The two winning projects of this year’s European Prize for Urban Public Space by Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) are the renovation of the old port, Marseille (France) and “The braided valley”, Elche (Spain).
The Vieux-Port of Marseille is the largest urban harbour in Europe. The old harbour has a narrow entrance flanked by two old fortifications and it occupies a natural bay where the central districts of the city converge. The port fell into neglect and a state of disrepair by the end of the twentieth century. The premises of yacht clubs, which cluttered the port with architectural and visual barriers, blocked public access to 80 percent of the docks area where, moreover, the fact that priority was given to cars, discouraged pedestrian use. In 2009, the City Council and the Marseille Provence Métropole (MPM) called for entries in a competition aimed at rectifying the situation.
The first phase of the renovation work has cleared obstacles and vehicular transport from the port’s three wharves, which are now uniformly paved in pale granite evoking the original limestone cobblestones. The Quai des Belges, the central wharf, devotes 60 percent of its surface to pedestrians and protects them from the sun beneath the Grande Ombrière, a rectangular canopy of 1,000 m2, which can also be used for large crowd-pulling events. New floating docks have been installed in order to accommodate water activities without interfering with the pedestrian flow or views. Thanks to a consultative process the port has recovered its vitality by means of taking the general interest into account. The presence of leisure craft, which fosters economic and associative activity, has been made compatible with access and enjoyment for all citizens. Hence, while other city ports combat economic decline by allowing privatised uses that undermine their role as public space, the Vieux-Port has been renovated by expanding its condition of a shared place that is open to everyone. The renovation was developed by MPM Communauté urbaine Marseille Provence Métropole, Direction des Infrastructures with Michel Desvigne Paysagiste MDP, Foster + Partners, Tangram, Ingerop and AIK.
A Park in Spain near Elchee, developed by Ayuntamiento de Elche with Francisco Leiva Ivorra, Marta García Chico, Antoni Baile Jiménez, Prócoro del Real Baeza, is the other winning project. The Vinalopó River is considerably reduced when it crosses the city of Elche. Irrigation upstream and very irregular rainfall mean that water only flows in any abundance in autumn, when sudden flooding can occur. This has cut out a riverbed with steep sides, mainly as a result of landslides. In the 1970s, major channelling work put an end to flooding but also eliminated the network of paths by means of which residents on the right bank could reach the adjoining Palmeral, a vast palm grove which is inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List. Relegated to the condition of a marginal rubbish tip, the watercourse became a barrier that divided the city into two halves, both facing away from it. In 2009, the City Council called for entries in a competition aimed at converting the riverbed into a three-kilometrelong linear park.
The first phase of the work was completed on the upstream section where the social deterioration of the neighbourhoods and scarcity of bridges made improvement most urgent. A temporary in situ office collected data on the areas of movement that were most requested by future users. A network of paths was thus opened and led the place to be known as “The Braided Valley” because they criss-cross on both sides of the river, which were also replanted with autochthonous species of vegetation. Before reaching the walls of the channel and joining to cross the riverbed, the paths rise up in a Y-shape forming two footbridges resting on clusters of metal pillars which resemble tree trunks and give lightness to the structure.
Before completing the first phase, the new city council stopped work on the project it had inherited but did not embrace as its own. “The Braided Valley” has not been officially opened yet, although local residents have spontaneously made it theirs. With similar spontaneity, the riverside paths and bridges disregard the orthogonal nature of the urban layout and anticipate tracks which a pedestrian’s common sense would leave on a badly situated parterre or on the ground of a snowbound city. It is to be hoped that common sense will prevail and that work on this park, which already stitches together the neighbourhoods through which it passes and connects them with natural spaces to the north of the city of Elche, will soon proceed anew.
Special mentions went to the islamic cemetary in Altach in the federal state of Vorarlberg, Austria, the area of Rainham Marshes in London, Great Britain, “Baana”, a pedestrian and bicycle corridor in Helsinki, Finland, and the space of former “La Lira”-Theater in Ripoll, Spain. In this year’s award a total of 274 projects from 194 cities and 30 European countries have been presented. The Prize is an honorary award to both authors and promoters of the works chosen.