What do you do with an old dried up river bed? How the people of Valencia turned one into a much loved asset
I recently took a late summer last minute break in Valencia. The third largest city in Spain suffered from regular flooding (A word of warning: October is not the month to go to Spain – unfortunately the rain doesn’t stay mainly on the plain and flooding is quite common at that time of year. Who knew?). Anyway, a catastrophic flood in October 1957 finally prompted the authorities to vote to re-route the River Turia to the south of the city. The Turia’s diversion was completed in the late 1960s and the river now skirts this delightful city before making its way out to the Mediterranean.
So what do you do with a dried up old river bed running through the centre of a busy city (population 800,000)? As well as vision, enthusiasm and probably some EU grants, you also need the will to fight off those who wanted to build a motorway (!) before the largest urban park in Spain is born. Valencia’s linear park – described by some as a Garden of Eden – is planted with a huge variety of trees, it boasts cycle paths, fountains, lakes, outdoor gyms, children's playgrounds and the most amazing centre of arts and sciences designed by Santiago Calatrava, where an exciting waterspace is contained and controlled in a fantastic modern setting.
You approach the park from street level via any of the regular access steps and ramps, and as you descend to river bed level, you leave the hustle and bustle and noise of the busy roads above you. By the time you reach the bottom all you can hear is the birds singing.
During the day the park is quiet: students sit in the sunshine with their books, Granny (and Grandad) Day Care walk out pushing their small charges in buggies, others practise tai chi or commune with nature. And tourists like me wander and wonder. Later the workers come out to play: they cycle, they jog, they work out at the free open air gyms, young lovers walk arm in arm, families (always armed with poop bags) walk their dogs, children play football and teenagers perform death defying feats on the skateboard park: the old river has become the main artery that gives life, oxygen and a breath of fresh air to the city.
So during the same years that the IWA and other groups were fighting to stop more of our canals from being closed, the citizens of Valencia were fighting to keep a dry river bed for the people and turn it into an asset.
Liz Waddington is editor of The Source, the Canal & River Trust’s monthly staff newspaper. She has been in love with canals and their industrial heritage since her first holiday on the Grand Union Canal when she was 10 years old. Liz likes nothing more than getting out and meeting her colleagues on the cut.See more blogs from Liz Waddington