“It has completely transformed the city!”
“It is the best decision the city hall ever made!”
Spoken by two native Valencians in 2014.
What do you do if you have a wide river running through your city, and it keeps overflowing and flooding streets and houses?
In Valencia, Spain they took drastic measures: They grabbed their shovels and dug a new, even wider, route for the water to run — all the way around the city. No more problems with flooding.
The only drawback was that they were now left with kilometres of riverbed ploughing an oversized, barren furrow right through the old city.
This was in the late 1950s, and in the 1960s General Franco backed a proposal to solve the issue by turning the old river into a motorway, but the idea was forgotten again. Thankfully. Twenty years later, however, in the early 1980s, the dried out riverbed was still just sitting there. Looking sad and dry. Dirt, wild vegetation and a bit of brown grass competing for space.
And then the Valencians had an idea: Basically, what they were sitting on was a very long strip of uninterrupted land running right through Spain’s third largest city. It was pleasantly removed from traffic, as it sat metres below the ground level of the surrounding city, and it already had bridges running across it so it wasn’t blocking any of this same traffic.
Sounds like a perfect setting for a city park? Well, that’s what the Valencians thought. And oh were they right.
A green snake of life
Today the Turia Garden, or Jardín del Turia, is the green backbone of the city. A lush lifeline of fruit and palm trees, flowers, fountains, playgrounds, football pitches, baseball fields, cafés, outdoor gyms and much more.
Here the Valencians come to stroll, run, play, go to the circus, eat food, do sports, go to fairs — or just sit under a tree and read today’s edition of El Pais.
A sanctuary of tranquility set away from the hustle and bustle of the city, it even has two metro stations underneath it so you can catch a train straight home when you are feeling a bit sleepy from the white wine picnic in the sun.
And as Turia is not a neatly defined, square space like parks most often are, but instead bends its way no less than 9 kilometres through the city, it becomes a “presence”. A green breathing space that is rarely too far away from where you are.
This is one of the reasons why Valencia is a much more liveable city than Barcelona just 3 hours to the north. Starved of green space, Barcelona can at times feel claustrophobic and pressured — Valencia rarely does. Because you know that lush garden, that open space, is always there.
A good idea, a bit of out-of-the box thinking, and the city was, in the words of its citizens, “transformed”. And it even required modest investments compared to many other urban projects of this scale.
Jardín del Turia is a prime example of clever reuse of the already existing. Often, it is not preferable to tear down the old to build something new in its place. Rethinking the old, and finding new uses for it, can offer completely new opportunities while retaining the “soul” that is so hard to build from scratch. Working within the context, while seeking to redefine it at the same time, can be a strong tool in building new uses into old spaces.
In Valencia, they think that doing just that, was the best decision ever made.