Month: August 2012

Spanish Mediterranean (1)

The Spanish mediterranean coast has one of the highest concentrations of touristic beds in the world. They are mainly linked to the “sun and beach” model, used from the 1950s on as a tool for economic grow in the state’s policies, in which tourism was to play an essential role.

There are areas in which the buildings are recent and/or refurbishment operations have been relevant, but in other areas buildings are quite close to the beach, are over 50 years old and raise issues that in other contexts are often associated to marginal neighborhoods rather than to tourism areas: low constructive quality and need for rehabilitation, poor efficiency in terms of energy and water use, a deficient public space design, a bad physical image of the buildings. Despite that, these spaces are still raising revenue, even if with time markets have become stratified due to their degree of physical conservation or transformation.

At the same time demand has diversified. Many northern Europeans have arrived to settle permanently or for long seasons every year, looking more for warm winters than for beaches or the seashore. This has opened the hinterland to real estate markets, and has also increased a problem that was already relevant: the cost of maintaining year-round services to urban tissues that are occupied just for a few months.

The landscape of this northern coast of the Alicante province is marked by steep hills and high rock cliffs over a complex coastline. The impact of tourism on this landscape is clear.

This week these notes will be about this reality, analyzing six examples in the Alicante province:

–           Benidorm

–           Denia

–           Calpe

–           Altea

–           Jávea

The economic relevance of each sector is estimated according to data from the Anuario Económico de España 2012 from La Caixa. The following graph shows the relative weight of each sector, and, for comparative background, the situation in Alicante, the provincial capital (population over 300.000). Benidorm is clearly singular due to the hotel concentration.

The analysis of the night stays in hotels on the Alicante coast (in which these municipalities are included) shows that each year Spanish tourists represent closet o 60% of all hotel nights, the rest corresponding to foreigners. The evolution by month shows that foreigners fluctuate less, while Spaniards concentrate in summer. Although in 2011 the hotels concentrated in the whole of Spain 73,6% of all night stays, these data cannot be directly extrapolated to the whole of tourism activities, as rental apartments and homes and apartments owned by tourists can have different dynamics, there are zonal specificities and there is also an unregistered tourism lodging offer.


Polop: urban growth on the hinterland

Night stays at hotels by spanish and foreign tourists in the area

Biblio (5) Public policies and tourism in Spain

Here is the first PHD dissertation (María Isabel Jaimez Gago, 2004) mentioned in this section. Published on the internet by the regional government of Andalusia, it is a good introduction to the growth of tourism as a major economic sector in Spain and in Andalusia, one of the main regions for that activity.

The text studies the growth of tourism in Spain from its first regulations (a Royal Order from 1833 liberalizing the right to open inns), through the first “modern” texts related to tourism (the National Commission to foster in Spain the artistic and leisure excursions of foreign public, in 1905), the creation of the Paradores network, that of the Ministry of Information and Tourism in 1951, and its evolution up to the beginning of the 2000s.

Of special interest to the theme of this blog is chapter III, on the planning policies related to tourism, its promotion and the way in which these policies were related to general economic development plans. Point 10.8, on the Andalusia Tourism General Plan, is also noteworthy.

It can be useful to remind here that google translate (or other similar instruments) allows an automatic translation (of lesser quality than a human translation, but usually enough to understand the general meaning of a text) of full pdf files)

London (6)

The last time I visited London was autumn 2005. Tony Blair was Prime Minister and the world seemed launched to an endless economic growth. This explains to those living in London now why some of my images lack some new elements, most notoriously the Shard, the new skyscraper by Renzo Piano on the south bank of the Thames.

London is, strictly speaking, a small municipality, nearly without permanent inhabitants (especially when compared to the army of employees working there each day), on a small area to the east of the West End, the area mostly explored by tourists. Managed by the Corporation of London, a peculiar institution, on this area there is an overlay of quite different architectural elements, marked by the kind of street grid already described.

The urban landscape of this area concentrates, on the subtract of the roman fort, elements from different moments. It is impossible to tell whether the result is good or bad, it is experimental as in similar cities, as the references of a combination of such diverse sensibilities by the presumed best architects in the world are not many.

