The Unrealized Budapest

Every successive era had its own vision of the future of Budapest. The transport engineers and urban planners of the first half of the 20th century envisaged a bridge at the Parliament building, a funicular railway on Gellért Hill and a spacious avenue in the Elisabeth Town district. Some of the issues they faced still remain timely today. Should we build a pedestrian bridge across the Danube? What can we do with the railway that divides the city in two and where should the main terminal be located? Is it worth relocating the Western Railway Station from deep inside the city out to Rákosrendező or is it better if passengers find themselves right on the Grand Boulevard as soon as they get off the train? They were already contemplating terminating the already outdated system of head stations and drafted the first plans of a metro network.

Those were followed by new dreams over the years: in the 1950s, these concerned a grand scale metro system decorated with statues and frescos, followed by ones about facilities supporting the growing motorised traffic; redirecting the Grand Boulevard underground at the Blaha Lujza Square junction, a two-level motorway ring along Hungária boulevard as well as expressways criss-crossing the metropolis.

Those plans and visions became the subjects of heated political and media debates from time to time; concepts announced with the greatest certainty were shelved after a few years as the economic and/or political environment changed. Sometimes, even documents went missing or disappeared in archives for an eternity. The Unrealized Budapest also comprises fragments of half-finished grand concepts passed down to us, including the Northern Running Shed or the overpass at Flórián Square.

In some cases, one might be thankful for all the things were unrealized due to the lack of money, time or energy. Belated development is both a curse and a blessing: on the one hand, the construction of a railway tunnel connecting the terminal stations has yet to materialise for at least 80 years and the metro lines reaching the suburbs remain a distant dream even in 2022, yet it is some consolation that the historical urban fabric of Budapest was not transformed in the second half of the 20th century so drastically for the sake of motorised traffic as many other cities in Europe and North America.

People in every successive era wished to resolve the problems of their own days, therefore the plans that were considered realistic at the time of their development are indicative of the ambitions and challenges of the time. They often still convey valid messages for the present and even the future, either as ideas worthy of consideration or ones that are to be avoided at all costs.