published July 4, 2009
by Carmel Cacopardo
Renzo Piano’s proposals, which were launched last week, will remove the 1965 City Gate. Any proposal to substitute the 1965 Valletta entrance would be an improvement!
The debate in the newspapers and online is generally focusing on the open air theatre with some commenting also on the loss of Freedom Square as an open space.
Through the removal of the present City Gate and presenting us with an opening in the bastions, Mr Piano is expressing a change in the function of the Valletta fortifications: from keeping the enemy outside to inviting visitors within.
As a direct consequence, Mr Piano makes a bolder statement: overlying the 1965 City Gate there is a road. Used by a substantial amount of cars entering Valletta, this road will cease to exist as Mr Piano proposes its removal together with the 1965 gate. Visitors to Valletta will thus be asked to leave their cars outside the city! It is an invitation to refrain from polluting the air in Valletta, making one’s visit a pleasanter experience. This conforms to the other green statements which Mr Piano makes in his proposals. I believe we should accept Mr Piano’s request and extend his invitation to Valletta’s visitors.
Linking this to other aspects of the project, I submit that Mr Piano’s proposals necessitate a revisiting of transport policies.
On the one hand, the Central Bank route into Valletta would cease to exist. Traffic will have to enter through St Mark Street or West Street as well as through the Mediterranean Conference Centre area.
Mr Piano’s proposal gobbles up a significant parking space. Parking space in Valletta has been diminishing gradually since the pedestrianisation of Merchants Street, South Street and the surrounding areas. This reduction of Freedom Square as a parking space necessarily means that Mr Piano is proposing that there should be a further reduction of car access into Valletta. I do not know whether the government will accept this but I hope that it will.
An acceleration of the public transport reform is a necessary consequence. The public needs to be encouraged to make more use of public transport, which it will if public transport is efficient. Efficient public transport is the best guarantee that a reduction of cars on the road will take place. If fewer cars can enter Valletta as a result of Mr Piano’s proposals, the urgent conclusion of the public transport reform is a must.
Secondly, alternative means of transport need to be further encouraged. Valletta can be easily accessed by sea. But for sea transport to be an effective means of access, circular public transport around Valletta needs to be organised regularly and efficiently.
Valletta can also be accessed by bicycles but for this to happen the bicycle lane mess around the island needs to be sorted out. Bicycle owners would also need suitable places to leave their bicycles when not in use: there aren’t any such facilities in Valletta as yet. In addition, it should be possible for bicycle users to resort to other means of transport for part of their journeys.
So far, transport issues have hardly been mentioned in the discussion on Mr Piano’s proposals. The public and the experts have concentrated on other aspects, primarily the Opera House site. Although the Opera House proposal can be improved without affecting the rest of the project, Mr Piano’s plans of retaining the ruins of the Opera House and developing them into an open-air theatre is still challenging. It can be taken up by the cultural community, which will have another site dedicated to cultural activities at a par with those found in other European countries.
Notwithstanding the contrasting views expressed, NGOs and those taking part in the discussion are doing a fine job. Discussing Valletta’s future is not the exclusive prerogative of experts, as Valletta belongs to all of us. In addition to being more tolerant of the views of others there is one point which all of us must bear in mind: the discussion cannot go on forever. A decision has to be taken.
Mr Piano’s proposal with its various elements is, in my view, the best proposal made so far integrating the city entrance with upper Valletta, leading the visitor into a rejuvenated Valletta. An upgrading of the bus terminus should be next in line for treatment!
Mr Pianos’ proposal has to be seen as a whole. An analysis of the spaces created clearly demonstrates that Mr Piano sought to link his proposal with other initiatives already taken or in hand, notably the rehabilitated St James Cavalier.
One hopes that Mr Piano’s proposal will be adopted by the government without substantial changes except for the possible improvement to the Opera House site proposal. Hopefully, Mr Piano’s proposals will be completed on time and within the allocated budget.