It’s quite a shock, when you’re going for a stroll around your city, to suddenly see something you assumed was a permanent fixture in the skyline half demolished. So it was when, heading down to the Danube yesterday evening, I saw Starý Most, (one of only three bridges spanning the river in central Bratislava, along with Most SNP to the west, and the newest city bridge on Košická seen in the background here to the east) part vanished.
Of course, I had heard about the plans for the new tram system in Petržalka, the large high-rise residential district to the south of the river. But I hadn’t connected the two.
Petržalka, with the largest population of any Bratislava neighbourhood, has long had a tram connection in the pipeline. The problem, however, was that plans hinged on totally reconstructing Starý Most. In its pre-demolition state it rocked even when you cycled across it and the first tram that tried going over would have been swept on downriver to Budapest. Now that reconstruction has begun: so that the bridge can be rebuilt and tram service over it can be implemented.
But I have to say I’m sad about the old bridge going. It had, after all, been around since the 1890s. Emperor Franz-Joseph personally oversaw the opening, for Godsakes (although the actual steel part of the bridge was rebuilt after 1945). Since it was closed to traffic, and the greenery grew up around its pedestrian crossing, it provided a peaceful and (for the romantics) uplifting crossing from the Old Town to the Danube hiking/cycling trails out to Čunovo on the other side.
The Plan for Starý Most
Once Starý Most has been fully demolished (that process seems to be taking some time given they began last winter, apparently) the bridge will be strengthened, with an extra supporting column. The jury’s out on whether the colour will be green or grey. On the bridge itself, as well as the new tramway there will be (thank goodness they decided to do this) pedestrian/cycleways attached to either side.
Then, essentially, trams will run from the Old Town across the bridge to Bosákova street in Petržalka. The plan is anticipated to take away a lot of the congestion and tram traffic around Šafárikovo Námestie too. Bratislava, it seems, will have a new tram route – and all by August/September 2015, according to the latest estimate. A 68.9 million Euro grant from the EU will pay for the destruction/reconstruction of the bridge (see here for an article on that).
Whilst the plan will no doubt far more interest Petržalka’s 100,000+ residents, it’s also a heads-up for visitors to the city. Why? It could well usher in a new spell of development on the southern shore of Bratislava’s Danube.
Let’s remember that one of the key factors in a city’s success/failure lies in its connectivity. There’s a direct correlation between problematic or poor districts of a city and how isolated those districts are. Connectivity=progress; progress=prosperity; prosperity is something that wouldn’t go amiss in Petržalka and the south-of-the-river area.
At the moment, the Most SNP bridge crowned by its UFO restaurant is the only real access to the south side of the river for pedestrians or cyclists. When finished, Starý Most will make strolling or pedalling over to the south shore much more conducive.
And the south shore is currently very under-developed (unusual in a city as thirsty for development as Bratislava normally is). This is partly a great thing, of course – you can lose yourself in woodlands almost immediately on the other side. But there’s also a lot of derelict buildings and construction sites which aren’t so pretty. And a large number of classy places already exist on the south side – a really good theatre and a few good restaurants (more on these in other posts). Could all this pave the way for a rebirth of the Danube’s southern shore akin to the makeover of the South Bank of the Thames in London? Some readers may give a knowing laugh, but crazier things have happened…