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The Braided Valley

Elche, Spain
1 of 10

Braided Valley is an urban revitalization intervention in the river canyon that passes through the city of Elche from North to South creating a longitudinal park.

Due to the irrigation upstream and irregular rainfall, Vinalopo river only flows abundantly in autumn,when impetuous overflows periodically happen. In the 70's, channeling works were developed that protected the city from flash flooding, but also disabled the pedestrian traffic that crossed the landform. For years, some river sections (which reached a depths of 40m) broke apart the urban space and became a forgotten area where trash was piled up.

In the year 2009, the City Hall organised a competition to convert the Elche riverside into a park, three kilometers in length. A temporary office was opened for a month to research and document citizen participation. Data collected from future users indicated the main attraction points, the most needed uses and which were the most requested connections. The interest of citizens focused on the recovery of natural pedestrian paths that the infrastructural canalization of the 70'S removed. Also taking part in the negotiation process were all administrative agents responsible, Hydrographic Jucar Confederation, Environment Department, Heritage Department, Irrigation Community, Aguas de Elche and City Hall with their complex and contradictory relations.

And here is where the project "gives voice" to the river, refusing the orthogonal city system and embracing sinuous lines; as braided as a riverbed; a channel network.

Construction works started in the north phase: it was the area with less bridges or other connections. Also, the intervention was pressing, as the disconnected neighbourhoods from the north side were dealing with social degradation problems. Meanwhile, a main link for the city was recovered: the connection in between the western part of the river city and its municipal Park, El Palmeral. A forest of palm trees from the 5th Century and a surface of 350 ha, that belongs to the World Heritage.

The project draws a network of interlaced paths, footbridges and gardens that transforms the canyon into a high quality natural space. It is easy to reach and it brings together both sides of the river and its neighbourhoods. The gardens feature native species that integrates in a efficient and sustainable way.Two concrete walkways rise and intersect. This walkways are supported on a system of weathering steel columns that visually disappear into the landscape, giving an image of floating paths.

Braided Valley has not been officially opened, and the next project phase is on hiatus, but Elche citizens are already using it, filling the valley with urban activities.

Braided Valley has been awarded with the European Prize for Urban Public Space organised by Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB).

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carolina, May 18th, 2014
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