Utrecht Restores Historic Canal

In an attempt to recast its relationship with cars, Utrecht’s inner city is once again circled by water and greenery rather than asphalt and exhaust fumes.

It's being viewed in the city as the correction of a historic mistake. More than 40 years after parts of the canal that encircled Utrecht’s old town were concreted over to accommodate a 12-lane motorway, the Dutch city is celebrating the restoration of its 900 year old moat.

The reopening of the Catharijnesingel attracted pleasure boats and even a few swimmers into the water, with the alderman for the central Hoog Catharijne district, Eelco Eerenberg, lauding the “grand conclusion” of decades of work.

The first plans for restoring the canal, or Stadsbuitengracht, which dates from the city’s birth in 1122, had been put forward in the 1990s. In 2002, the people of Utrecht voted in a referendum for a city-centre “master plan”, in which water would replace roads. This, of course, was unusual thinking twenty years ago but the endeavour was given increased impetus in more recent years by a broader attempt by the municipality, and in numerous other towns and cities, to sideline the car and promote healthier living.

Recently the city opened the world’s biggest bicycle park beside the main railway station, accommodating 12,500 bikes. In a similar spirit, there's now a drive to lay flora and fauna on the roofs of city centre buildings in the name of biodiversity and clean air, and they have already come up with innovative small space planting ideas of creating gardens for pollinators on bus stop roofs.

The restored section of the canal had been filled in to allow cars better access to Utrecht’s shopping district in the 1970s. The waterway now runs under an indoor shopping centre, allowing boats to travel the full 6km route around the city centre. And as part of the canal’s reopening, the central Zocherpark has been restored to its original 1830 design.

Meanwhile, other cities in the Netherlands are making significant changes too. Arnhem has decided that 10% of its asphalt needs to be replaced by grass and other plants to better dissipate heat and improve Arnhem's absorption of rainfall. The target is for 90% of rain to be absorbed into the soil rather than washing away into the city’s sewers. And, in Amsterdam, the city has adopted a new model for changing economic strategy from growth to thriving, and connecting bodily health to planetary health.

Original source: Guardian