Maps 2015 (15) Either we lack kids or we have too many schools


The Encuesta de Infraestructuras y Equipamientos Locales is a periodical survey in Spain which lets us know the state of infrastructures and public facilities in municipalities under 50.000 residents. According to the 2013 edition (the most recent available, which does not include some provinces in the map as Madrid or Huelva, at least for this topic), here is the municipal figure for the ratio between the capacity of kindergartens and the number of kids attending class in each settlement. Red squares are less than 40%, orange triangles 40% to 60%, and blue rhombus over 60%. No need to browse the absolut values (often depressing) to see clearly that the core of the Iberian peninsula is getting empty. Note, however, that as Madrid has no data in 2013 the map is misleading, as the region is quite different (just see how many blues nearby)

Just to make my position clear, the title is just that, a title, as the problem is far more complex… and not just a Spanish issue.

Blocks (3) Olivenza

Central Olivenza. Reference grid: 100 m

Central Olivenza. Reference grid: 100 m

Olivenza is a small city in the province of Badajoz, Spain. Until 1801 it was a Portuguese city, and the border is now at a short distance.

This border position is the reason for a series of walls that have protected the city, leaving a still visible trace in the current urban fabric.

The core of the walled zone is organized around the first castle and the main church, with a group of four rather regular blocks. The subsequent urban growth reached a larger wall.


Getting a look at the blocks on the southern edge of the walled area there is a certain degree of regularity, with some 35 m in width and slightly over 100 m in length, and a structure of streets going towards the core of some 5 m in width. Block area is usually between 4.000 and 5.000 sq m (about an acre for Imperial System fans), and lot lines are usually over 6 m. Heights are usually less than 4 levels. The rather narrow block makes courts rather irregular, with not much continuity.


And white architecture, with “calçada portugesa” as paving… A protected area which is well preserved.


Starters of change (11) Water


The upper image corresponds to the village of Alange, in the Spanish province of Badajoz. The dam was completed in 1992, with a wall 67 m high (from foundation) and 720 m long, so what until then was just a village over the Matachel river became a space marked by water and a new coastline. This is no doubt a project beyond the means of a small municipality, and was managed by the Guadiana Water Board. This action produces a new landscape that allows the use of water for irrigation (in lower lands there is a wide agrarian plain) and electricity production.

The reservoir has a catchment basin of 2.545 sq km (which is equivalent to 60% of Rhode Island), and its water surface, of some 35 sq km, is marked by some islands which display the geology of the area. The areas that were to be underwater were cleaned of all vegetation, so when the water level changes sometimes the shores look rather arid, in contrast with a much greener area of lands above water.

Water has brought relevant change; a neighborhood was moved as its precedent site was flooded, some new buildings respond to the new landscape, and it is fair to think that the payments to the owners of land taken to be submerged must have somehow influenced the local economy. There sure was an impact due to the flooding of the lower valley agrarian land, usually a fertile one. Over a stretch, the new layout of the road goes between the urban edge and the water, but its physical configuration is not very attractive. Water has become the central element of an area of the Natura 2000 European Nature considered a Relevant Birds Area; birds have become users of the reservoir. But people are becoming less relevant in number; there were 2.031 residents in 1996, and in 2014 this number fell to 1.946.


Maps 2015 (10) Inequality of personal revenue in Spain

Fedea (Fundación de Estudios de Economía Aplicada) is an economic think tank financed by a large set of big Spanish firms. In November 2014 it published “Personal revenue in Spanish municipalities and its distribution” (Miriam Hortas Rico and Jorge Onrubia Fernández). Fedea’s website includes two maps in which you can visualize, by municipality, revenue and inequality as expressed through the Gini index (the closer to 1, the most unequal). The results are based in micro data from the Personal Revenue Tax 2007, for the 1.109 municipalities over 5.000 residents, and the project would extend that series over time.

The original Fedea map on income distribution

The original Fedea map on income distribution (access the link, you can zoom and get detailed data for each municipality in the original website)

The use of a gradient of the same hue is not always helping reading the map; the most important thing is, as in any map, the underlying data, but I think there are better ways to visualize that worrying content (it is worth reminding that these are 2007 data, and the current crisis doesn’t seem to have improved the situation). That is what I have tried to do, using the database published on the web. Maps show quintiles.

Personal revenue. It is clear that Southern and Western Spain are worse off.

Personal revenue, average by municipality. It is clear that Southern and Western Spain are worse off.

Gini index by municipality. The mediterranean coast seems more unequal; suburbs seem more equal (this is just a first order analysis looking at the map)

Gini index by municipality. The mediterranean coast seems more unequal; suburbs seem more equal (this is just a first order analysis looking at the map)

Part of the total revenue corresponding to the higher 1%. In most municipalities they only get 10%, but there are many red spots.

