Thursday, June 9, 2011

Turia River Park: A Few of my Favorite Things

Agua de Valencia. You know a city is one after my own heart when its "water" is laced with four forms of booze.

For the unaware, I just returned from 10 days in Spain, 5 nights of which were spent in Valencia. Many asked, "why Valencia? Why not Barcelona or Madrid?" We also hit those cities in the remaining days (I had been to Madrid before), but I wanted to see and experience Valencia because I had fallen in love with it via Google Earth (see, the internet is already replacing some measure of long distance travel).

In hindsight, it was a great decision. Barcelona was a bit too overrun with tourists and Champions Cup euphoria (we hopped a train from BCA to Valencia the day of the game to escape the craziness). Madrid, as I warned the woman, is like most capital cities in that it is the entire country amplified: richer, poorer, louder, quieter, cleaner, dirtier, etc. and the opposite of etc. Valencia was just right. Sure it didn't have the amount of "sights" of the other two, but I hope in the next few days to illustrate why.

Having returned and in conversation with someone (I now forget who -- getting old like South Park I suppose) we were asked what was my one favorite thing about Valencia, Spain since we decided to spend the majority of our time there.

After running through a few possibilities: the beach, the ease of training between the cities, the public and private bicycle rental companies, the paella and sangria, or perhaps better yet Agua de Valen(th)ia (1: Valencian is close to Catelan in that both are closer to French in many ways than Spanish, and 2: Agua de Valencia is a customary local drink for all hours of the day made with local Orange Juice (that literally grows on street trees), champagne (or cava), and an assortment of gin, tequila, and rum. It tasted like an orangina to me. The woman didn't like it so there I sat on Sunday morning sauced on a pitcher of the stuff.).

I decided that my favorite thing was the River Turia Park. Or better put, the old River Turia (shown above). As you can tell by the concentric rings of style/century of development, the Turia once provided the northern boundary to the city and its medieval core. Eventually the city grew beyond its city walls, which were knocked down with the exception of two of the most prominent gates which still stand today.

In 1957 the river flooded the city and the decision was made to relocate the river around to the southern edge of the city, where it exists today entirely as functional flood control mechanism (there is rarely water in it). The old Turia has been converted into a large, central park as it is very much in the center of the overall city today, running roughly west to east for the length of the entire city, approximately 5 miles long and 600 feet wide.

It is fitting for me to write this post today, as Jim Schutze writes in the Dallas Observer about the Dallas Morning News "embarrasing confession" that they were "misled" all along about the Trinity River, and indeed Angela Hunt had been right the entire time they cast her as a crazy, conspiracy nut. Of course, it turns out Angela was right all along (as we all knew) and that much of the Trinity River Park was a ruse to build another B.S. highway, because and there is no other way to put it, that the decision to build the road was either stupid or corrupt, and likely both.

In case nobody has been paying attention, 1) every study on the subject proves that more road capacity only leads to more traffic. Furthermore, if you haven't been paying attention to local real estate dynamics, 2) highway frontage has been badly overvalued everywhere, but especially in the Dallas market as everything is slowly but surely downcycling into gas stations, pawn shops, and porn stores. And lastly, as a Brown University study showed, 3) every inner-city freeway resulted in a drop in population of 18% for that city. The accuracy of the number is not as important as the concept. Any such road makes it easier (and more pleasant) to live beyond the borders, away from those highways. Spend money, lose tax base, get stuck with the permanent maintenance bill. Representative democracy...or something like it.

This is what highway dollars leverage. They create disconnections and localized disruptions in the intricate fabric of cities and neighborhoods, whose bonds have been stitched together over years and years. Local connectivity is the single most important thing in the emergence of high quality neighborhoods, which when interconnected become a city of great neighborhoods, livable by the standards and means of those who choose to live there. Self-organization in practice based on the personality of the neighborhoods.