I love that landscape, and I wonder how this will get old if the strength of the financial sector in the City is permanently and sizably reduced.

London (5)

Two years ago the London Mayor inaugurated a new pedestrian passage at Oxford Circus. The interesting point is in a design that allows diagonal crossing. This is common in some Asian cities as Tokyo, but seldom used in European cities. There is a reason to make that here, as this is a crossroads at a really frequented retail area, where this design allows a more fluid pedestrian traffic in all directions. The only thing to know is how sales have progressed in the stores right on the ancient pedestrian “gridlock” points…

Biblio (4) UK National Planning Policy Framework

It is quite possible that a large share of the readers of this blog will never practice urban planning in the UK. But the document that is commented is interesting in comparative terms and by its enunciation of public policies (a literary corpus in itself…).

The European Union is composed of countries with very different legal traditions, usually grouped in two families: southern countries have usually Latin origin systems, highly codified, while the Northern Countries are rather based on the Germanic law tradition. In the case of the British system there is a tradition of Acts passed by the Parliament and of documents exposing the policies of the current government. The electoral platforms, considered as mere political marketing tools in the Latin countries, can gain in Britain a certain legal status without going through the Parliament (although usually subject to public consultation). So are formulated the Planning Policy Statements and other documents compulsory in a variable degree.

The National Planning Policy Framework formulated by the current Liberal- Conservative coalition government has been published in march 2012.

Sustainable development is configured as the main aim of the system, to be attained through these lines of action:

1-        Building a strong, competitive economy

2-        Ensuring the vitality of town centres

3-        Supporting a prosperous rural economy

4-        Promoting sustainable transport

5-        Supporting high quality communications infrastructure

6-        Delivering a wide choice of high quality homes

7-        Requiring good design

8-        Promoting healthy communities

9-        Protecting Green Belt land

10-     Meeting the challenge of climate change, flooding and coastal change

11-     Conserving and enhancing the natural environment

12-     Conserving and enhancing the historic environment

13-     Facilitating the sustainable use of minerals

The document defines the principles for plan- making:

–           Local planning authorities should positively seek opportunities to meet the development needs of their area;

–           Local Plans should meet objectively assessed needs, with sufficient flexibility to adapt to rapid change, unless:

  • Any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole
  • Specific policies in theFramework indicate development should be restricted

Decision-taking principles are also established:

–           Approving development proposals that accord with the development plan without delay

–           Where the development plan is absent, silent or relevant policies are out‑of‑date, granting permission unless:

  • Any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole
  • Specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted.

These policies must be read on the context of the precedent acts of the coalition government, which previously suppressed the regional planning system (but for London) and has given greater power to local governments. Some parts of the document remind the basic principles of the Spanish Land Law of 1998

London (4)

The layout of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich and its gardens is one of the most interesting public spaces in the London Area. It is a large baroque composition, whose monumentality has been used for many films.

The site facing the Isle of Dogs and Canary Warf, the old dock in which the bananas coming from the Canary islands were once unloaded and today flourishes a huge business area, has brought to this layout a new scenario. The uncertain future of the MIllenium Dome brings some suspense…

The images show the view from the park on the Isle of Dogs (1) towards the Observatory (2) and conversely, the access sequence from the river up to the observatory on the hill (3), and the views from the observatory towards Canary warf (4) and the Millennium Dome (5)

London (3)

The urban structure of London shows, when compared to other European cities, singular qualities. The lack of a central power able to impose its will on the rest of the political agents, resulting mainly from the civil wars and Oliver Cromwell’s revolutionary period, explains the nearly total lack of large, wide, straight avenues and of baroque urban layouts. It is true that Buckingham Palace is at the end of a wide boulevard, but this one sits on a royal park, which is Crown land. It is difficult to find wide and straight streets, but for some XIXth century layouts (Belgravia), that are almost always limited to the neighborhood scale.

Today’s street structure still shows quite clearly the situation prior to the XIXth century. Compared to the opening of the Parisian boulevards, or even Madrid’s Gran Vía, Regent Street and the curve to Picaddilly Circus show, with an elegant design, a permanence of the public domain and its irregularities that can also be read as a preservation of the private realm.

