Why Madrid Loves Peter Allen...

Who knew Madrilenos were such Peter Allen fans?

When their baby smiles at them they go to Rio…Madrid Rio that is…a 10-kilometre long park that stretches along the Manzanares River (or rio) from just behind the Royal Palace.

Image: bgaa via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mrio_rio.jpg

Image: bgaa via Wikimedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mrio_rio.jpg

What’s even more amazing is that this brilliant park was created by sending 43 kilometres of motorway underground.

Yep, like so many cities Madrid built its freeway system up to and along its river. However, unlike so many cities, it eventually decided that wasn’t such a great idea after all. So underground they went, freeing up literally hectares of land to be converted back to publicly accessible riverfront parkland. Go Madrid!

Naturally this undertaking wasn’t cheap, and Spain’s not exactly flush with cash at the mo, but that hasn't stopped a gazillion Madrilenos (and a equally enthusiastic tourist contingent) from strutting their stuff along their fabulous new promenade. A year or so ago I was lucky enough to join them.

Not many parks can offer 'something for everyone' and actually deliver. Madrid Rio is so huge that it probably can. Here are a few of the highlights: 

It’s Sunny

Apple sauce with your crackling?

Apple sauce with your crackling?

As the northern hemisphere moves into summer, sun worshipping Madrilenos can take full advantage of the opportunities for outdoor basking.  These ladies were taking it so seriously I felt like offering a little apple sauce as an accompaniment.

It’s Shady

For those who believe the best place to be at midday is out of the sun, Madrid Rio offers deep shady groves and long avenues of mature trees.  As someone who can burn just looking at a picture of the s-u-n, those deep pools of dark shadow were calling my name, let me tell you.

Landscape with SPF15 rating.

Landscape with SPF15 rating.

It’s Playful

Two of the new bridges connecting the riverbanks hide a glorious secret. Hidden inside their rough concrete shell, and visible only to those crossing the river, are amazing mosaic tile artworks depicting skateboarders. Leaping, grinding, ollying – they’re all there – larger than life, embraced and celebrated.

So how do you say 'olly' in Spanish?

So how do you say 'olly' in Spanish?

The real-life models for the mosaic can be found further along, at the skatepark and basketball hoops.

For those not yet aspiring to the life of the grind there’s a very big playground, and a brilliant climbing structure made of lashed-together logs and poles.

And for those even younger, there’s the universal allure of the pop-jet fountain.

There’s Water

The pop-jets sit in a sheer disk of water, reflecting the implacable blue sky. Emboldened toddlers totter around. Then the jets start popping and it’s chaos all round.

'Pop jet': kid-speak for 'I'm going to get my kit off and go completely beserk'.

'Pop jet': kid-speak for 'I'm going to get my kit off and go completely beserk'.

'Pop jet': kid-speak for 'I'm going to get my kit off and go completely beserk'.

Elsewhere the water runs in a cool, dark, fern-lined rill, beside the shady avenue of trees.

Ripples and reflections.

Ripples and reflections.

It’s About Madrid

Seems kinda obvious, but not every park says something about its location. Madrid Rio tells you stories, if you listen carefully. Amongst them:

It tells you this is a place dry enough for a public park to to be clothed in large expanses of decomposed gravel, and it's not a complete disaster if the lawn isn't doing too well.

It tells you about its temperate location, with swathes of lavender and groves of pines.

Uh oh. Is that some temperate climate lavender envy? I think it might be.

Uh oh. Is that some temperate climate lavender envy? I think it might be.

It tells you that the Avenida de Portugal used to be the ceremonial route to the Palace from the west, or the way to Lisbon from Madrid. That’s why it’s been given special treatment. In West 8’s design, the pattern of paving and even seating references the cherry blossom-filled valley that provided respite on the long journey.

Blossoms cover the ground, even when there are no flowers.

Blossoms cover the ground, even when there are no flowers.

It’s Connected

Most wonderfully, Madrid Rio connects people with a part of the city that for so many years was lost to them. Now, they can once again get to the river, cross it, journey along it, and enjoy it at all different times of the year.

The fabulous Puente Arganzuela

The fabulous Puente Arganzuela

For me, that’s perhaps the most significant thing that this park has achieved. Not only does Madrid Rio create lots of wonderful individual moments, it achieves linkages and connections on a citywide scale.

Madrid is one of many cities around the world that have unlocked the potential of their riverfronts. Other cities and countries are creating new linkages by unlocking road and rail corridors, or political and military boundaries.

If you’d like to read more about Madrid Rio, check out the chapter on Linkage Park projects in my book Future Park: imagining tomorrow’s urban parks.

What did you think of Madrid Rio. If you’ve visited recently, what did you think? I’d love to hear if you know of a place where riverfront parkland could replace freeways. Let me know in the comments.

See some more images of Madrid Rio in the gallery below and check back soon for another Great Park.