Infrastructures and the Wounded City
When we analyse a city’s layout we usually look closely at pre-existent historic elements and how natural agents like relief or a river have affected urban evolution.
The decisive agent in the evolution of Santiago de Compostela was the sector demarcated by the cathedral, the medieval wall and the roads leading into the city. These elements established the axes along which the city has developed during most of its history.
Later, new urban areas emerged to absorb the growing population. These included the University Campus for students, the Burgo de las Naciones for pilgrims and visitors, and the new residential neighbourhoods built in response to continuous migration into the city from the surrounding countryside.
Another watershed event was Santiago’s naming as capital of Galicia in the 1980s, with all the economic and social implications of having to accommodate the regional government. But the thing that most impacted the city’s urban layout was unquestionably the moving of its train station. The axis defined by the rail line and its buffer zones formed an insuperable barrier for Santiago.
Over time, the description of an area as being outside the city because of its location in relation to the medieval walls had gradually lost all relevance, but now, well into the 20th century, the city was once again divided by an infrastructure. The Pontepedriña quarter was left isolated, both physically and also mentally in the minds of compostelanos who for years eyed other parts of the city.
Paradoxically, new infrastructures now offer us an opportunity to correct those errors, to close up the “fissure”, to stitch the wound.
The whole city is waiting to see how the new Intermodal Station will change things. Apart from connecting up all the lines of public transport entering the city (trains and buses), the project includes a pedestrian walkway uniting the two zones that were separated by the rail line in the 1950s.
Although only a point-to-point connection, it will allow residents of Pontepedriña to reach the city centre quickly and easily while also improving traffic in the opposite direction from the Ensanche.
The Ensanche, a 20th century development, was based on enclosed blocks and has little public space. The new plan will connect this highly congested zone with the park running along the bank of the River Sar, considerably reducing the distance separating its inhabitants from this natural space and thus allowing them to enjoy it more.
The plan will also affect visitor flows. Those arriving in Santiago by bus or train will have quick access not only to the city centre, but also to this other part of the city, and this will undoubtedly flourish and revitalise the whole neighbourhood’s economy.
The project offers an opportunity to relocate tourist accommodation to the other side of the historic city centre, a zone well positioned in terms of public transport and attractive to visitors, which could act as a catalyst for the rehabilitation of housing in the neighbourhood.
The outlook is exciting, but deep analysis is required to determine which of the quarter’s historic elements to keep and showcase, in order both to preserve the collective memory of the residents and also, from the strategic point of view, to offer tourists something truly authentic and different.
For many years, this neighbourhood grew with its back to the city. The building of a new shopping centre created a new focal point around which a series of new buildings appeared, rejuvenating the population, generating new services and revitalising the streets. It’s time to establish new connections, and this should be the trend from now on.
Other interventions, like installing an elevator to overcome the difference in height between the Fontiñas and Concheiros neighbourhoods or reducing traffic in Avenida de Lugo, would contribute to this goal. The “Itinerario Verde”, or “Green Route”, a local strategy to link up the city’s green zones via a big green urban esplanade, will also make it easier to integrate the different parts of the city with each other and with the surrounding area.
A lot of work still needs to be done to heal the wounds caused by poor urban development management in the past. Citizens’ participation, in coordination with the borough councils, is vital if the opportunity to carry out that work is not to be missed.