The Yannan Avenue linear park

A few weeks ago I wrote about how driverless cars and active transport could begin to reverse the car-centric geography of the city. Because we would need less space for traffic, all sorts of new public spaces could be created around the margins. Pavements could be widened, old car parking spots re-purposed, and parks and gardens created.

That was a theoretical post, but here’s a real world example from China. Yannan Avenue in Chongqing was a 20 metre wide highway, with pavements and signage. As part of a project to improve green space in the city, the road has been shrunk and the pedestrian access expanded, re-working a 1km stretch of road into a ‘linear park’.

There are clusters of benches, colourful canopies, play areas and green spaces. The visual clutter of the road has been removed, including curbs and road markings. The architect describes it as reimagining the highway “as a continuous urban park through which vehicles can move.”

The idea of turning old transport infrastructure into leisure spaces is nothing new. Britain is criss-crossed by canals that are now for boating and cycling rather than shipping coal. Old railway lines host cyclists and walkers rather than trains.

Roads are slightly more uncommon, but there are several cities around the world that have re-directed highways out of the city and then put parks or greenways in. Boston’s Big Dig is one of the most famous, digging its highways into tunnels. Dallas built the Klyde Warren Park over the top of a highway. Seoul has trees planted in tubs on a reclaimed overpass.

Those are all major projects, but if driverless cars arrive in the way some predict, reclaiming obsolete roads might become much more common and more local. And hey, in a few years time we’ll have a lot of old petrol stations to repurpose too.

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