A Case Study of Innsbruck
Words and Photos By Jack Cherniawsky
Innsbruck has a population of merely 130,000, yet it is a centre for culture, transportation and travel. The city has an airport, thriving streets, historical monuments, a vibrant historic district, a lively downtown, incredible public transportation, post-secondary institutions, and has hosted a number of international events including 2 Winter Olympics and a Youth Winter Olympics. Oh yea, and the city is surrounded by the Alps and 32 ski resorts.
This past spring I was lucky enough to spend five days in the Innsbruck area. My experience in the city was extremely positive. In five days I was able to travel across the city using the extensive bicycle network, visit numerous historical monuments, art galleries, go skiing, and spend a lot of time immersing myself in the thriving street life. I also noticed that the residents seemed to enjoy living in the city. I learned that a lot of people come to Innsbruck for post-secondary education. This is because Austrian post-secondary education is well regarded internationally and is insanely cheap at only 18 Euros (about 28 Canadian dollars) per semester. As mentioned above there’s also a lot of opportunity for recreation with the proximal mountains and great public recreation facilities. This amazing experience brought me to the question, how did this city achieve so much despite having such a small population? Researching this question, I came up with a few answers.
First of all, it is important to note that Austria has historically been a left-wing country. This allowed for the increased tax base and subsequent increased spending on public infrastructure and services as well as the cheaper post-secondary education. Although, these priorities may be shifting because in late Fall 2017 Austria elected a far-right government. It will be interesting to see how this affects Innsbruck and if my experience of the city will match that of future travellers.
The main type of housing is mid-rise apartments. Often these buildings are mixed use with a floor of ground level commercial space. This density and mixed-use spatial organization allow for easy connection to essential services and a more compact city that is friendly to active transportation. Living in this increased density does eliminate private-outdoor space for households; however, it is balanced out by the immense amount of outdoor amenity spaces and public recreation facilities scattered throughout the city.
Innsbruck has been around for an incredibly long time. There is evidence of people living in the Innsbruck area since the early stone-age. In 1429 it became the capital of Tyrol. This capital city status helped establish Innsbruck as a centre for culture and European politics. It is important to note that the Innsbruck municipal government has made a conscious choice to prioritize retaining the history and culture of the city. They have done this through preserving a number of historic sites around the city like Ambras Castle shown in the photo below. Furthermore, all current buildings really fit within the historical architectural style of the city and height restrictions across most of the city. This effort has left a beautiful city of seamlessly integrated modern and historic infrastructure.
Innsbruck has a diverse transportation system. This includes a public bus system, a public inner city train system, an extensive bike network, canal, a private train system into and out of the city, extensive automobile infrastructure, and a small airport. As shown in the photo below, Innsbruck is truly inclusive to ALL modes of transportation.
-WORKING WITH THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT:
Innsbruck is restricted in growth because it is in a valley surrounded by mountains. Therefore, the city has developed dense to keep it within these natural borders. However, Innsbruck's slope has also been utilized for a number of developments. Small family farms are scattered all over the fringes of the city to utilize valley’s slope in order to receive maximum sunlight for crops. Historically the city has used this natural slope to keep castles and religious buildings secure from invaders and in modern-day provide amazing views of the city and surrounding valley. The slope was also used for numerous events when the city hosted the Olympic games which is visible by the massive the ski jumping tower just outside of downtown. The Inn river is another major geographic factor the city must deal with. It runs through the middle of Innsbruck and has served as a major pathway for transportation and commerce as it connects the Swiss Alps to the Black Sea. The edges of the river also host a number of markets and multi-use paths that create a vibrant sphere of activity.
Innsbruck shows the benefit a city can receive from investing in its history, pushing for density, pursuing a diverse transportation system, and working with the natural environmental barriers of the city. While I don’t believe Innsbruck is perfect, nor has it developed a formula for all cities to follow, maybe planners can take more notice of this city and all that it has achieved in order to apply the aspects that are most relevant to their own city.