Bring the water back on Goudsesingel
The water of Goudsesingel formed the edge of the city of Rotterdam for centuries: it was the northern side of the City Triangle. Around 1900, the water was filled in. After that, a market was held there for many years. But after the war, the Goudsesingel transformed into a kind of downtown highway or, to use a Rotterdam euphemism, a city boulevard.
Would it be possible to bring back the water to the Goudsesingel and turn it into a pleasant street again, as liberal party VVD recently proposed? I fact-checked it, and that sparked quite a few reactions.
Green and blue
I was pleasantly surprised by the suggestion by VVD councilor Marike Abrahamse at the end of August to investigate whether the Goudsesingel could become a real canal again. Under the motto: Rotterdam should not only become greener but also bluer.
Honestly, I expected such a proposal from left wing parties like GroenLinks, D66, or the Animals. Wasn’t the VVD traditionally the pro-car party par excellence? I was mistaken. Even the VVD, at least the Rotterdam branch, realizes that there can be less emphasis on cars.
When Antti Liukku from local newspaper Algemeen Dagblad called me to ask for my opinion on the idea, I expressed my warm support. How did the AD come to me? Because of the plan for the windmill on Oostplein, of course; by the way, that goes really well with the canal plan. I can already picture it: windmill De Noord, reflecting in the water of Goudsesingel…
The re-excavation of once-filled waters is a trend. In Utrecht, Catharijnesingel was reopened; in Breda, they are doing well with the Nieuwe Mark. For The Hague, there is a fascinating plan by MVRDV for the restoration of old waterways.
In Rotterdam, too, many harbors, canals, and moats were filled in in the past. And here too, the city would benefit if that water came back. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple in many places.
Tunnels and houses
For example, under the Blaak, there is a subway tube; under the Binnenrotte, there is the railway tunnel. And on the Coolsingel, not only does the metro get in the way, but Koopgoot presents an obstacle too.
I would also like to see the Nieuwe Haven return; until 1940, it was a canal with beautiful buildings, parallel to Haringvliet. But you would have to demolish an entire post-war residential area for that.
However, there are a few former Rotterdam waterways where such obstacles do not exist. For example, Schiekade or Schiedamsevest. And indeed, Goudsesingel. Not that it’s a walk in the park, of course. There are plenty of cables and pipelines under Goudsesingel; well, they all over town, aren’t they? But at least there are no subways and trains here.
It’s actually a street with some pretty good post-war reconstruction architecture. Especially the stretch between Mariniersweg and Oostplein, with its tall brick residential blocks, some of which were built already during the war. And of course, the highlight is the Industriegebouw by Van Tijen and Maaskant.
Stone and asphalt
But that architecture is currently not coming into its own, in the stone and asphalt desert that the street is now, with a service road, parking spaces, lanes, and an asphalt tram track.
If you were to redesign that part of Goudsesingel, would there be room for a sizable body of water? Without removing the tram track and without completely banishing the cars?
At the height of the Industriegebouw, the street is over 37 meters wide; that should be wide enough for a green and blue reconstruction. I put a few lines and dimensions on (digital) paper, and before I knew it, I had an artist’s impression, shown below. And my expectation came true: it can be done!
In my impression, the sidewalk on the south side is about as wide as it is now. But there is more space there due to a zone between the sidewalk and the bicycle lane, which can be used for terraces, bike racks, or car parking. On the north side, the sunniest side, I made the sidewalk a bit wider, and there is also such a multifunctional strip.
There is almost nine meters left for water. How you precisely design it is up for discussion. A kind of canal with stone quaysides? A long pond with green shores? Or a combination, like on Westersingel? I have drawn some suggestions with decks, stepping stones, and greenery. But it’s not a design; it’s a fact-check. With the most important conclusion: there is room for water.
East and west
By the way, those 37 meters are the dimensions in the eastern part, between Mariniersweg and Oostplein. Further to the west, near Meent and Pompenburg, the Goudsesingel becomes wider, up to 60 meters. Okay, the traffic situation might be different there, with traffic heading towards Mariniersweg. But if it works in the 37 meters of the eastern part, it will work elsewhere too.
One thing I couldn’t achieve, unfortunately, is the preservation of the row of plane trees that currently form almost the only patch of green on the Goudsesingel. And cutting down trees always pains me. You should always try to accommodate them. But it’s not that easy; I tried everything, but these plane trees just stand in a very awkward place. In my impression, they would end up roughly in the middle of the roadway.
What can be done, though, is to move some of those trees a few meters and give them their own island in the canal, à la the Breytenbach plane tree. And of course, plant two new rows of trees.
I posted the image on Twitter (nowadays also called X by its owner), and it immediately went viral. I rarely had so many likes and retweets. And almost all of them were enthusiastic. Okay, there was someone who was concerned about the mess that such a renovation would bring. Well, sometimes you have to go through that if you want a more beautiful city. For the construction of the metro sixty years ago, for example, the Coolsingel was also open for a few years.
In any case, it will take a while. The Goudsesingel plan is at the end of the list of major city projects. That ambitious program, which includes Hofplein, Blaak, and Rijnhaven, among others, has recently been partially delayed due to a lack of funds. So, don’t expect that green canal before the 2030s. But anyone who knows the history of Rotterdam a bit knows that many plans have been delayed for a long time but have often been executed in the end.