Lots of links have come in to this front-page story in the New York Times on the Madrid Rio:
More than six miles long, [the Madrid Rio] transforms a formerly neglected area in the middle of Spain’s capital. Its creation, in four years, atop a complex network of tunnels dug to bury an intrusive highway, also rejuvenates a long-lost stretch of the Manzanares River, and in so doing knits together neighborhoods that the highway had cut off from the city center.
Two points: (1) Why haven’t we all heard about this before?
Spain spent $6 billion to tunnel 27 miles of the the M-30 expressway, and, of that, $500 million to create the surface greenway – the six-mile Madrid Rio. Here’s an aerial map of part of it under construction in the central city:
This puts it in the class of Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon (which, I suppose, is not all that well known over here, either) – and another example of how a massive capital project to remove a surface or elevated freeway dramatically increases property values and human values (someone needs to do a study on that!)
The park, ironically, was something of an afterthought:
Only several years after construction on the tunnels had begun in 2003, with the inevitable traffic snarls provoking a political firestorm, did the city organize a competition. Various big-name architects proposed erecting flashy buildings.
The winner was a group of local architects, led by Ginés Garrido, who teamed up with Adriaan Geuze and his high-profile Dutch urban design and landscape firm, West 8. They proposed no grand new time-consuming, budget-breaking monuments, but a suite of modest new bridges, along with the renovation of some great historic ones, amid a variety of green spaces. …
Public grumbling about traffic jams gradually morphed into praise for a new green space.
Secondly, the passerelle, the Arganzuela Bridge, was also something of an afterthought too:
It’s only a pity that the city also awarded Dominique Perrault, one of the celebrity architects who lost the competition, a late commission. Evidently nervous about leaving the project without a new architectural landmark, the government approved his costly design for an oversize footbridge. Wrapped in an immense, incongruous spiral of Mr. Perrault’s signature stainless-steel mesh, the striking bridge blocks views and conjures up some giant antenna that has crashed in the park.
Be sure to check out the slide show comments, given the observations that the Times correspondent makes about the difficulties of doing anything similar on this continent. (Vancouver will have its chance to show what we can do with the Viaducts.)
Eric Britton at World Streets also has an important comment, given that the expense of this civic project – mainly to bury the road – is perhaps one of the reasons Spain is in such financial difficulties:
… we now have as a result of these great demonstration projects a strong and growing public awareness of the importance of creating this public space and amenity in the city (i.e., a growing base of political support), and at the same time from the leading edge of policy and practice of transport in cities the knowledge that we can still do this in parallel with reducing the infrastructure take of the all-car system.
In other words, could they have got most of the advantages at a fraction of the cost if they hadn’t been so determined to save the road capacity?
UPDATE: A good friend from Madrid, Brian Williamson, responds:
Madrid Rio is one of those major projects that really does transform a city. My first visit was a couple of weeks after it opened and I would estimate that there were at least a half million people there. As the thousands of newly-planted trees mature, it will all look even better and perform better as a park.
One of my favourite little details was a set of swings hanging down from one of the bridges. (I’ve always wanted swings installed under the Burrard Bridge.)
My only real concern is the absence of serious facilities for bicycles. (But that is consistent with all projects in Madrid. It seems that no one who actually uses a bike is allowed to participate in any facility or transportation planning!)
The transit system is wonderful; the planning for future capacity in major stations is quite amazing, as are the pedestrian facilities. I did a little post on my live journal about integration of old and new a while ago: http://pbehr.livejournal.com/22041.html
As for funding, Spain’s financial problems come from massive over-construction in the private sector. There are more than two million unoccupied housing units (out of a total of 25 million). Governments for the most part have been fairly responsible (not all and not always, of course). Bailing out the banks and funding unemployment benefits for construction workers have been the big-ticket items.