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The Alter Platz in Klagenfurt is a staple of the city, Source: Franz Gerdl, City of Klagenfurt

Europe’s second pedestrian street turns 60 this month

Europe’s second pedestrian street turns 60 this month

Now a staple in any European city, this used to be an outlandish concept back in the day

This month, the second pedestrian street ever built in Europe turns 60. Meet the Alter Platz in Klagenfurt, a narrow street in the old town, that used to be a central thoroughfare in Austria’s national road system back in the 1960s.

After an expansion of the ring road, aimed at diverting traffic from the old town, local politicians in 1961 decided to give some of it back to pedestrians – an innovative concept at the time, and one met with considerable resistance.

The first steps towards ‘pedestrianisation’

The idea of major traffic passing through a historic district in pretty much any European city seems unthinkable now, but that was the case back in the 1950s and 1960s. The city centre of Klagenfurt with its late medieval and neo-classical architecture was a transport hub. The main traffic from Vienna to Wörthersee, the Loibl Pass and Italy used to pass through here.

Wörthersee is a big lake and a famous internal tourist resort. The Loibl Pass, on the other hand, is one of the main connections between Austria and Slovenia, as well as the Western Balkans. The pass became a main route through the eastern Alps back in the 11th century and is in major use to this day.

Back in 1961, the idea of a street made solely for pedestrians was quite the concept and many people were not really sure what to call it. According to the ORF, reporters used to call it ‘pedestrian reservations’ (Fußgängerreservation).

In later years though, the innovative concept in Klagenfurt became a major inspiration for cities in the country, especially Salzburg and Vienna, infamous for their massive pedestrian networks.

Making the unimaginable a staple of European cities

The first pedestrian street in Europe was built in 1953 in Rotterdam, as part of the city’s reconstruction efforts after World War II. The central parts of the Dutch port city were destroyed by bombing during the Nazi invasion in 1940.

Rotterdam used to have narrow, snaking streets but with much of that older infrastructure cleared, local authorities had a new concept – giving back the citizens everything they had lost, but in a better form. This included widening the streets and the Lijnbaan.

The Lijnbaan was a pioneering concept at the time – a street built solely for pedestrians, where cars were not allowed. A lot of local businesses were opposed to the idea, as they believed that if customers cannot drive to the store, they would not go at all.

Fortunately, opposition voices were not loud enough and the Lijnbaan became a reality in 1953. It also became one of the hottest urban concepts at the time, inspiring many cities to adopt it on both sides of the Iron Curtain.

Furthermore, the famous Austrian architect Victor Gruen decided to bring the concept across the Atlantic Ocean and adapt it as a Pedestrian mall. Gruen’s malls were not that successful though, as many were built on the edges of cities.

Back in Europe, the pedestrian street became part of the throbbing heart of a city’s central district. The pedestrian street was featured front and centre, usually right along a city’s most iconic landmarks making sure that there will be a thoroughfare.

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