The Heart of Budapest programme is a complex urban renewal programme which is aiming to revitalise the traffic-laden and deteriorating historic centre of the city. Phase 1 of the project included the construction of a 1.7 km long traffic-calmed axis.
The central historic part of Budapest has lost much of its attractiveness to local residents over the past 20 years, which to a large extent is due to significant increases in levels of private vehicle use. For example, at the site of the Heart of Budapest project, approximately 8 000 vehicles per hour (mainly through traffic) were observed during peak hours. The Heart of Budapest programme was devised to reverse this trend and revitalise the urban space by reallocating the area primarily to pedestrians and cyclists.
The programme was approved in 2007, and in its entirety would see the comprehensive renewal of most public spaces within the 'Small Ring' of the capital. At the start of the initial project planning phase, local residents were informed and consulted about the project at information tents, and shop owners at an individual level. Arising from this consultation, the project plans were modified accordingly to address and concerns and take on board suggestions. Phase 1 was implemented between April 2009 and April 2010, and the key features of this phase were;
- Through traffic was completely banned within the scheme area- only buses were allowed full access;
- Local car traffic was restricted to certain parts of the area;
- Most of the public space was reallocated to pedestrians, cyclists and open spaces, which resulted in a greatly improved urban environment;
- A range of amenities were installed including, an interactive fountain, tactile maps for visually-impaired people, benches etc.
Initially, the local government wanted to implement this measure through a public-private partnership with local shop owners. However, lack of interest with local retailer to co-finance the scheme forced the local government to adopt and fund the scheme solely from public finances. The total cost was € 20m, from which € 7m was financed by the EU.
After six months since the initial phase was completed, the main results and conclusions of the scheme (so far) are:
- The once traffic-laden, noisy and unattractive public spaces have now become a bustling and attractive area for local residents and tourists alike;
- Before the Phase 1 implementation many of the old shops had closed and retail outlets were empty- now these empty units have been replaced by high-quality, service oriented establishments;
- Run-down historic buildings within the Phase 1 area have gradually been refurbished and new property developments are planned (e.g. hotels).
In spite of this progress, the past six months have also seen problems, which are caused by the fact that subsequent phases were not yet completed (primarily diverting traffic from not-yet traffic calmed areas to this street). For this reason it is now acknowledged that (ideally) it is crucial to implement schemes such as the Heart of Budapest scheme in one continuous phase. Otherwise the implementation and effectiveness of isolated measures may prove short-lived, or even counterproductive.