And yet, there are times when an unbiased observer might wonder why, in the midst of such a conglomeration of poise and elegance, the area itself shows so much of its Calvinistic roots. Where are the trendy and vibrant parts of the Rue du Rhône and Rues Basses? Why do the adjacent streets seem to lack the unscripted energy and charm that lends authenticity to great luxury districts such as Oxford Street, Fifth Avenue, Via Montenapoleone (Montenapo to the locals) or, closer to home, Zurich’s Bahnhofstrasse?
It is this magazine’s firm belief that the public realm of a place, at its most basic, is its outdoor experience and the memories it creates. It is the spaces between buildings, the milieu in which the built environment grows and evolves. It is its streets, plazas, parks, alalleys, and informal gathering spaces. It is what gives a place its character and its identity. Having observed the evolution of this district since our launch some twenty years ago, we have observed that what it lacks most is character and, in many instances, its identity lies in the hands of the luxury brands it houses.
After having had lengthy conversations on the symptoms with the heads of numerous luxury brands in the area, as well as many consumers, both residents and tourists, we can now offer a diagnosis. One of the reasons for the disparity between the exceptional commercial offers of the Rue du Rhône district and the urban environment itself lies with both local authorities and landlords.
Geneva, compared to other cities with high purchase power ratios, may seem at times to be governed by shortsighted and ideologically motivated small town politicians and bureaucrats. They give the impression that the attractiveness of a luxury district is of no concern to their electorate, and much of the infrastructure and urban planning they undertake gives little consideration to the needs of the actors in the area.
The recent inauguration of Place Longemalle, a square of historical interest that harbours two 4-star hotels and renown brands such as Vacheron Contanting, F.P. Journe watches and John Lobb shoes, and is situated at a stone’s throw from the Mont Blanc bridge, is an example of how lack of consultation and illconceived planning can lead to a waste of resources and a zero-sum result. A plan for the reconfiguration of the Place Longemalle had been considered in 2004 as a means of transforming the square into an inviting pedestrian environment. Despite weighty opposition from locals and some of the luxury brands located there, work began in early 2011 and was completed in June of this year at a cost of some CHF 6.5 million. The result was far from the initial objectives. Although aesthetically agreeable and in line with the look and feel of the adjacent Place du Molard, the square now features nothing much more than retractable bollards that close the square to vehicles, a couple of benches as well as an already overflowing motorbike parking area.
The chasm between the authorities and the brands located there became blaringly apparent when our editorial team set eyes on the inauguration program for late May of this year: Geneva’s second- term left-oriented Mayor, Rémy Pagani, orchestrated a bicycle parade that wound through a number of ongoing public works in the City and ended at the reconfigured square. There, after a long-winded ecologically-minded presentation, the place was surrendered to a small group of yodellers as participants savoured a City-sponsored pot luck buffet. Needless to say, the boutiques surrounding the Place Longemalle collectively decided to close shop early and forego the festivities.
If it ain’t broke, fix it!
If we at Swiss Style were to set up a diagnosis desk and discuss the matter with an “urban ailments counsellor”, the treatment we might devise would include the preparation of a specific plan for the Rue du Rhône – Rues Basses district. The “R-B” – speciﬁc plan would be a document mapping out the vision for the district’s long-term growth and evolution, while also serving as an implementation tool to provide new amenities, services, infrastructure, and redevelopment. For the “R-B district” to continue to create jobs, bring visitors, and serve as a vibrant community, the Plan’s political mechanisms would serve as critical tools in managing and guiding the district’s evolution and long-term success. The key elements of the Plan would be:
- Create an experience. Experiencing the “R-B” district should change one’s perception of the entire city, for visitors and locals alike.
- Coordinate and shorten (please!) road works. Creating traffic and fluidity issues certainly does not help the image of one of the world’s most expensive blocks.
- Offer nightlife that compliments Geneva’s daytime energy.
- Maintain and nurture existing nonluxury venues, activities and amenities while also introducing new ones.
- Make the District a laboratory for innovative ideas in energy consumption, green infrastructure, mobility, street life, and public art.
- Create a multi-disciplinary taskforce that will draw regular input from stakeholders, politicians
Article by Joy Corthesy