At ABC’s Foro Madrid Capital, leading urban planning experts and professionals have discussed the keys to new sustainable and human-centred urbanism
MNN comes in at the right time to be a lever for the economic recovery of Madrid and Spain
The approval of Madrid Nuevo Norte has been coming for more than twenty years, but it has arrived when it is needed most, when Madrid and Spain can rely on this project, the largest urban regeneration project in Europe, as the basis for the country’s economic recovery. This has been one of the main conclusions of ABC’s Foro Madrid Capital. Sustainable urban development as the key to recovery: the example of Madrid Nuevo Norte, where the evolution of urbanism in the 21st century and the needs of the city facing the challenges of the future were discussed.
The meeting was attended by DCN’s Director of Strategy and Corporate Development, Miguel Hernández, who has emphasized that Madrid Nuevo Norte aims to be a reference for the new concept of urbanism, a new way of building a city that puts people at the centre and is intrinsically linked to sustainability in all its aspects: environmental, social and economic. “The city of the 21st century is sustainable by necessity. Sustainability is no longer an option, because funding is given only to projects that are sustainable,” insisted Mr. Hernandez.
In fact, Madrid Nuevo Norte is the first project eligible, from the planning phase, for the two most demanding sustainability certification programs, BREEAM and LEED. And among the ambitious goals set, it means to be a zero-emission and carbon-free district by 2050.
DCN’s Executive has recalled that this urban plan will generate more than 340,000 jobs, of which some 200,000 will be created in the construction phase. The investment will have an economic return of 15.2 billion EUR, 90% of which will come from private investment. These numbers underline the project’s unique capacity to foster the economic recovery that Spain needs, following the pandemic-induced crisis. To this end, coordination and collaboration between the administrations and DCN are also key. “We are in constant communication with all the administrations and public companies involved, because otherwise it would be impossible to move forward,” said Mr. Hernandez.
Flavio Tejada, Director of Ciudades de Arup and of the Master’s in Real Estate Development at the IE University, was also part of the panel. He considers that it is also important to adapt the instruments with which cities are designed, “because we face complex challenges, such as climate change, digital disruption, the need to include citizens in decision-making processes, and new economic models”. Mr. Tejada has stated that Madrid Nuevo Norte, because of its size and scale, has a significance that transcends the city of Madrid. “It is also the first major urban regeneration project in Europe conceived in the 21st century, as the design of other references such as King Cross, in London, or Porta Nuova, in Milan, began in earlier centuries.” “That is why,” he insisted, “with this urban plan we have the opportunity to lay the foundations for the new urbanism.”
For his part, Javier Herreros, founding partner with Ana Riaza of RH Arquitectos, has highlighted the importance of designing mobility to achieve a truly sustainable project. According to the architect, for a long time, Western societies have designed cities for cars, with the aim of ensuring fast commuting and travelling to cover ever-greater distances. “This model is over. We are no longer seduced by the frenzy of cars driving by. Now we have to think on a human scale, put the pedestrian back at the centre of our mobility strategies,” said Mr. Herreros. In Madrid Nuevo Norte, in fact, mobility is based on public transportation and revolves around the hyperconnected hub consisting of Chamartín Train Station and the intermodal transport hub that will connect city and intercity buses, metro lines, and commuter trains. Besides, the airport is a 15-minute ride.
In order for cities to offer a good quality of life to their citizens and, at the same time, to be environmentally sustainable, urban density and mixed uses are paramount; as it has been pinpointed by Juan Alayo, urban strategy advisor. His regret is that regeneration projects such as Madrid Nuevo Norte, which have the ability to stitch together the urban fabric, are still a drop in the ocean. In many cases, both in Spain and the rest of the world, cities continue to expand as if they were oil stains rather than by renovating the existing city.
Mr. Alayo has explained that sparse and expansive construction is not just environmentally, but also economically unsustainable, as infrastructure has a high maintenance cost and is the main expense in city management.
All panellists agreed that in order to build cities that will continue to meet future needs, they must be designed with flexibility in mind, so as not to constrain future uses. “Society changes, and it does so quickly. Not even the most visionary forecast is able to imagine the city we are headed to. In urban planning, decisions made remain forever, so we must make decisions that do not jeopardise future societies,” Hernandez said. That is the reason why, according to Mr. Herreros, we have to take advantage of the opportunity offered by Madrid Nuevo Norte: “We are only at the beginning of the road and the whole society has to be involved in this evolutionary process”, so that the project suits the city needs at all times.
“We also need to take advantage of this project to monitor the city and its evolution,” added Mr. Alayo, using technological disruption to better understand what is needed for quality of life in an urban context.
“It is an opportunity and it has to be used, because this project will raise the profile of Madrid and Spain,” concluded Mr. Tejada.