Madrid pins hope on new river project to boost 2016 bid
Municipal officials hope the Madrid Rio Project which includes a beach, sports and cultural facilities will help them win the Olympic bid.
Few visitors to Madrid ever realise that the Spanish capital has a river.
In fact, dams higher up the Manzanares mean that in parts it is little more than a stream in a muddy riverbed. And it runs along the edge of the city rather than through it, as is the case in many other major European cities.
But municipal authorities say all that will change when the Madrid Rio Project is completed, scheduled for 2011, five years before the Olympic Games which Madrid is vying with Chicago, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo to host in 2016.
Madrid officials hope the ambitious new river development will not only boost their bid -- the International Olympic Committee will announce the winner in Copenhagen on Friday -- but provide a new dimension to city-dwelling.
It will include sports and cultural facilities, shaded walks, bicycle paths, rowing lanes on the river, children's playgrounds, cafes and restaurants.
But the jewel in the crown will be a beach with sand, similar to that opened on the River Seine in Paris in 2002, and equipped with parasols, humidifiers and a paddling area.
Overall, the scheme will create a six-kilometre-long (9.6-mile) green belt along the Manzanares River covering 820 hectares (2,000 acres).
It aims to offer a shady and relaxing breath of fresh air in the Spanish capital, where summer temperatures can often soar to 40 C (100 F) and which lies 350 kilometres (560 miles) from the coast, and the beaches that Spain is famed for.
"It's mainly a beach for the city residents," said Gines Garrido, the chief architect of the Madrid Rio Project. "And it's a place for sunbathing."
"Madrid is a place that is known for its dryness and heat, where what is appreciated is shade, freshness," he told AFP.
Unlike the beach in the French capital, which only opens in the summer, the idea is to keep the Madrid beach open all year around, and use a type of specially treated sand that's cleaner and more resistant than natural sand, said another of the architects leading the team, Fernando Porras.
"It's more an element of the park than of the river" and "more than just a summer beach," he said.
Madrid Mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon said he hoped the project would become "the reference point of a new Madrid", as well expanding the city.
"We are extending the centre of Madrid to the Manzanares river," he said when he announced the development last year.
But it is also part of what the Spanish capital is promoting as "the greenest Games ever", should Madrid get the nod this week. This will include the creation of a total of 2,200 hectares of green belt throughout the city.
The core of the Olympic facilities would be located in the east of the city, including the Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Village.
But the River Zone in the west would host the venues for nine sports, including rowing, cycling and tennis. One of these, BMX cycling, would be held within the planned new development.
Part of the city's M30 ringroad has been rerouted and will now pass underneath the Madrid Rio Project to make way for the massive new development.
The Madrid Rio Project will stretch from the Arganzuela park in the south, which includes the Madrid Matadero contemporary arts centre, formerly the city's slaughterhouse, up to the vast Casa de Campo, Madrid's main park, in the west.
More than 26,000 trees are being planted and 11 new footbridges constructed to connect the working-class districts of Carabanchal and Latina with the city centre.
Some of the historic old bridges on the Manzanares are also being restored.
The river's water quality will also be improved and the flow increased, although swimming will not be permitted.
"It's an extraordinary opportunity for Madrid to have something that very few cities have," said Gines.
Some Madrid residents however expressed mixed views.
"It's ambitious, nice and convenient, but I don't think that now is the time to be spending public funds on it," said Natalia, 43, a teacher. "I think there are other priorities now for public funds."
Luis Astullo, 81, who has lived in Carabanchal since 1948, said: "I think it's going to be very beautiful, it's going to transform this district. But it's going to cost a lot."
"It's lovely, but we're wondering when it's going to be finished," complained Jose Herranz, 84, sitting on a bench on the 18th-century Toledo Bridge, surveying the dump trucks, cranes and clouds of dust at the vast construction site that extends for kilometres down the riverbed.
30 September 2009
AFP / Denholm Barnetson / Expatica