Part of the total revenue corresponding to the higher 1%. In most municipalities they only get 10%, but there are many red spots.

Starters of urban change (9) Municipalities

Municipalities can be a powerful starter of urban change… or of inertia, depending on their ability to create positive dynamics on their territory. This is related to their accounts, and that is interesting in this year in which we will go vote for municipal councils in Spain and France. In the US the local administration system differs from state to state, so the only rational way to compare would be to take any given state in the US and compare to a given European country.

What follows is a (primary) analysis of data from the Virtual Office for the financial coordination with local entities (, which aggregates data from over 8.000 Spanish municipalities and Diputaciones and other organs classified as Local Entities. These are data from closed fiscal years with real accounting results, in a series running between 2003 and 2013 (last available year). Data are in thousands of euros for each year (inflation is not accounted for). For those out of Spain, most of urbanism and housing expenditure has been private for decades. Local administrations get resources in that field through taxation and a compulsory free cession that builders must deliver when they execute an operation, consisting in a percentage of building rights and the lots where it sits (the sale of these lots is often most of the “land lots sold” item).

As a result of that analysis, three charts show matters that are somehow linked to urban planning and related matters.

Income in Spanish local entities, selected items

Income in Spanish local entities, selected items

Income: local governments got to an all-time high for income in 2009; as of 2013 they were slightly under the 2006 level. The tax on urban real estate (data before 2009 make no difference between urban and non-urban) changes from 15% of total income in 2003 to 25% in 2013, while lot sales were reduced from 3,4% to 0,34% (in 2006 they reached 6%). The privative use of public domains went from 1,5% to 3,1%, as it is clearly apparent in the public space with sidewalk café and restaurant terraces, at least in part as a response to tobacco laws. The tax on urban land value increases has only grown from 2,9% to 3,6%, with quite reduced oscillations.

Investment in Spanish local entities, selected items

Investment in Spanish local entities, selected items

Investment: the investment on new infrastructure and general use goods was almost 7% in 2003, and it has gone down to 2,2% in 2013. When it comes to maintain these infrastructure and goods we have gone from 3,4 to 1,6% over the same period, and new/maintenance costs for operational services have followed a similar pattern.

Investment in Spanish local entities, selected items

Investment in Spanish local entities, selected items

Detailed investment: the real investment (not taking into account personnel costs and other elements) of the Spanish municipalities has followed a more complex curve. Up to 2010 this real investment was over 25% of the total expenditure, but since then they have lost weight (9,4% in 2013). Urbanism and housing were around a third of real investment up to 2010, and since they have increased to reach 44% in 2013, even if the absolute figure is half that of 2003. To give an order of magnitude, education (in which local administrations have a limited role) went down from 4% to 3% over that period, and its absolute value was reduced to a third of the 2003 figure.

Overall, the evolution of income and expenditure has been somewhat balanced (added figures for the whole period show more income than expenditure), but there have been relevant changes in relative weights. Land lots sold, whose expansion was related to the real estate bubble, have reduced substantially, while real estate taxes have increased. Investment in new infrastructure have reduced nearing those concerning infrastructure maintenance. Real investment in housing and urbanism has increased its weight in the overall real investment. But as in absolute terms this investment has been strongly reduced, today it is limited to solve previous deficits

Maps 2015 (2) The blackout of the bubble

As I have already said some years ago, the central issue for the blog this year will be the grain of the city; i.e., how the detail that you see on the urban space is formed by aggregation of circumstances. The bylaws applied two centuries ago are the fodder of today’s tourism guides, and the old crisis often explain how a neighborhood took its shape (try to explain the XVth district of Paris and its architectural mix without the brutal economic discontinuity of the inter-world-wars period…).

The issue today is the way in which the real estate crisis spread over Spain in the recent years. The real estate sector, central for economic growth since the second half of the 1990s, based its expansion on the construction of new homes, mainly in peripheral zones. In terms of landscape, this means that large sectors of urban outskirts (often still without building, and probably with many years ahead in that situation) were prepared for development by building streets and infrastructure, by contrast to urban cores where existing streets received sometimes a face- lifting, but buildings got not that much of an upgrade in general terms.

