It is being viewed as the correction of a historic mistake. More than 40 years after parts of the canal that encircled Utrecht’s old town were concreted over to accommodate a 12-lane motorway, the Dutch city is celebrating the restoration of its 900-year-old moat.
In an attempt to recast its residents’ relationship with the car, Utrecht’s inner city is again surrounded by water and greenery rather than asphalt and exhaust fumes.
The reopening of the Catharijnesingel attracted pleasure boats and even a few swimmers into the water, with the alderman for the central Hoog Catharijne district, Eelco Eerenberg, lauding the “grand conclusion” of decades of work.
The first plans for restoring the canal, or Stadsbuitengracht, which dates from the city’s birth in 1122, had been made in the 1990s.
Residents then voted in a 2002 referendum for a city-centre “master plan”, in which water would replace roads. But efforts have been boosted in more recent years by a broader attempt by the municipality to sideline the car and promote healthier living.