The #CitiesFirst Urban Profiles: Budapest

Amongst European capital cities, Budapest most represents the merging of unique and multiple settlements into a coherent metropolitan unit.  This can be seen when scanning the city across multiple vantage points from both sides of the Danube River.  As a city of 1.756 million inhabitants located in north central Hungary, Budapest is an ancient settlement with roots tracing back to the 4th century BC.  and throughout this rich history, mobility and technology have been the twin drivers of innovation, much as the previous twin settlements of Buda and Pest came together to form the city we all know today.

Urban History

Budapest traces its origins to the 4th century BC, upon the arrival and occupation of Celtic settlers in the Hungarian Plain.  This original settlement along the banks of the Danube River was eventually absorbed into the Roman Empire, at the time becoming the provincial capital of Lower Pannonia in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.  This riverfront capital witnessed subsequent waves of settlement ranging from the Huns to the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin in the 9th century AD.  This paved the way for the Hungarian Kingdom to be established in the 11th century AD, and subsequent joint empire with Austria in the 19th century and formation of the modern state in the 20th century. Throughout each of these epochs, the area now known as Budapest formed a unique identity at the crossroads of Europe and served as a cultural interface between multiple cultures and civilizations.  The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1873 paved the way for rapid growth in the twin settlements of Buda and Pest, with each forming a unique cultural and political identity. At the same time, the city of Budapest was officially created on 17 November 1873 from a merger of the three neighboring cities of Pest, Buda and Óbuda.  By the end of the 19th century, Budapest had become one of the cultural centers of Europe and rivaled other capitals such as Vienna and Paris.  The 20th century saw rapid change in the merged Budapest, with two world wars and two revolutions, causing great upheaval to the city.  However, modern Budapest is once again a dynamic, modern city that celebrates its rich urban history and position within Central Europe.

Architecture

Budapest is a living museum of multiple historic and modern architectural styles, reflecting its rich and multi-layered urban history.  The dominant styles include Baroque, Art Nouveau, and Bauhaus.  As a predominantly Catholic country, Budapest showcases a number of fine examples of Baroque architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries.  The most notable examples are in the form of cathedrals and religious complexes, such as the Church of St. Anna in Batthyhány Square which overlooks the river and Parliament on the other side.  In the Castle District, the Holy Trinity Column, the National Dance Theater, and the Royal Palace are all built in Baroque style.  Art Nouveau is an architectural style reflective of the 19th century, and its presence can be felt throughout Budapest. Excellent examples of the Art Nouveau style blend cues from traditional Hungarian and Transylvanian art with Far East styles to create some of the city’s most famous and visually memorable buildings.  Some great examples include the Museum Of Applied Arts, Gellért Baths, and the Gutenberg House.  Bauhaus is another 20th century style with many residential buildings, cinemas and churches built in the style. It was popular between 1930 and 1948 and its buildings can mostly be seen in the Újlipótváros neighborhood, as well as in Szent István Park, and on Margit Körút.

Street Network & Land Use

The urban street network and morphology of Budapest encompass a range of historical layers including Roman, Medieval and Modern, each overlapping with one another across multiple districts throughout the city. The city of Budapest’s urban street network ensures the connection between subdistricts of cities and discloses them. Moreover, the structure of the street network depends on its tasks of transportation. Results of these influencing factors are often a complex network which depends on the environment of the street and the land use. The shape and size of Budapest has evolved over time, but its street network bears the stamp of its original and historic land use.  The current city structure and form is largely monocentric and spread across a varied topographic riverfront setting. The high-density core of Budapest includes about 500,000 people or 26% of the city’s population.The current mix of residences, business, and retail is similar to the type of land use encountered in the city core of Western European cities such as Paris or Berlin.  The absence of land markets in Budapest’s recent history has left its mark in the areas at the immediate periphery of the historical core. The density drops suddenly at a suburban level at only 4 kilometers from the center of the Central Business District (CBD).  Therefore, with Budapest’s rich historical legacy and recent developments in the post-Cold War era, the city is challenged to strike an appropriate balance between the past and the present.

Transportation System & Mobility Plans

Budapest’s public transport network covers the capital city well: you can get to any part of the city with the frequent metro trains, trams, trolleybuses and buses. There are four metro lines in Budapest, and the important points of the city center are connected by a tram network. Passenger transport on a single day is provided by some 1,900 buses, trams, trolleybuses, metro and suburban railway trains, which have more than 43 thousand departures combined.Beside these options you can also travel with the  public bike-sharing service MOL Bubi, taxi or special transport services like the Funicular, Chairlift, boat or sightseeing tram.  In addition to that, the number of micromobility users is on the increase in Budapest: walking, cycling, and e-scooters are supplementing other forms of transportation. Micromobility gives access to places in the city that are hard to reach by car or public transport.

To support future urbanization and growth of the transport network, the Budapest Mobility Plan approved in 2019 is based on project-based evaluations of transport concepts contained in the development plans for Budapest. The overall goal of the plan is to improve the competitiveness and transport of Budapest furthermore to improve the liveability of the city and the surrounding areas, based on sustainability aspects.

Mobility Innovations

In accordance with the comprehensive urban development concept, Budapest is to become a liveable, attractive and uniquely characteristic capital city by 2030. In order for this vision to be realized, the transport sector must set its own measurable objectives.  Currently, BKK (Center for Budapest Transport) is working on the realization of over 80 mobility tech innovation projects that are either in the preparatory, planning or implementation phase.  Cooperation between international and domestic transport stakeholders as well as R&D pilot projects enable BKK to try out new solutions that have highly significant roles.  R+D projects are such pilot projects, through which BKK is able to try out a suggested system without the need of excessive costs. In case they are successful, BKK can use the experience acquired in the course of the pilot project well during a larger-scale procurement.  To foster mobility innovation in Budapest, BKK is also a member of four prominent international organizations, such as: UITP (The International Association of Public Transport), EMTA (European Metropolitan Transport Authorities), Polis (Network of European Cities and Regions Cooperating for Innovative Transport Solutions) és EUROCITIES (Network of Major European cities).

Conclusion

Budapest is a city steeped with a rich architectural and cultural heritage. To traverse throughout the city is like peeling the layers of an onion, each with its unique characteristics.  The riverfront setting and varied topography give the city a sense of place, along with a dense urban street network, pedestrianized environment, and a range of shared mobility options for residents and tourists to use.  However, Budapest also has a progressive eye towards the future, and is leveraging its strong affiliation of public and private stakeholders to create an ecosystem that encourages significant investment in the transport sector, all with a goal of decarbonization and mode shift.   Budapest is definitely a city to pay close attention to in the years ahead, as it realizes the ambitions of its long range comprehensive urban mobility plan.

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