This is often the result of long term surface rights rents (ground lease, tenure a bail); a part of the large British fortunes originate in this business, by renting land plots to developers for decades, and recovering full property with all its content at the end of the term. Buying a home in these areas is not properly a buy, as it can be subject to this limit. This explains the uniformity of some zones, and also the persistence of the street grid.

On the other side there is also a substantial social housing stock; a part of it has been transferred to private hands from the 1980s. The system remains anyway mainly rent-oriented.

The structure of London is so the result of the overlay of a large river, a set of canals whose role is minor from the advent of the rail, a rail system whose technical demands have made it one of the main alterations of the urban fabric in the last 200 years, the presence of the large royal parks as the main public spaces of the city, and a street grid that has adapted to other conditions and has not had such a directive role as in other cities.

London (2)

Once the Olympics finished arrives some sort of calm, combined with a persistent economic crisis, with a looming larger crisis on the Euro zone. The images of the 2011 urban riots are still present in the minds.

What is still left of the London that ruled the world at the turn of the XXth century? A lot and just a few things.

The city is still marked by many of the same structural elements, in a larger measure than other European capitals, in part due to the strong associations that opposed the urban motorways during the last quarter of the XXth century. High tech architecture maintains an image close somehow to that of the big steel structures of the XIXth century.

But the city has grown, the personality of its zones has evolved, and despite the substantial expansion of the financial economy up to the present crisis, Great Britain has become a mid-sized power with a role in the world still to be defined.

London (1)

London 2012 Olympics have represented a sizeable investment of public funds around the valley of the Lea, as small tributary of the Thames on its north bank, north of the Docklands. What will happen now that the games are over?

As the large international events have grown in complexity and investment amounts, so have grown the demands to conceive their design and operations as to ensure the most socially and economically adequate way to give a good use to the infrastructure and other elements built for the occasion after the event. In the first times the issue was the destination of the housing units built in the Olympic villages, later it was transportation, and the array of issues has since widened.

Since the 1990s the screening of the candidacies to Olimpic city has given an increasing importance to the issue of legacy, partially to counter the criticism against the cost of previous events.

In London the legacy proposal has been organized around:

–           A redefinition of the area around six new neighborhoods, to be finished by 2040.

–           Housing: housing units are 65% of the building on the Olympic Park, with a prevision to build up to 12.000 units, including 35% affordable housing and 42% with 3 or more bedrooms, with surfaces allowing long term flexibility.

–           Parks: the new park system, already configured in its esencial points for the Games, covers 102 hectares. A part corresponds to contaminated soils due to past industrial activities, that have been cleaned up for the games. The potential of the canals for leisure and transport will be developed.

–           Employment: the Olympic Park area has a fragile socioeconomic structure. The aim is to double the previous jobs number on site.

–           Sports venues: five of the large venues will remain, with a partial reduction in size to adapt maintenance costs to predicted use

–           Public facilities: three new primary schools and two secondary schools are planned, along with a sports academy on the Olympic Stadium. Each neighborhood will have a community space.

–           There are plans to build new bridges, 14 km of new roads and 35 km of pedestrian and bike lanes.

–           Transport: use of the improvements in the railroad and underground, already in service for the games, planned under the principle of minimization of the use of private cars.

Under the current economic crisis, the delivery of these targets will surely bring lessons for future events.

More information on:

Paris (14)

Paris is still one of the most important and influential cities in the world, despite the diminished political power of France in the recent decades. It has first level cultural and high education facilities and high quality public spaces, and the city still plays a major role in the French and international economic scene. It still is home to innovations, but the capacity to surprise the world has somehow faded, having lost the previous major role in technological areas.

The magnitude of the problems of Paris and its ability (or inability) to cope with them gives interesting examples in many areas. President Sarkozy’s initiative launching a strategic brainstorm on the future of Paris, in terms of urban model and of governance, is maintained by President Hollande,  and can be of substantial interest for many big metropolises around the world. Addressing the inner contradictions of an increasingly diverse and economically segregated population will be a central issue.

The role of Paris in the world depends mainly on the future of Europe, thanks to the French ability to do what London and Berlin have not achieved: configure a positive and ordered image, despite its shortcomings and some troubling moments as the 2005 riots.