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By Andrés Cataldo Cunich
All this was due to an urban development without planning, which was predating the natural areas contiguous to the city: in this scenario, many areas of high ecological value, such as forests and wetlands, were totally undervalued.
To reverse this situation, they had to think about how to make the urban fabric relate to natural spaces, as a way to enhance those degraded sectors of the city. In this way, they not only tried to increase capital gains, but also people's interest in these areas.
For many, relating natural spaces to the urban fabric may seem like an obvious way of urban recovery. But in the Basque capital they went further: they restored all the natural areas, including a water route within the same city: the Batán River.
In other words, can you imagine that in Chile we opened the pavement of Avenida Argentina, in Valparaíso, to recover the water course that passes through there? Well, this is what they did in the central axis of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
Restoration of the ecological corridor
The River Batán passed through what until a few years ago was Avenida Gasteiz, the main artery of the city. This was channeled underground to allow urban development, specifically to build a large connecting avenue, essential for urban mobility.
But after a few years, the plans for ecological restoration and enhancement of biodiversity led us to think of new strategies, with an unprecedented plan: rebuilding the river in the space it originally occupied. That is, on the avenue.
So categorical and resounding was the City Council's intervention on Avenida Gasteiz that 500 parking spaces and five car lanes were eliminated. In this way they were able to obtain enough spaces for the recovery of the water path, in an approach towards the original landscape through a complex operation of urban transformation. A whole bet towards sustainability!
What is a green ring?
Américo Vespucio avenue runs around the entire perimeter of the city, forming a ring of connectivity. But is a road with these characteristics the only way to make connectivity in the urban perimeter? (Photo: Plataformaurbana.cl).This intervention is part of a large-scale biodiversity conservation strategy. The Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council decided to carry out a green space recovery plan to rescue and enhance urban edges, forming an extensive network of interconnected green areas. In other words, a network of peri-urban green spaces ... or a green ring.
In large cities there are extensive ring roads. In the case of Santiago, for example, Avenida Américo Vespucio runs around the entire perimeter of the city, forming a ring of connectivity. But it is necessary to ask: is a road with these characteristics the only way to do connectivity in the urban perimeter?
To answer this question we need to understand the four objectives that were established by the Vitoria-Gasteiz City Council, to build the transformation and recovery plan for green spaces:
- Promote the conservation of peri-urban natural enclaves and the ecological restoration of other recoverable peripheral spaces, creating a natural continuum around the city.
- Integrate peri-urban parks into the urban fabric, connecting them with the natural environment. In this way, physical and ecological accessibility between urban green areas and natural areas of the municipality is improved.
- Conditioning peri-urban spaces to encourage public use in them, helping to satisfy citizen demand for outdoor leisure places, while cushioning the pressure on other more fragile natural spaces.
- Take advantage of the recovery and conditioning of the new spaces to promote environmental awareness and education, with the ultimate aim of involving citizens in their conservation.
The Río Batán can now be seen from the main street of Vitoria-Gasteiz. In this photo you can see how the natural landscape mixes with the urban fabric, where there are buildings, streets and restaurants.
The objectives seek to establish a continuity between ecological zones, forming corridors that connect the entire perimeter of the city. In other words, forming a green ring in which the following natural parks are located, with their particular characteristics: Armentia, Salburua, Zadorra, Olarizu, Paseo del Alegría and Zabalgana.
These areas can be natural areas such as wetlands. However, they can also be productive areas that contribute to deliver social benefits, such as urban ecological gardens, encouraging the use of remaining spaces.
These social spaces also allow leisure and education for people, also promoting that they can be more productive. In fact, the incorporation of orchards in 1998 to the system of natural zones of the green ring has promoted three of the four established objectives.
Change of gaze
In Vitoria-Gasteiz they made the decision to eliminate 500 parking lots and five car lanes on its main avenue, in order to rebuild a missing river. At the same time, in its perimeter ring, they restored and enhanced green areas, forming a network of parks of high ecological, scenic and social value.
With this, he not only managed to recover the biodiversity of the area, but he was able to revalue the urban areas surrounding the recovered green areas. All this earned him the appointment as Green Capital, by the European Union, setting the eyes of the world in his policies and actions, attracting tourists, researchers and academics.
The experience of the Basque Country shows us that the logic of the large roads is not the only way to build a city and that the car is not the only protagonist of public space. This view of urban planning and the way to build a city for the inhabitants is a point that in Chile we still have a deficit: we need to plan cities that are friendlier, more harmonious and connected to their natural environments, because it benefits us all!