The Manzanares River that runs through Madrid is small and even dried up for some of the year. When it was converted into a highway in the 1970s, the decisionmakers thought it a much better use of space. They would never understand their mistake until 30 years later when the river’s potential was fully realized.
The decision to created underground tunnels underneath the river and make the river accessible again has led to a resurgence of interest commercially and recreationally in the land along side the river. Inaugurated as the Madrid Río in 2011, the park runs the length of the urban part of the river and provides public spaces where families and individuals can be seen walking, jogging, biking, rollerblading, skateboarding, playing soccer and more. No traffic congestion pollutes the pedestrian-friendly paths, the 17 play areas for children, or the 9,000 pine trees that have been planted along the river. Many people enjoy the food and drinks from the businesses on the terraces, and there are a myriad of amenities that follow the riverside. To name a few, benches, bridges, game areas and pétanque courts are commonplace for anyone to enjoy. A manmade “urban beach” gives an opportunity bask in the Spanish sun with fountains to cool off in. The adjacent Cultural Center Matadero has its own unique historyand hosts many events throughout the year, like concerts, exhibitions, workshops, theater and more.
Not only returning to its former glory but surpassing it, the Manzanares River is a part of a larger movement to bring people together and make public space accessible and fun for people of all ages and backgrounds. Locals say they know their neighbors better, and the river has connected people of different social spheres. People can interact with other people from different walks of life they may never otherwise see or get the chance to meet. For instance, the section of the river where wealthy families live connects now directly to the low-income subsidized housing for the elderly.
Madrid Río may be one of the best urban parks ever constructed. It creates boundless commercial and recreational opportunities while creating linkages between people of different social strata. A small, once forgotten river is making huge waves across Madrid and urbanists around the world are taking notice.