NEW LIFESTYLE FOR THE PULSATING METROPOLIS
In London, a competition was launched in 2019 to design a new sky park in the heart of the city. Camden-based vPPR Architects teamed up with James Corner of Field Operations to develop a masterplan for the Camden Highline. After a selection process that included several rounds of decision-making, their joint design proposal was finally announced as the winner in March 2021. What's special: Field Operations, the renowned planning office involved in the implementation of the project, has already successfully pioneered the realization of the 2.3 km long New York Highline in terms of pedestrian-friendly infrastructure: A former freight train track was converted into an urban inner-city pedestrian zone, which has now been functioning as a park in the middle of Manhattan's West Side since 2009.
Walking route from Camden Gardens to York Way.
The same is to be aimed for in the future with the new Camden Highline: A disused section of the railroad viaduct there, located at a height of six to eight meters, is to be transformed into a new park with a walking route. The winning design visualizes the 1.2 km long structure as a meeting place that will provide a space for inspiration, shared learning and recreation with various seating options, cafes, public art and charitable activities. The starting point of the Highline is Camden Gardens, a five-minute walk from Camden Town Underground as well as Camden Market. From there, it follows Camden Road east, then crosses Camley Street and finally ends at York Way, from where King's Cross is again just a five-minute walk away.
Active mobility in London based on the New York model: the new pedestrian park will create a pedestrian link from Camden Gardens to York Way. © Camden Highline
Metropolitan lack of space versus green inner city
Large cities and metropolitan areas in particular are always struggling with their growing density and the associated lack of space. More and more people are moving from the countryside to the city - the demand for living space is increasing, but also for green spaces that can have a positive influence on the inner-city climate and quality of life. Tourism is also on the rise.
New mobility concepts for urban density
The mobility issue - including the implementation of new mobility concepts - is an essential component when it comes to the (re)design of public space. For the future viability of cities, infrastructure congestion must be increasingly counteracted in a targeted manner. As a logical consequence, the role of active mobility is also growing - and the "Highline" typology is proving to be a clever solution in this context in several ways. It is convincing not only in terms of short distances, but also in particular with regard to space efficiency: in terms of its structural nature, the typology is located above an already built-up street level area and is thus able to realize mobility on several levels at the same time without taking up additional space or even creating new sealed (base) areas.
It is precisely in this infrastructural dual use that the strength and relevance of the new London park lies: the project focuses precisely on the issue of the metropolitan lack of space and responds by making use of the vacant railroad structure - i.e. the "Highline" typology. Moreover, demolition is minimized, vPPR Architects emphasize, because their philosophy has been committed to the circular economy from the beginning. Overall, the new Camden Highline carefully draws on the historically evolved building structure and forms a new autonomous and relaxing pedestrian park - located not only in the heart of the city, but equally with perfect connections to the local infrastructure, including all means of public transport. As an ecological corridor, it can provide more biodiversity in the dense city and create a quality-of-life counterbalance to the pulsating inner-city hustle and bustle and noise for the 20,000 people in the neighborhood and for visitors. James Corner affirms, "When you have the chance to live in a city that has quality green spaces and gardens and highlines and canals - things that bring people together outside, it's just cool - it's something you want to be a part of. It takes that magic that makes people say: London is where I want to live."
Bottomup as a catalyst for transformation processes
Behind the initiation of the Camden Highline is a local nonprofit organization of the same name, which is responsible for the provision of the park on the one hand and its subsequent operation on the other. Currently, the focus is on funding financial support - and there is confidence that construction can begin in sections from 2025. One can therefore hope that, in addition to the New York Highline, another best practice will soon be created in London's Camden, as a model for all those who are looking for sustainable, resource-saving and at the same time nature-revitalizing as well as user-friendly solutions in the context of "pedestrian-friendly infrastructure".