Michele hits up the Champagne Bar

Posted on January 3, 2011 by


Paul Day's - The Meeting Place

I imagined myself sipping a glass of champagne before jetting off to Paris for the day…

That was me, in awe of the champagne bar at St. Pancras International in the heart of London.  Actually, I was in awe of everything at St. Pancras- the 30 foot bronze sculpture of a couple saying their goodbyes underneath a large clock; the sleek looking Eurostar trains ready to whisk one away to the European continent; the endless number of shops, including a locally sourced, seasonal market, that make the San Francisco Ferry Building look small.

I had arrived by train from the London suburb of Bromley and was taking the Underground to Camden Town– but not before I drank in the beauty and scale of London’s newly renovated (and dramatic!) transit hub.

It was in the midst of San José’s Diridon Station Area planning effort, that I took a much needed trip to London to reconnect with family. My mom grew up in Bromley and her family still lives in the area.  It had been 11 years since my last visit, and during those years, I had become partially immersed in Bay Area urban planning issues. So while the intention was to definitely spend time reading about the world’s most deadly animals with my 5-year old cousin, I could not pass up the opportunity to see London through a new lens. I told my aunt about my desire to visit train stations. She just looked at me quizzically and then suggested St. Pancras.

I was not disappointed. The architecture is stunning- a breathtaking mix of old and new: The original St. Pancras Station, with its Victorian Gothic facade and immense iron and glass engine shed, opened in 1868.  In 2007, it reopened after an 800 million pound restoration that includes a vast new building in aluminum and concrete. St. Pancras Chambers, the public face of the international station, is also being restored to its former glory as a 244 room hotel and 68 residential apartments.

It is here at St. Pancras International that high speed trains can take one (such as me in my fantasies) to Paris in 2 hours and 15 minutes while reaching speeds of 186 mph. This being the greener way to travel: high speed train trips emit a tenth of the carbon dioxide of flying, and Eurostar has made a commitment to cut their carbon dioxide emissions by 35% per traveller by 2012. Every journey is made carbon neutral by offsetting CO2 emissions through investment in specially chosen projects such as Jalalpur Biomass in Punjab, India. And they stay up to date with the latest thinking on climate change by partnering with organizations such as Friends of the Earth.

I was impressed. One feels quite cosmopolitan standing beneath that vaulted roof. It got me thinking….high speed rail is planned to enter the Bay Area in grand fashion at Diridon Station. The opportunity is there to get all the pieces right: historic reuse of an existing station coupled with striking new architecture that lets you know you have arrived in San José; the environmental benefits of high speed train travel that easily connects up with local transit; a diverse mix of homes, shops and jobs linked by walkable, bike-friendly streets; and an inclusive public realm that celebrates art, history, culture and green space.

Some may say that San José is no London.  Well, of course it isn’t- San José is San José, and that sweet specialness must be honored in its own right at Diridon Station. And, may it include a champagne bar.

{When New IPO Foreign Correspondent Michele Beasley isn’t diligently researching the finest examples of public transit around the world she helps local communities design sustainable and visionary general plans. And visits the occasional champagne bar.}