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The Heart of the City

Beautiful Valencia was the destination for our recent annual office study trip. Situated on Spain’s sunny Mediterranean coast, Valencia has its fair share of statement buildings (just Google architect Santiago Calatrava to see what I mean), but it was something more unexpected that left a lasting impression on me.

Given its proximity to the sea, Valencia is unusual in that its old town was established two miles inland. It was further detached from the coast by the River Turia, running east to west, meandering around the historic heart of the city.

The river was prone to flooding and after a devastating flood in 1957 that killed more than 80 people, it was decided that the river should be diverted to the south side of the city.

It must have been tempting to focus on the economics of the situation (the diversion of the river would have cost a vast sum of money) and allow the resulting ribbon of empty city to be divided up and sold for housing and commerce. Indeed, the first idea considered was a new road network ‘artery’ through the city to improve the links between the port and the rest of the region.

However, during the 1970s, the public protested and demanded the riverbed become urban green space, and in 1982 a masterplan was formed for the 600m wide, five-mile-long public park that can be seen today. It is home to museums, play parks, lakes, exhibition and sculpture spaces, sports pitches and courts, fountains and cycle paths, and forms a belt of vibrant green space through the centre of Spain’s third largest city.

Bridges from every period of the last 500 years span overhead and the park culminates in the impressive ‘City of Arts and Sciences’ designed by the aforementioned Mr Calatrava. So you could say that with public green space in spades and top-drawer architecture, it has the best of both worlds.

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