It's also important to note that at one point, the engineers in charge of the Trinity Toll Road proposed to split the road (as if to narrow it -- their solution) to both sides of the River. This would have been even worse, because at least the Oak Cliff and West Dallas side could have still been connected to the River Park (if it ever happens -- likely when all of the doo-dads are stripped from it). The downtown and Dallas sides are already thoroughly and mistakenly disconnected from their waterfront via a smorgasbord of highways and railroads, but whatevs, if the highway was rammed down our throats it might as well be on this side. Whimpering puppies on electrified floors we are, subjected to oppressive amounts of stupidity (and by stupidity, I mean the failed economic development mindset of the past 20-30 years and its effect on urban form and function).

If, and a big if, we are to build the Trinity River Park, it must be accessible. It must become a center of gravity, like the Turia, that bends the city to it. Draws people to it. Redraws roads towards it (and not big bad roads). It should have development clammering to clutter up along it. And nobody wants to be next to a highway.

Highlighted area of the Turia Park over Dallas to compare with size/scale of the Trinity.

The Turia is still about 20 or 30 feet below the street level of the city (like the Seine or the Tiber), as between erosion and the city being built atop itself for generations has climbed upward and there were various construction projects going on (building new pedestrian bridges, new access ramps, etc.) so occasionally getting from street level to park level was a bit of a pain. But the city still bumps right up against the River/Park, and why not? Who wouldn't want that kind of amenity out their window/front door?

Furthermore, retail was not terribly present on the roads paralleling the river's old course. Similar to the freeways, it creates an edge condition, and the more valuable roads for commercial uses are the linking or connector roads that bridge the chasm, once you get further into the neighborhoods on each side.

On the trip, our most intimate connection to the park was when we decided to go to the beach, which is also relatively new to the city of Valencia. We rented bikes from a private bike rental (I'll have a piece forthcoming on the bike rentals) company less than a block from our hotel for 10 euros, caught the nearest access point to the park and road the length of it.

I believe it was the middle of the work day on a Monday and the weather was great, probably 75 and mostly sunny (until we got to the beach), so the biking was a real pleasure. It was both an escape from the city (like Central Park is in Manhattan, but also a portal through the city, like a much more lovely (and pedal powered) version of a subway. You drop down, ride for ten minutes and reappear in another part of the city. Locals were using the various parts of the park to jog, bike ride, relax, play soccer, or whatever else one might want to do in the park, which also had a smattering of cafes here and there along it.

Now, to the pics:

View from the top of Torres de Quart, one of the remaining gates of the old medieval city wall.

Also looking into Turia from the top of the towers.


Another bridge.

And another bridge, this one is Pont del Mar. Since only those cabrons from Madrid use "puente." Incidentally, the divergent spanish languages gets to be quite the nuisance when maps are written in Castillian and the entire city's roads are in Valencian/Catelan.

I told you oranges are literally falling off the trees.

One of the ramps from street level to park level.

Some new high-rise developments along the river. The economic success or occupancy I couldn't tell you. I'm sure the developers are glad they finished the project however as many towers around the country remain mothballed as half-built concrete scaffolding (I'll have more on this later).

Free mini-golf for the ninos.


Yes, they have landed.

You'll notice very few people around these new buildings, all of which compose "The City of the Arts and Sciences." Like many recent ambitious cultural projects, ahem, they forgot the city part, having a rather poor relationship with the city around them. Furthermore, by clustering them essentially at the end of the park like a cul-de-sac there is really no reason to go there unless you have a ticket to the opera or some such event.

However, we were told a great nightclub is up in the Umbracle, the shad structure to the top left of this photo. Of course, it is up on the city level.

I'll have plenty more in a post devoted to the economics, development, and placemaking of these projects. The locals had plenty to say about them.

The beachfront promenade. Wouldn't it be nice if the transition something like this provided the transition between Trinity River Park and whatever new development would arrive along it?

Ahhhhh. La Playa. Which reminds me, since we don't have a real beach, like Paris, perhaps if the Trinity Toll Road gets built we can just convert it into a beach, like Paris does each summer on the Pompdidou Expressway along the Seine.

Or does that sound too nice? And we wouldn't want nice things, then we'd only want more...