hong Kong Island and the drive to Auckland.

Reference: Benchmarking of medium size cities population density