MADRID -- The rerouting of a major highway has left the capital of Spain with a border of green space.
Between 2003 and 2007, six kilometers (about 3.7 miles) of the highway that encircles Madrid, the M-30, was rerouted and buried underground.
The construction rescued nearby residents from congested auto pollution and left a massive space open for development.
"All of our business really suffered," said Antonio Gonzalez, the owner of a riverfront convenience store, Alimentación de Galicia. He described the five years his street was under construction as the most difficult time in his store's 18 years of existence.
The Madrid City Council held a contest for what to do with the new open space, which winds through five neighborhoods considered to be an older and neglected part of the city. The Madrid Rio Project was born.
Over the last four years, one million square meters (or about 3,000 acres) of newly opened space was transformed from the previously industrial Rio Manzanares into a 24/7, well-lit green space stocked with more than 33,000 trees, 63 drinking fountains, and the largest bicycle-accessible area in the city.
"Now it's improved a bit," Gonzalez said in his native Spanish. "There are always a lot of people on the street, moving around the river project, cycling, walking, everything."
The tree-lined western shore, bordered in part by the city's largest park Casa de Campos, is filled with modern playgrounds, bicycle lanes and jogging paths. The eastern side is a more tree-scattered and open prairie space. The latter side of the Manzinares sees many local, often family-owned businesses -- countless small bars, sprinkled with independent convenience, food and hardware stores.
Both sides are residential in nature and have apartment buildings visited by families on the weekends and skateboarders after sundown. The coastline is often crossed by preserved old foot bridges, including the Puente de Segovia from the sixteenth century. When SmartPlanet visits, the Galician bakery is just re-opening its doors after a siesta and young families are strolling along the river and storefronts, enjoying the mild autumn air.
While no one seems to be swimming in the Manzanares yet -- in some places it is less that a foot deep and fairly murky brown throughout -- the ceasing of construction this summer allowed land-locked city residents to enjoy a handful of small beaches, offering sand and fountains in the same spirit as similar projects in beach-less Berlin and Paris.
The construction of the verdant coastline is finally completed, but the brown, shallow river itself is far from people-friendly. In response, the city has implemented a filtration system that will collect and filter rainwater, where much of the river's pollution comes from. The project is partly funded by the European Union, which is working to assist local governments in achieving a 35-percent annual reduction in direct discharges. In the interest of efficiency, the scheme will retain 95 percent of the rainfall.
The protection of a bordering river is one of the reasons the Moors settled Madrid back in the ninth century. In modern times, all Madrileños live within a 15-minute walk to green space, making the MadridRio Project just another way to utilize open space in a park-filled city.
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com