As part of our Follow the Money graduation studio, we asked our students to organise an excursion to Madrid and its surrounding area. To the (brief) disappointment of some, we told them we would not go there to see the capital’s great architecture and its vibrant city life (of course we couldn’t leave without experiencing some of it), but that we would mainly spend our time at the outskirts looking at the effects of the Spanish property bubble and explore the (sometimes) harsh consequences of political games and real estate speculation on the built environment.
We selected Madrid as the destination of this study trip because it is one of the places throughout Spain where the results of the country’s property bubble are most visible. It all started in the mid eighties -when Spain joined the European Union in 1986- resulting in historically low interest rates leading to cheap loans. During the subsequent period from 1985 until 1991 the housing prices nearly tripled and also in the late 1990s and 2000s again an enormous amount of building projects were commissioned. Banks invested strongly in the real estate sector leading to a construction industry which accounted for 12% of Spain’s GDP. Local governments made millions by reclassifying land from rural to urban, and corruption made millionaires out of politicians and developers. The bubble kept growing until the late 2000’s global economic crisis, when construction virtually came to a halt; developers went bankrupt, families couldn’t pay their mortgages anymore, neither sell their homes, and some of the banks who provided the loans, had to be rescued by the central bank. As a result, all around the country, but particularly around Madrid, you can now find unfinished or never used building projects. From complete towns as Ciudad Valdeluz , to kilometres long never-used highways and white elephant building projects, such as the Ciudad Real airport, which opened in 2008 but closed in April 2012 and is now left abandoned.
Some of the people we met during our intense three-day programme were Marcos Vaquer Caballeria who gave an very clear lecture about the causes of the real estate bubble, Jesus Leal and Almudena Martinez who took us to the megalomaniac housing project Sesena, the EuroVegas NO organization about their resistance against Sheldon Adelson’s plans to build a sprawling gambling resort known as Eurovegas and Sebastian Severino about the culture behind land development. We also brought a visit to the office of Ecosistema Urbano, explored the Vallecas neighbourhood, saw the bottom-up initiatives at El Campo de Cebada, walked around Madrid Rio and had an an intriguing talk with Luis Fernández-Galiano (Editor in chief of arquitectura viva) about his view on architects and their responsibility towards society.
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