Monday, June 20, 2011

Valencia: new friends, unemployment and fascinating urbanism

I did not know very much about Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, and the Costa Blanca before accepting an invitation from Manuel and Maria Jose to do a house exchange in June and July 2011. However, in summer 2007, Sally and I had a chance encounter with an attractive young couple from Valencia on a canal boat in Amsterdam, and we agreed that one day we would meet up again, either in Vancouver or Valencia.

During the intervening years we exchanged greetings, and they sent a postcard with a most fantastic looking building by Calatrava. I saw this building again in the Spanish Pavilion at the Shanghai 2010 World Fair, along with other quite remarkable looking buildings. All of these small things helped Sally and me to decide to return to Spain for another house exchange, even though we had visited Barcelona, Costa Brava and Madrid last summer. After all, we loved Spain last year, and with the worsening economic situation, we suspected the country would welcome our tourist dollars.

We did meet up with our Valencian friends again for a lovely lunch. Luis Puchades Rufino is in the renewable energy business. He now works with Ludan, an Israeli country doing projects around the world. I urged him to explore opportunities in Vancouver, given our desire to become the greenest city in the world by 2020. (I must say, I have to smile every time I write this, not because I don’t think it’s a noble goal…it is…but having spent quite a bit of time in Europe and knowing how far behind we are in Vancouver when it comes to energy and resource consumption, I know this will not happen.)

Nuria would enjoy Vancouver too since her job is to look after the extensive gardens that can be found throughout Valencia. Again, if one measures ‘greeness’ by the amount of park space and plantings, Vancouver has a long way to go to catch up to Valencia. A former river that was re-routed following a devastating flood is now a major ‘green spine’ running through the city. There are also extensive plantings along the road, and the city has somehow managed to protect agricultural lands and wetlands adjacent to the city centre.

Travelling around the city I found a very eclectic array of buildings built over many centuries. While mid-rise buildings dominate, a number of dramatic new high rises have recently been built. However, with the economic slowdown, much of the new office and hotel space appears empty, and a lot of property is for sale. Luis and Nuria told us that Valencia is in a very bad financial situation with 22% unemployment…yes 22%, which perhaps accounts for the number of public work projects we saw going on around town.

Thanks Luis and Nuria for encouraging us, in a very subtle way, to visit your amazing city and treating us to a most enjoyable lunch…next time, it’s our turn in Vancouver!


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