Text by Diamadis Tegkelidis and Pepe Niemeijer
The Rio Madrid park is the outcome that followed the ambitious plan of Madrid’s municipality to move partially a large section of Madrid’s inner ring road – the old M-30 motorway- underground; an action that enables the creation of a “green” path along the banks of the river that spans for a total of 6 kilometers long and an average of 25 meters wide. After 5 years of construction and planning ( 2006 – 2011), this green lane that cuts off through the urban grid of the Spanish capital was fundamental, considering Madrid’s geographical location; located approximately 350 kilometers (a 4-hours drive) from the nearest beach in the region of Valencia, the city was lacking proximity to water. In fact, Madrid, being initially a small scaled town, was developed as the capital of Spain after political decisions made by the king of Spain in the mid 14th century.
The entire project gave the opportunity to further implement various spaces along the river banks, such as pedestrian routes, athletic courts and even a small scale artificial beach. From another point of view, the project marks an important differentiation in the urban strategies of the city planning offices during the years, especially after WW2. Urbanists and politicians’ intentions against the river banks were never friendly; instead they used to treat the whole local environment either as an unwelcome friend or even by totally ignoring it, driven mostly by the differentiated topographical and social conditions that preexisted on the opposing sites of the river. On the left side, the historical city was entirely segregated to the right side, developed mostly in the aftermath of the world war, during the 1950’s, with multiple buildings in a very close proximity to the river banks.
However, it was during the 1970’s that the major problem of the area came about, especially after the completion of Madrid’s first ring road, the infrastructure of which re-formed the general traffic with further urban consequences; it was not just as an obstacle for the access to the center of the city, but also altered the relations among the local surrounding neighborhoods of the center and the peripheral site. The river was sandwiched between the autobahns, making relation with the pubic impossible and the water itself almost invisible. Last but not least, the unplanned pedestrian bridges cancelled any historical connections between Campo del Moro and Casa de Campo.A section of the park with the M30 tunneled underneath
The fact that this was such a huge development, in scale ( 7 million square meters ) and in costs ( 5 billion euro’s ), and that this project was erected at the end of the financial boom and the beginning of the crisis ( 2006-2011 ) made this project perfectly fit the theme for this years studio, follow the money. The tunneling of the highway, over a length of 20 km, costs most of the money (4,5 billion). The money spend on the park is still the ridiculous amount of 400 million euro’s. This project was initiated before the financial crisis but forced to continue after the crisis. You could say that it was the top investment marking the financial crisis of Madrid. The first parts of the park had to be finished in spring 2007, before the elections. This is an example that shows how the park is being used as a political tool. The project is a “improvement” of the deprived area’s around the river which leads to gentrification. The dwellings around the river get a makeover and eventually the poorer people will move towards the outer skirts of the city.
The park is a kind of over designed. When you walk over the bridge or fly with a helicopter you will see the beautiful shapes of leave patterns in the park, designed from above, perceived as a labyrinth on the ground with a lot of maintenance costs and no use. But a part from the negative sights there are some positive goals reached. The highway is underground. The space above the highway is public park space, of which Madrid is in need, and there are 30 km of bicycle trails, 40km of walking paths, iconic bridges, a city beach of 12.000 m2 and many more. We just wonder: could this park not be more designed for the real use of the people, giving citizens the possibility to use one of the labyrinth spaces and thereby also giving responsibility to them for maintenance. This saves costs on the maintenance of the park and will make the park be more designed for the use of people than a picture from a helicopter.