Just a visit to Instituto Eduardo Torroja in Madrid
Just a visit to Instituto Eduardo Torroja in Madrid
New Orleans organised in 1984 its Louisiana World Exposition, Seville its World Exposition in 1992, and Marseilles has used its 2013 declaration as European Cultural Capital (in a joint declaration that also included Kosice, in Slovakia) to promote its urban regeneration projects.
Large international events (world fairs, Olympic games, or cultural capitals) are coming under scrutiny not just for their cost or their financial balance, but also taking into account their legacy. Legacy encompasses the investments that are made for a short period of time that can later find a use adapted to the real permanent needs of the citizens. Expect such debates to raise by summer this year as the Brazil World Cup becomes the season’s issue. From this point of view, the large events balance is varied, often just because socio-economic dynamics in these cities cannot absorb some uses.
1984 Exposition in New Orelans did not attain a financial balance. Its legacy includes the rehabilitation of the harbour front and some port buildings.
Expo 92 in Seville did not either get to an economic balanced result. A relevant surface of gardens was built, which created a problem of maintenance costs for the city, and a high speed train station was built to operate just for a few months. The urban conversion of the site and the theme parc that was created have only found a limited successs. But the large hydraulic works on the Guadalquivir river are still there.
Marseille’s project includes a relevant transformation of the seafront, with relevant projects as the European and Mediterranean Civilisations Museum of Norman Foster’s works on the Old Port. It is still to early to judge the results.
Here is an interesting article by Gabino Ponce Herrero on the evolution of the urban planning context in Havana during the first half of the XXth century. It is also the story of the eastern urban extension project, first thought as a private development linked to the new tunnel under the bay, and later developed under the socialist regime in a different way. The economic evolution of the country has made of what was to be a model (and would today probably seem a common social housing project in most of Europe) just an isolated work.
This is the kind of map we use often in urban planning. Flood risk due to river overflow can be really important in some cities, and this is not just the case in Spain, as they know so well in the Mississippi valley or, these days, in the Thames valley. The cartographic portal of the Spanish government for these risks can let you understand the amount of information that is available, but also the amount of work still to do to have a complete national map.
One of these ideas you sometimes hear among architects is that of making expressive façades, that can change over time and situations. Which is rather close to what you would see changing your point of view, seeing the street from a higher position, seeing the façade bricks as a floor surface. Trees change over seasons, there are cars (or not)… but this is an un common view, hard to find (you need a window over the street…)
A mid-sized city can be such as a result of growth until reaching that status, or it can be the result of a certain downgrading from higher ranks. I am fully aware that some of the things I’m going to say could be unpleasant, but this is a long-term vision, and history is made every day, so nothing is unavoidable.
I’ve chosen four cities that, as in the first case, are seaports, but with quite different roles. They have been high places in the European colonial adventure (that could receive other names in different places). Seville as the main port in the first times of the Spanish empire, Marseilles as the French gate to the African and Asian empires, New Orleans as the gate to the Mississippi Valley, and Havana as the capital of the last jewel of the Spanish empire. These are by no means small cites, and they are rather relevant in their states, as to make many think that I’m not fair saying they are mid-sized cities; but they are no longer cities with a continental reach. They have sure gained population, but have lost rank.
Yet they are very interesting places. How does a city evolve when the technological- economical-social (you name the issue) wave that propelled it to its highest position disappears? The rise of these cities is linked to their network of relations in colonial worlds, and their evolution is related to the fact that new models appear that are more successful. There is a scent of Detroit here…
The Ministry for Education, Culture and Sports hosts this interesting resource on the internet. It is curious to see on the heading image the “Thorns Crown”, a work by Higueras in the Ciudad Universitaria, Madrid (it has a logic, since it is the HQ of the Spanish Cultural Heritage Institute).
The Climb Real Estate Group operates in San Francisco and presents the results of the property search through 4 main modes, one of which is a rather visual map. This does not mean that the property you wish will align with your budget, but at least seems to give a clear vision on the available information.
In fact, Valentine’s day was yesterday, so you are free to think that the second part of the text is somehow related.
It is common to read on the press that a planning scheme is presented for a given area. It would be naïve (and even unfair) to think that such an activity, which touches such matters as property rights and the construction industry, has no economic implications and can be limited to a prefabricated civic speech. But it would be as naïve to think that urban planning is just an addition of these two matters, even if their weight can sometimes be too hard.
My favourite film in 2006 was “Inside Man”, by Spike Lee. Nothing is what it seems. The bank heist is not really that, and Clive Owen’s gang provide a thought time to a Denzel Washington portraying a cop at the merging point of too many interests. Getting out of the cinema, I felt it was the best film I had ever seen on urban planning, and to a certain degree, it still is. Not because urbanism is mentioned (not a single line), but because the way in which different interests and intents get entangled, in a never clear way (which doesn’t mean that they are outlaw, but just impossible to understand), quite similar to what you can see when making a plan. In fact, the idea of calling Plan an urbanism document is somehow misleading, as the road you get down is too often far from being an ordered sequence of future facts.
So, this is why I sometimes think what I say in the title when reading the press.