Madrid Nuevo Norte was the focus of the second day of the Symposium on Mobility and City organised by El Español and Invertia
Leading professionals in urban planning and sustainability used Madrid’s large urban regeneration initiative as an example of smart urban development
The 1st Symposium of the Mobility Observatory organised by El Español and Invertia, which focused on Mobility and Smart City, explored the challenges of a new city model and sustainable mobility during the second day. Several leading urban planners and sustainability experts took part in a panel on key aspects of the 21st-century city, including crucial issues such as a paradigm shift in urban planning that must put people at the centre of urban design. The experts unanimously mentioned Madrid Nuevo Norte as an example of the qualities expected in new urban planning models to adapt to changes in the coming decades.
A city model for the future
Miguel Hernández, DCN’s Corporate Strategy and Development Manager, highlighted that cities had adopted different models throughout history. They had grown and gained their distinctive character based on various activities and urban typologies (dense, compact or disperse), which directly define building types and population density and depend on the cultural context. Despite this historical background, in Hernández’s view, the 21st century “has seen urban design’s centre of gravity shift towards people, placing them at the very centre.” Hernández highlighted that it is inconceivable today to create an urban process without engaging the citizens, taking account of the revenue obtainable by public administrations, or ignoring how people move within the cities. “Today, we design mobility. Cities are designed on this basis,” he said.
According to the DCN manager, the new model implies that “the environments we create must be the best for living and for working.” An aim that can only be achieved through sustainability, the need to be competitive internationally and create urban environments that can quickly adapt to increasingly rapid changes. “Urban planners cannot foresee what will happen in twenty or thirty years. We must create a framework that will enable us to make adjustments going forward,” he said. In this context, it is essential to enhance resilience, the cities’ capacity to adapt to future changes.
Madrid Nuevo Norte has taken up these significant challenges, making them its own, focusing on implementing a variety of activities, which, according to Hernández, “will be linked to the strength of Chamartín station”. Miguel Hernández explained that “the centre of gravity of the city’s activities will shift” to Castellana Avenue, the city’s backbone, which “will grow over the next 50 years as much as it grew in the past 200.” However, the extension of this axis will now be a green corridor.
According to DCN’s Corporate Strategy and Development Manager, Madrid’s large urban regeneration initiative is well-equipped to tackle future scenarios in minimal time and with maximum legal certainty. This project seeks to improve the citizens’ quality of life and attract and retain talent, leveraging the great opportunity afforded by the urban void in the north of the capital.
Hernández also stressed that there is no rulebook on how to approach such an ambitious, mammoth project. “We need to manage it unconventionally, as it has never been done before in Spain,” he cautioned. A complex task that requires concerted and coordinated efforts between public administrations, state companies, and private businesses.
The DCN manager recalled that what started as an urban project has now become an opportunity for recovery, at a moment when “economic, political and urban design cycles have finally aligned to make Madrid Nuevo Norte a reality”.
The panel moderated by Miguel Ángel Díaz Camacho, architect and director at Estudio MADC, President of the Sustainability and Architecture Association and professor at the Camilo José Cela University (UCJC), brought together leading 21st-century urban planners, who explored various issues more deeply, including sustainability and mobility.
Tools to create a better city
Martha Thorne, Dean of IE School of Architecture and Design, pointed out that urban planning has undergone substantial changes in recent years, owing to significant pressures and influences, such as climate change or technology, as well as rapid development in certain cities and consolidation and regeneration of others.
Thorne advocated moving away from the zoning approach towards urban uses. “Cities should not be explored as fragmented spaces. All elements are important for urban planning”, she said.
People-centred, participative cities with character
Meanwhile, Flavio Tejada, head of Arup Cities in Europe highlighted that “cities are the most expensive collective exercise undertaken by society”. It involves a significant investment not only in materials but also in people since we spend most of our time there. It is no longer a designer, an urban planner, who plans the city, as in the past, but rather “people and societies build cities that reflect who we are”, he stated. However, infrastructures are also necessary. According to Tejada, the current city must have “an efficient public transport system capable of handling transit load”.
The Arup expert outlined four urban characteristics that, in his view, must be taken into account, i.e. proximity, citizen engagement, identity and beauty.
Reversing the mobility pyramid to prioritise pedestrians
According to Guillermo Maldonado, a manager at Tema Ingeniería and CEO of TEMA Grupo Consultor, “sustainable transit is about using the most suitable means to travel to your destination”. In this expert’s view, mobility must be economically, socially and environmentally efficient. To that end, it is necessary to “invert the mobility pyramid”, making pedestrians the priority, followed by cyclists, public transport and, finally, the private car. He cited Madrid Nuevo Norte as an example of three-level multimodality – local (bus), city (Metro) and region (railway services). He views as a positive development that Madrid’s large transformation project is “committed to a 15-minute city and mixed uses”, in which everything will be within reach. It will also close the “large urban void created by the rail tracks in the north of the capital.
Sustainable certifications, custodians of a more humane city
Javier Torralba, director of Breeam Spain, explained the role played by sustainability certifications to promote sustainable construction and urban planning and its benefits. These include respect for the environment, which is relevant since “cities occupy 3% of the territory and consume 60% of natural resources,” he explained. In the opinion of the director this prestigious sustainability certification, Madrid Nuevo Norte will be a benchmark in this field, not only in Spain but also internationally. According to Torralba, an additional benefit of sustainable urban planning is health care, which is relevant to urban environments, as we spend much of our life in a city. Responsible urban planning “also involves an economically efficient operation”, he explained, which has a knock-on effect on the viability of the project and people’s well-being.
Finally, he highlighted that these sustainability certifications help harness the community’s support. “It is essential to engage citizens to take stock of their concerns in the design. Continuity must be ensured as we are now building people-centred cities. Madrid Nuevo Norte is this tipping point,” he concluded.