Pécs city centre receives international feedback from all RetaiLink partners
More than 50 representatives from 10 european cities gathered in Pécs for the 4th meeting of the URBACT RetaiLink project. The main question of the meeting was how to adapt regulation and improve mobility to enhance shopping in medium-sized cities. For Pécs team there was another very important and mind-opening part of the two days meeting, the ‘study visit’ from Pécs city-centre to the two main touristic attractions of the city and the feedback gathered afterwards from urban practitioners, architects, property managers, retailers and local authorities from countries as Italy, Spain, France, Czech Republic, Romania, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Croatia. An article by Zita Péter-Domán.
Pécs is the fifth largest city in Hungary with about 150 thousand inhabitants in the Southern part of the country, close to the Croatian border. Pécs used to be a city, with strong mining industry, but after the coal and uranium mines were closed the city lost its economic power. Currently Pécs and the region rather lag behind the Hungarian average in economic development and the city is losing its citizens from year to year. Hungary’s oldest university is located in Pécs with almost 20 thousand students, from which 3200 are international students. Pécs was elected the ‘Cultural Capital of Europe’ in 2010 and is very proud of its cultural heritage, especially the UNESCO World Heritage site, the many museums, the Kodaly Concert Hall and the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter.
Despite the fact that Pécs has a beautiful, historical city centre, many stores moved from the inner city to the shopping mall, which is located quite close to the main square. Currently approximately 10-20% of the stores are empty in the city centre, which makes the look of the inner city ugly. Most of the stores belong to the municipality, thus empty stores mean no income to the city.
Pécs joined the URBACT Retailink project to create a strategy and action plan to stop this trend and make the city centre lively and decrease the vacancy rate.
The first aim of the walk with the URBACT international team was to show the main square and the walking streets, thus the inner city of Pécs and get the first impressions on it. The second aim of the walk was linked to the main topic of the two days meeting, thus it was connected to mobility. The Pécs team wanted to show how the inner city is connected to the most famous touristic sites of Pécs, thus the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter.
The UNESCO World Heritage site is about 400 meters away from the main square of Pécs. The two points are connected with the museum street, thus the walk itself is very short and pleasant. The Zsolnay Cultural Quarter is about 2,2 kilometers away from the city centre and is located in an area with rather poor population, old buildings and a wide road with big traffic.
For most of the people from the URBACT Retailink International Team, this was the very first visit to Pécs, they did not know the city before. For the team of Pécs this feedback session was a great opportunity to hear the first impressions of ‘tourists’ as well as ‘professionals’ on their city centre and on the interconnections of different urban areas of Pécs. Citizens get used to those kinds of things, which might be strange, or bothering for tourists, so Pécs team was very eager to hear reflections on their city centre.
Three groups were created for the city centre walk, each with about 15 participants. Each group had one leader from the Pécs team, who knew the route, the sights and all useful facts about the city. Two teams went for a longer walk (approximately 5 kilometers) from the main square through the main street to the Ceramic Factory (Zsolnay Cultural Quarter). The third team had a shorter route from the main square to the World Heritage Site and back. All three groups came up with mind-opening thoughts.
These were the four groups participants of the study visits had to gather their notes is. Pécs team received very interesting thoughts and ideas in all the four groups.
The feedback into the continue group were mainly about the sites and buildings and about the limited car traffic in the city centre. URBACT International Team liked the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter: ‘impressive ceramic area’, as well as the historic buildings in the city centre, as well as the UNESCO World Heritage: outstanding refurbishment of historic monuments’.
What participants advised to improve were mainly connected to the signage. Despite the fact, that the bike route is painted with yellow on the road itself, both of the teams on the longer route proposed to have ‘better signage of cycle routes’. Beside the signage for bikers, visitors felt the need for more tourist-signs as well: ‘more signage to direct people’, ‘improve crossing point signage’, ‘no info panels’, ‘no information officers’, ‘no clear signage on the information office’. The other main thing to improve is the route interlinking Király street and the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter. The teams advised to make the route more interesting, more eye-catchy, more artistic. The team came up with ideas like placing attractive, eye-catchy things on the route, like street art, or prints on the road.
Two main points were gathered to the ‘stop’ group. Based on the feedback, there are some issues with bikers, as the bike-route interlinking Széchenyi square and the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter is dangerous. The bike route either goes on the normal read with very heavy car traffic, or on the pavement, where pedestrians are in danger. There are bikers even on the main walking street, on Király Street, which is again, very dangerous. The other critical ‘stop’ idea was related to Pécs’s beautiful Cathedral. There are cars parked next to the cathedral, on the square, which is very disturbing, especially, if you want to make a good photo of the building.
The ideas into the ‘start’ group were mainly related to the route guiding the main square to the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter. Participants proposed to introduce other means of traffic besides walking from the inner city to the touristic site, to make the route ‘shorter’, like e-bike, or fast public transport, or some fun, alternative way of transport.
How to turn feedback into action steps?
Pécs team was happy to hear first of all the feedback collected into the ‘continue’ column. For the city it is a very important strategy to maintain and restore touristic attractions. Pécs is consistently working on making the inner city more attractive. Renovation works start soon on the Archeological Museum of Pécs, which is located on the main square and if everything goes well the Municipality will get some funds to renew the UNESCO World Heritage site.
Main comments in the ‘improve’ and ‘start’ groups were linked mainly to the route between the city centre and the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter. Pécs team, as well as the executive officers of the city are aware of the fact, that the road interlinking the two sites does not look welcoming for the tourists. There are more projects on improving the district, where Zsolnay Cultural Quarter is located, thus creating a friendlier atmosphere around it, but meaningful changes take time.
Thanks to an e-bike project, which will start in the near future (2017 Autumn), both in the city centre and in the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter there will be electric bicycle docking stations placed. This will help make the route in-between the downtown and the Ceramic Factory appear shorter.
Pécs team will investigate whether the e-bike project allows the placement of new signs on the way between the city centre to the Zsolnay Cultural Quarter. This would be most probably the fastest way to solve the signage issue raised by the international team. If the project does not allow placing new signs, Pécs team talks over the possibilities with Pécs Tourist Agency.
Submitted by Anna Suarez on