The end of what has been called the real-estate bubble has not been homogeneous on the land. This can be analysed in many ways, and this is how I did it. The Ministerio de Fomento, the Spanish Government’s body more related to housing (an attribution of the regions) publishes each quarter data on the evolution of the selling price of the sq m of housing, for a set of 283 municipalities over 25.000 residents, recording differences between homes completed less than 2 years before and the older stock. I did not focus on price itself, but rather on when there has been a “blackout” in data due to a lack of statistic representatively of available data. I’m fully aware that there are other resources, authored by private agents, that have different data, but I chose this one as it is public and everyone can use it, and it also has chances to stay active for some time. A remark for those willing to use the source: for the analyzed period (first quarter 2005- third of 2014) a municipality was added to the list; I used an homogeneous series excluding that one.

This is what I did:

Data "blackouts" in new homes price statistics in Spain. To see again the animated image, uptdate the page.

Data “blackouts” in new homes price statistics in Spain. To see again the animated image, uptdate the page.

  • A map of the data “blackouts” (upper animated image, you can see green turn red): It identifies the last available data for each municipality concerning homes under 2 years. Just two municipalities (Madrid and Barcelona) have had a record of no data blackout in any quarter, and as of the third quarter of 2014 there were only eight municipalities with data: Almeria, Barcelona, Caceres, Madrid, Merida, Las Rozas de Madrid, Madrid, Teruel and Zaragoza. In some cases, as Madrid and Barcelona, metropolitan areas with many points can somehow mask the visibility of still “on the radar” municipalities.


  • A chart of the evolution by quarter of the number of cities without statistically representative values for the price of homes overall (no age class distinction), and for those under 2 years old (new homes). It is clear that in 2009 things became complex, and that the first quarter of 2011 became a clear threshold. By comparing the chart to the evolution of free homes (homes sold in a free market without public subvention to purchase) completed and the average price of a sq m of urban land in municipalities over 50.000, there are many parallels. Homes under 2 years old reduce, as there are no longer produced in large amounts.


  • A comparison between the charts of the home prices, in national average, in Spain, Colombia, France and the United States, by quarter, from the first 2007 to the second 2014, taking the valuest of 1st quarter 2007 as 100%. It is clear that France has not seen a drop in home values (a reduced residential output), in the US the 10% correction seems over (even if the difference in country size probably would deserve a more detailed analysis, and Colombia has a chart clearly reminding that of Spain five years earlier, something that doesn’t seem good.


  • A cross tab vision of the demographic size of municipalities and the number of quarters (regardless of their order) in which they have been “under the radar” for new homes prices. It is clear that size matters, and more populous municipalities (that in Spain are often those with the larger physical areas and have large developments) are those that seem to have best survived the crisis, with wider markets and, against all odds, a better stock of price- stabilizing elements for the housing demand (transportation, distance to jobs, facilities)

All this doesn’t imply automatic answers to questions regarding the future of these municipalities; any plan must face a future that, by definition, is uncertain, and so needs a certain degree of flexibility. But the lesson would rather be (as will be seen in future posts) that long term plans have a sense in urban planning if you grasp the idea that buildings will also be built long term. And therein lied the rump here, as development was drawn without a clear demand for the buildings that had to pay for the streets and pipes and electric lines that were built (leave alone the land itself, often bought at astronomic prices…).

European Choices (3) Urban planning, Danes and paella


In February 2009 the Auken report, by a Danish member of the European Parliament, became news in Spain. The reasons are the complains of citizens of other EU member states that had bought homes in Spain to find out they were affected by the urban planning laws of the Valencia region, with fast management procedures that they understood as opposed to their property rights.

The report analyses the fast urban growth of the country, its effects on the environment and other issues. Urban planning is central, but not as such (it is a matter of the States), rather as something that impacts the rights of the citizens.

An interesting reading on the limits that the Union sets to the power of the States. Since this report, there have been legal changes in Valencia, and there are already blueprints of a new law that would group what now is a too extensive legal corpus.

The report was seen as a good thing by many in Spain: those same problems also concerned Spanish citizens. Here the Union gave a broader view to adopt a decision on the effects of a temporary and state-specific issue (the real estate bubble). Only a minority (or at least this is what I have perceived) saw that as an encroachment on the sovereignty of the State.

Shapes and outlines (3) Hills

Mont St Michel, France. Image from Wikipedia

mont st michel

Mont St Michel, France. OSM map

The shape of things can be the result of many factors. But usually the European middle ages cities were roughly circular in shape as this allowed a good protected area- wall length ratio. As there certainly existed good reasons to look for shelter, cities usually were placed on higher ground when compared to the surroundings, and often right on top of a hill. Mont St Michel is the clearest example (although by size it is not a city), but there are others, as Betanzos in Spain, where just 30 m (some 90 ft) of level difference already shows the issue. In these cases, the city plan shows relations between built volumes, but far from what the real urban space can provide. To begin with, side walls become visible as buildings along the street line are on different levels, but the ground level must also adapt.

Betanzos, as seen on the city website

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