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.
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…
When you enter many European cities by road you can find billboards announcing their foreign sister cities. The reasons for these agreements can be extremely different; here I have chosen mainly geographic similitudes between Iberian cities and foreign counterparts. This does not mean that these cities have any formal agreement as sister cities to this day; I just think there are interesting landscape similarities.
Seville, Nantes and Houston are historical river ports; they are at a similar distance to their river mouths, in which there are relevant deep-water ports (Cadiz not far away, Saint Nazaire, Galveston), polarizing the territorial system of their regions. The route from Seville to the sea in roman times was probably similar to the present day itinerary from Houston to Galveston, as the present marshes were then a bay, and the shape of the Loire has also changed over time.
In the three cases, along the estuary there is a succession of significant ecological areas and more anthropic activities (docks, industry, industrial crops…). Hydraulic works are relevant (river bed rectification in the Guadalquivir and the Guadaira, channels as that of La Martiniere or the Houston Ship Channel), and a combination of flat land and relevant roads that has led to build long bridges. Despite some hills as those of the Aljarafe in Seville or the timid hills north of the Loire, these are mainly flat lands, nearly ideal for a limitless metropolitan expansion.
In social terms, Seville is not a rich city; if it was to be an American city, it would rather be New Orleans than Houston, despite the presence of high tech industries like aerospace. Nantes is one of the most dynamic cities in France. Both Seville and Nantes are under a million residents (metro area), while Houston is nealy six millions.
The thermal sensation is influenced by temperature, but also by humidity: to much humidity can fast become annoying, but a bit of water well used ca be of help . During the 1992 Expo in Seville there was a lot of buzz about the sprinkler systems that allowed improving the thermal feeling in public spaces.
In the Spanish tradition the botijo (a porous clay water container) is an example of adaptation to summer heat: the water inside transpires through the ceramic pores and, getting in contact with dry external air, evaporates, extracting energy from inner water and refreshing it. Openings are small, so most of the evaporation happens through the ceramic wall. This is evaporative cooling.
Can this be done with a building? Yes, but it is not that common (or perhaps, you do not see it). The citizen initiatives Pavillion in Expo Zaragoza 2008, a project by Ricardo Higueras, was a quite figurative attempt to build a oversize botijo. On the other side, the use of ceramic building materials, something quite common in Spain, contributes in part to that effect (if ceramic elements are allowed to transpire) and andalusian patios, with fountains inside, can play a similar role…