La Marina de València
Placing urban quality at the centre
Valencia’s waterfront area was initially redeveloped for the 32nd regatta of the America’s Cup in 2007. Following the race, the focus of the regeneration efforts in the area was reoriented towards the long-term needs of the city, with the local and regional governments presenting a new plan for the area in 2010. The process that followed included a number of elements, among which an Urban Living Manifesto was used to guide the stakeholder selection and establish key principles for the design and management of public spaces. The decision-making process utilised open design competitions involving a mix of public participatory processes, co-design and urban analysis in order to achieve a greater spatial quality.
The transformation process of Valencia’s waterfront area was governed and implemented by a joint body, the Consortium Valencia 2007, formed by the national, regional and local governments, and chaired by the mayor of the city.
The initial stage of the area’s transformation included a masterplan establishing the infrastructural works required for the regatta, as prescribed in the contract with the company handling the regatta, America’s Cup Management, and implemented directly by the Consortium. The project was financed by a loan guaranteed by Spain’s central government, but following the regatta the area returned to a state of being deserted and hence, failed to generate the further income necessary to re-orientate the area toward its post-competition mode. To address this situation, in 2010 the local and regional governments introduced a successful new Strategic Plan for 2017-2021 in order to revive the waterfront area. Two factors led to its ultimate success. First, the historical debt was paid off jointly by the central, regional and local governments, which enabled the Consortium to refocus on delivering high-quality urban design by transforming La Marina into an economically sustainable innovative and productive space. This was also one of the main objectives of the Consortium, as stated in the Strategic Plan. Second, soft governance tools were used to deliver the objectives of the aforementioned Strategic Plan. For this, an urban living lab was established, and its first workshop led to an Urban Living Lab manifesto, which offers guidance to stakeholders involved in the placemaking process as well as regarding the key principles for the design and management of public spaces. Additionally, it is also used as a rating tool for the assessment of tender proposals and design competitions by the Consortium, thereby ensuring that entries to design competitions abide by the Strategic Plan. Moreover, they must include a participatory placemaking dimension as part of their overall design process. Thus, the design governance approach used in Valencia’s waterfront area today is centred around local decision-making, entailing open design competitions that involve a mix of public participatory processes, co-design and urban analysis.
The use of soft powers in urban design governance, political commitment, as well as a sound financial footing are essential to achieve spatial quality in the given context. Above all, it makes a case for the importance of prioritizing long-term spatial planning over short-term objectives, and for placing urban quality at the centre rather than considering it to be a self-evident outcome of a development process.