As Valencia progresses into the 21st century, this city built over two millennia works to maintain her heritage. Quality development balances artful modern construction with soul-protecting historic preservation.
The Wisdom in Artistry & Soulful Progress
We were first introduced to Valencia through La Turia Gardens. This river of green space flows around the old city, within the banks of what was once an actual river, La Turia, diverted after the catastrophic Great Flood of 1957.
The emptied space could have been turned into the highway first proposed by Franco. Instead—thankfully a more creative aesthetic prevailed—we walked through parks and gardens, along paths, past fountains and sports fields. These spaces were alive with activity—people riding bikes, jogging, playing soccer, perusing market stands—while we continued along its paths to Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias.
The City of Arts and Sciences, designed by Santiago Calatrava, is a sleek, ultramodern complex of museums and show spaces found at the far eastern end of the greenbelt. The sculpted structures on this site burst with exhibits: Europe’s largest aquarium, a science museum, an IMAX theater, a music and performing arts hall, an exhibition hall, and a garden esplanade.
Though financially controversial, this recent project is thought by many as one of the most important since the Middle Ages.
Funding development always comes with challenges, and is often debated, especially with today’s rate at which we expect to grow. Construction has come to a halt for many projects, like Estadi Nou Mestalla, the new Valencia FC arena that, after several years, still stands as a shell north side of the center.
Meanwhile, the iconic 100-year-old Mestalla Stadium, built in 1919 on the east side of the city, proudly hosts fútbol games for Valencia CF (local rival of Levante UD), resisting the “out with the old” model to instead celebrate its history.
Progress comes at a cost and must be approached wisely.
Remaining optimistic that Valencia will persevere through her wisdom and patience, as we moved beyond the tourist-attracting museum complex, there were plenty of signs that industry continues to prosper.
Giant cantilever cranes from the bustling Mediterranean port—Europe’s fifth busiest and the biggest seaport in Spain—create an industrial backdrop to the yacht-filled marina. Next to the pier, wide, golden beaches stretch for miles, while restaurants along the boardwalk provide options for some of the best seafood and paella.
Adjacent to this coastline is the neighborhood of El Cabanyal. Once a fishing village from the 13th century, then a fashionable town established in 1821 called Pueblo Nuevo del Mar, this neighborhood became absorbed through Valencia’s rapid urban expansion—and disrepair—in the 20th century.
Today architectural gems simply in need of a polish fill the streets of Cabanyal. Ideally situated near the beaches of the Mediterranean, officials want to carve a wide boulevard through the neighborhood’s center to create a better connection between the beaches and inland Valencia—a plan that hit fierce opposition when originally proposed in 1998 and continues to meet strong dissent.
The more prudent option would be for the city to, instead, meet the challenge by creatively redeveloping a more desirable plan that does not include demolishing huge swaths of heritage sites.
When we are more focused on bottom lines and growth than on the legacy we create—quantity over quality—we lose sight of what really matters.
Holding architectural and cultural treasures in high regard over blind demolition provides a more interesting, soulful result. While we work to improve communities, real progress values quality, historic preservation and natural spaces in balance with new construction.
Mediocrity has no place in development. Well-considered design at the forefront of construction creates lasting results. Restoration of original features maintains character, adds interest, and infuses soul into a community.
We used to build civilizations. Now we build shopping malls.poignant quote by Bill Bryson1
Continue the Conversation
This 3 part series looks at Valencia through my lens.
I look forward to returning to Spain for further exploration of València, as well as visiting Castellón, the province on València’s northern border.
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1 Bryson, Bill. Neither Here Nor There: Travels in Europe, William Morrow, 1992, Reprint Edition (2001), pp. 119.