Palimpest. Cities as canvas




  1. A manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing.
  2. Something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

Palimpest. My word of the moment. Harmonic to the ear and wholly appropriate to the city, I find myself reminded of it by the encouraging news that Dutch style roundabouts may soon be employed in London. Whilst we associate people-centric planning with the Netherlands, It wasn’t always this way. In the 1970’s, motivated by fuel shortages, road traffic accidents and population pressures, the Dutch passed through a steep learning curve that developed a more enlightened approach to transport management and the encouraging systems we see employed today. Their cities changed, adapted and evolved, yet maintained clear traces of their original form. A constantly reused canvas. A palimpest.

Hovering ring

As a cyclist, I would naturally applaud the use of Dutch style roundabouts. They force speed to be reduced and level the playing field of road use. Pedestrians benefit also; lower speeds reduce the likelihood – and impact – of accidents. When you think about it closely, the knock on effects are legion. Noise drops. The encouraging environment leads to more cyclists, less cars and more freely flowing traffic. The city becomes a friendlier place to be and a more humane place to live. Ask anyone that has just stepped off a plane from Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Malmo; cycle friendly cities feel warmly welcoming. My enthusiasm for this comes with just one word of warning  – education will need to accompany construction. I’ve ridden in the Benelux and the ‘new’ style of roundabout takes a little getting used to (for Brits at least). Clear signage, education via the media, modification of cycling proficiency training, driving instruction and the highway code will all be necessary to reduce the potential for conflict.  But on the whole? Great news. Roll on change.

The images represent the ‘before’ and ‘during construction’ images of the impressive Hovenring in Eindhoven; a great expression of Palimpest. Both images courtesy of Bicycle Dutch. Cover image – Aerial shot of London

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