In December 2001 I moved to a well-lit apartment looking on to Plein 1944 in the center of Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Although Plein 1944 looked a bit lost in time and space, I loved the view from my living room window both in the cold …
… and in the warm season. Nearly 30 trees provided for a green and amazingly tranquil oasis right in the middle of town.
Seen through the same (moderate wide-angle) lens today, the view out of my living room window looks like this:
What has happened?
City council had decided that Plein 1944 had to have a significant work over. After extended discussions and a public referendum about some brochures and website presentations of two architects’ plans, a relative majority (68% of the ca. 20% of those who actually voted) of the Nijmegen population voted for a plan featuring “A square for everyone”. On closer inspection of this plan, however, the square would be downscaled by quite massive apartment buildings that in the brochures looked small, and were skillfully hidden behind the leafy branches of lavish trees.
For us residents, rebuilding definitely started one morning in the spring of 2010. After a strictly staged informative meeting the night before, the screech of circular saws woke us up at 6 o’clock in the morning.
All but 4 trees were chopped down. One of them was re-planted next to the building where I live. The three others were transferred to a small park near the river Waal.
According to an advertising campaign, the remaining trees would be replanted after completion of the square, yet we never heard anything about them anymore.
During the first months I remember large amounts of concrete being removed, and supply systems being replaced and adapted to the expected increase in need of water, electricity and the like.
A huge hole was dug, cranes were installed and three stories of car and bicycle parking were built before the construction reached ground level again.
At the beginning of 2012 the first floor of the apartment tower right across the part of the square on “my” side began rising above the ground.
Shortly after this, I spend a few months in Toronto, Canada. When returning in mid-summer, the building had grown to four stories.
In autumn and winter nights of that year I caught last glimpses of light on the other side of the building. A church tower, which had served me as a living room clock during the first years, had already disappeared behind walls.
In the meantime, numerous construction activities were carried out inside ….
… and in front of the building.
To overlook the remainders of Plein 1944 from the northwestern angle I now have to use a significantly wider lens.
As of now – October 2013 – the apartment building is almost completed. You may decide for yourself whether you like it or not.
In the end I am left with ambiguous feelings as to the changes of Plein 1944. I have genuine respect for the logistical skills and the workmanship of those who constructed and erected the buildings. I’m also excited about all the people – new neighbors – that will be moving into the houses across the street.
Was it a wise decision to restrict a public square in this way? I doubt whether its potential as an open public space has ever been adequately appreciated. And finally, as a resident and observer of 12 years, I think I’m allowed to feel sad when remembering my room with a view and the lush summer nights in my once green midtown neighborhood.
Update March 2014: New neighbours have been arriving during the last three months. Slowly, step by step, the building on the opposite side of the street is filling with life …