What could be more welcome on a hot, sticky day than a cool, shady park?
Not much, I reckon, unless it’s a cool, shady park that sells ice cream.
With that in mind, welcome to Parque del Agua – ‘Water Park’ – in Bucaramanga, Colombia.
Visiting Bucaramanga involves landing at Palonegra airport. And landing at Palonegra airport involves descending at rapid speed towards a runway that seems to be perched on top of the steepest mountain in South America. Until the moment you actually hit the tarmac, all that is visible out the airplane windows are similarly towering mountains all around, and the sheer drop below.
It’s worth it though, because this is a ripper of a park.
It sits on a corner site, roughly D-shaped, and the ground rises steeply up 20 metres from the bounding streets.
Inside, angled stone paths wrap around the curving part of the ‘D’, and are joined at the top of the hill by a long timber deck.
The planting is lush and luxuriant, with foliage plants, climbers, and flowering tropical species.
A towering bamboo canopy arches over the timber deck, shading an equally long bench seat, and directing attention to a series of stone pillars standing between steep cascades.
Water is the real star here. From the top of the hill it splashes, pulses, sprays and rushes to the bottom, stopping only to fan out in wide, flat pools. The sound of water is everywhere too, quieting the outside traffic and allowing groups to converse without being overheard.
Water is also the surprise at Parque del Agua. Why? Because this is a park owned and operated by the local water treatment authority. The Acueducto Metropolitano de Bucaramanga (AMB), is also headquartered here.
At its establishment in 1916 the AMB was charged with supplying water to Bucaramanga and two other nearby towns. As demand grew so did the need for additional facilities, which the AMB developed and operated until 1975, when it was bought by the local council.
From its early days the primary water treatment plant was located here at Morrorico, on the eastern fringe of the city. The actual treatment facility occupied only a small portion of the large land-holding, and local residents became used to enjoying the spontaneous tropical landscape and lawns of the park-like grounds.
Expansion of the plant reduced the amount of land available, and after the council buy-out a shared company took responsibility for water treatment and supply. Public use of the land dwindled and the once vibrant community gathering place became neglected.
Fast-forward to 2001, when AMB Manager Victor Azuero Diaz proposed moving the company’s administrative functions back to Morrorico. With the support of the Mayor a park was proposed for the site, in homage to the former public appropriation of the land for recreation.
When you understand this, the water really makes sense. The two ways water is used in the park (fast-flowing and still pools) reflects the way it is used in water treatment engineering.
Although the administration of the system is the main activity, functional run-off tanks still operate on the site. Where the park could undoubtedly go further is in pushing its abundant planting and water to be more than just ornamental. As well as creating a welcoming cool environment for visitors, how marvellous would it be if they actively showed how rainwater could be detained and slowly released to reduce local flooding, or how biological treatment could help cleanse of water prior to its release back into the catchment, both worthwhile exercises in a tropical environment.
Although in Brisbane we would probably call these missed opportunities, we should not underestimate the success of Parque del Agua. It is well constructed, with inventive use of just a few materials: stone, gravel, concrete and timber.
It’s a well-loved, well-patronised local landmark, with a lot to teach us about the ways land associated with a municipal utility authority can be effectively made available for public use and enjoyment. And on a hot, sticky day, it sells ice cream!
Now it’s over to you.
What did you think of Parque del Agua? Do you think more of our public utilities and authorities should be trying to ‘give back’ to their customers and communities in such a way? Let me know in the comments below.
And don’t forget, sharing is caring, so if you know someone else who might find this interesting, why not share it.
See you soon for more garden, landscape and design stories.
Note: Parque del Agua was designed by Lorenzo Castro, Michelle Cescas, Alfonso Leyva and Geman Samper. It is located at the corner of Carrera 34 and Calle 20, Bucaramanga, Santander, Colombia. Find out more about the history and opening hours at the AMB website (in Spanish).
This project is included in the chapter on Co-location Parks in Future Park.