During the summer of 2019, Naomi, Tori, Michael and I had the opportunity to visit Madrid to experience their take on Urban Design.
Along with taking in the Spanish air, enjoying the sights of their capital city, and sampling the local delicacies – pigs ears might be a brave choice! – we were able to meet with the students at Politecnico de Madrid alongside Tim Townshend, Professor of Urban Design and Health, and Dr Dominic Atkin, Research Associate, to understand how the Spanish view, treat and teach Urban Design across the channel.
While Newcastle’s design aims feature toward a more green-blue infrastructure, and provision for this space within our city, Madrid’s aims are more specifically towards an aging population and older generation – the site in question, Usera, a lower-income suburb of the city.
On a tour of the area, Spanish Urban Design Students Helena and Lisa along with local residents from the Elderly Care Centre toured us through the site, explaining the need for regeneration in the area. Overgrown trees pushed up paving, pathways were obstructed by bollards to below minimum access standards, very little of the area was wheelchair accessible, ramps covered areas of viciously steep landscaping, cars dominated the sidewalk, and the area had a generally unkempt feel. The provision of urban space was badly considered, they explained, showing us an awkward triangular space left over from the surrounding buildings, developed into a concrete park. Here, the dark benches sat out in the 30 degree heat, unshaded by the various trees dotted symmetrically around them.
Meeting the elderly residents of Uscera, it was clear the deteriorated landscape of their local area was a huge shame – the local life was buzzing around corner cafes at the 10am hour, and many residents waved to greet their companions bumped into along the walk. The area had a clear community, resident basis and social standing – the succeeding key to this neighborhood’s success appeared more considered design.
The following day, the Newcastle University students and I were invited to attend the PoM’s Uni-Health programme student presentations, in which they unveiled their responses and propositions to the Uscera site. Many great responses were proposed – the provision of green space was a strong theme, with many students proposing carefully considered urban greening, parks, trees and green walls throughout the suburb. Pedestrianisation was also a key theme, where large areas of the streets were completely reclaimed as pedestrian-only, or else given a strict one-way street approach, to widen the pedestrian realm and provide adequate commuting space. One great addition to the site was water – some students proposing water features in which children could play, another suggesting a water feature running through the streets. In the heat of the summertime, water could create not only a beautiful blue aesthetic to the space, but also a valuable source of air cooling and refreshment.
The week was certainly a valuable experience in understanding Urban Design from another city’s perspective, and it was a great opportunity to both visit and meet specialists from another University on within the subject. Here’s hoping these student’s proposals get the go ahead, for a redeveloped Uscera!
For the Newcastle Uni-Health follow-up, give Michael Robinson’s post on ‘Uni-Health: A Better ‘Greener’ Future’ linked here. http://www.nclurbandesign.org/2019/11/uni-health-a-better-greener-future/
All images sourced:
“UNI-Health | European Innovative Education Program for URBAN HEALTH.” Accessed October 2, 2019. https://blogs.upm.es/unihealth/.
UNI-Health. Taller Usera. Accessed November 30, 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyAtEirtlr4&feature=youtu.be.