The ski season has already started. But there is hardly any snow in Davos.
It is one of the first days of the new year 2023. The view from the window of the Rhaetian Railway reveals a dreary landscape. Instead of white, the colors brown and gray dominate. The destination of the train journey is the highest city in Europe – former health resort and venue of the World Economic Forum (WEF): Davos GR. Soon the rich and powerful of the world will arrive here.
The ski season has already started. But there is no snow on the asphalt roads and flat concrete roofs of Davos. Instead, rain falls from the sky. “It’s not nice,” says resident Margarete Schüpfer (85) with a view of the city. And says what many think.
The architecture polarizes
Blick asked passers-by, including tourists and residents of Davos, for their opinion of the city’s architecture. There are two views of Davos, says Giacomo Müller* (62). «One thing is the beauty of nature. The other is the architecture. You may like it or not,» the owner of a holiday apartment puts it diplomatically. “I like it best when there’s a lot of snow,” says Uwe Schroeder-Wildberg (57), who is here on vacation.
Foreign media are clearer. The “world” dubbed the Mecca of the powerful last year as “ugly Davos”. The city, a scattered settlement stretching along the Landwasser, “made up of Gründerzeit palaces, flat roof boxes and parking lots the size of a football field”. One speaks of an urban planning catastrophe.
The Grisons architecture critic and “Hochparterre” publisher Köbi Gantenbein (67) describes Davos as follows: “The place may be successful and lively, its social and economic history impressive – but the image of the place is bad, miserable and chaotic.”
This doesn’t just mean the concrete blocks. It’s also about traffic management. The level crossings regularly block the flow of traffic through the city. In the winter season, there is traffic jam and chaos in the center every day. Day tourists come by car in winter and park in the Parsenn car park. Getting there by public transport is difficult. Davos Dorf train station is too far away from the mountain railway.
The city has a problem. Not even Landammann Philipp Wilhelm (34) denies that. Blick stands with him in the large Parsenn parking lot. “An inhospitable place,” admits Wilhelm. The plan is to make way for a new train station.
“Davos still has a lot of potential”
Davos is not ugly, the Landammann defends himself against the bad image of his city. Nor is it an urban disaster. “The master builder of Davos was the sun, at the time when Davos was still a health resort,” says Wilhelm. The houses are oriented to the sun, with balconies to the south.
However, Wilhelm does not deny that there is room for improvement. “Davos still has a lot of potential to become more attractive,” said the Landammann.
Innovations for 250 million
Davos is about to have a makeover. The redesign of the town center is a comprehensive project. In addition to moving the station by 400 meters, it includes a redesign of the promenade and the Seehofseeli. The parking lot will be moved to the basement.
“With these measures, we want to unbundle the flow of traffic and create a new meeting zone,” says the Landammann. Space for strolling should be created where today the busy highway and the parking lot dominate the townscape.
The innovations are not exactly cheap: the beauty treatment for Davos is expected to cost 250 million francs – if it is accepted by the people. However, the city does not have to handle the project alone.
The Rhaetian Railway will be involved in the construction of the station. A housing cooperative is also investing and wants to ensure that there will be more affordable housing in the center of Davos in the future. The mountain railway also invests.
The municipality is currently expecting costs of CHF 88 million. Davos will borrow money for this. According to the Landammann, a guarantee of CHF 20 million is planned. “That’s financially justifiable,” says Wilhelm.
Green light is still pending
However, nothing is set in stone yet. Because the project is in the revision phase. At the end of 2023, the people of Davos will vote on the construction loan and the conversion.
If the people give the green light, the first stage of the conversion should take place from 2024. This includes the relocation of the train station and the realization of the bus station. The construction of the underground car park is planned for 2026. This is followed by the redesign of the park and the housing development. According to the Landammann, it should take at least 2030 for Davos to shine in new splendor.
This year’s WEF visitors will not see anything of the big makeover. With a bit of luck, the snow will cover the dreary asphalt surfaces and flat concrete roofs of Europe’s highest city by then.
*Name changed by editors