I'm fresh back from New York City, and from my much longed for visit to the High Line, the wonderful urban park built over old railway tracks.
You can read about the High Line, too, but the thing is my visit to this park put me in mind of all the projects that have been undertaken in major cities to recover old and run down areas as public spaces, the multiple sustainable development efforts to turn rat holes into green, lively, dynamic city areas meant for the citizens, which make big cities warmer, opener, fresher.
One of such projects is here in my own city, Madrid Rio and, although it's monumentally bigger than the High Line, the two concepts have one thing in common: they recover an important area in their respective cities as public space, to be enjoyed by families, the young, the old, the jockeys, and of course the tourists like me.
Recovering a space lost to mad development
Madrid Rio reuses a huge space that had become rather inhospitable and useless, an expanse close to 7 million square meters surrounding the Manzanares river. That's 700 hectare, or +1700 acres!
The urban landscape around the river changed over the years due to a combination of factors, such as unplanned construction, tracing roads quite indiscriminately, and basically plain disregard for what now has become quite a must: sustainable growth.
The biggest damage was done by traffic, the old M-30 beltway around Madrid eating up any and all traces of air around the river. Those were the times, around the late 70' and 80' where car was king, and city air pollution a concept not yet invented.
What used to be a healthy water artery for the city became overtime a rather sore sight and actually an inconvenience, splitting the city in two and creating a "barrier" in Madrid.
The Madrid Rio project
Madrid Rio was approved on 2008, after most of the beltway traffic around the river was eliminated by the construction of Pharaonic tunnels that loop kilometers of the city.
Work has advanced considerably, but of course there is still a ways to go until 2012, or 2014, depending on approval of municipal funds, which is bound to be delayed now in this rather groggy economic climate.
When the project completes, six different districts around the river will have changed their anatomy for the better. At the moment, the project has done a good headway in four of those districts, and one can already see it, step on it, enjoy it. Little but healthy new planted trees are already growing where only cars and exhaust were seen two years ago.
The core themes
There are four core themes to the project:
- Recovery of the river itself, including the addition of an urban beach.
- The Pine Forest, extending the existing green areas and creating new ones along the length of the river
- Development and construction of a number of sports and recreational spaces.
- Development of urban infrastructures along the whole length of the river both to service Madrid Rio and the city districts around.
1. The river
The project means for the river to become a connection point again in Madrid, rather than a frontier. For that reason, 23 new bridges for pedestrians and cyclists are being built, some rather spectacular, designed by renowned architects.
Additionally, the old historic bridges like Toledo, Segovia or de la Reina are being prettied up by means of thorough scrubbing and the addition of new lightning effects.
A major part of the project to recover the river implies adding drainpipes, sewers, filter systems, storm tanks, and of course cleaning it up to accommodate a new urban beach.
2. The Pine Forest
On the west bank, the existing 200,000 square meters of green areas will be extended to over 3 million. The Spanish name for this space is "Salón de Pinos" which translates to "Pine Lounge", a very poetic denomination.
This huge park-like extension, about 6 kilometers in length, will host 26,000 new trees, bike paths, 17 areas for games, children parks, spaces for senior citizens, plus kiosks and lounge areas.
3. Cultural, recreational and sports facilities
The Magic Box
The Magic Box is a convertible, multi use space that yearly hosts the Masters Open, concerts and music shows, the latest big one being the European MTV Awards, conventions and art exhibitions of all types.
Evidently, along 42 kilometers there is more tan enough room for all sorts of recreation.
There will be 11 areas for children, 6 areas for senior citizens, 30 kilometers for bike paths, a rowing pier beside a fairly long channel, the Magic Box, which is already in use, and the Matadero (slaughterhourse) and Mercado de Frutas (Fruit and Vegetable Market) as cultural spaces to add to Madrid's offers.
Further south sits the historic and extremely well rehabilitated Matadero, the old slaughterhouse where most of the cattle meant for Madrid's consumption ended up. Today it's become a contemporary art center, with theater shows, design or photography or really any other sort of exhibitions. Every now and then it also hosts public or private events.
4. Development of the surrounding urban areas
Last but not least, an important part of the project
consist on developing the surrounding areas to Madrid Rio proper. Sidewalks of
the streets leading to the river will be expanded, traffic will be limited to
neighbors, new subterranean parking spaces will be created to remove cars from
the space. Up to 4,500 of those parking slots will be for neighbors to encourage strolling
around, and importantly, to protect from car exhaust fumes the cleaned-up buildings.
Video in English – Watch it and save yourselves the entirety of this article!
In my mind, the symbolic opening for the whole project took place in July 2010, with an event of epic proportions: The official reception of the Football World Cup 2010 winner team.
The stage sat on one side of the river, and across on the other side stood a mass of over half million people. The mega concert and fireworks that day made Madrid Rio a tangible reality in many citizens' hearts.
If you're in Madrid anytime soon, you're bound to get only half the story around Madrid Rio. So maybe best if you skip it and wait until I give you the go ahead, in a couple of years' time. Ding dong!