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Global Forces: Bilbao (Spain)

Virginia de la Vía

Metropolitan Bilbao extends along the Nervion River estuary. Its component municipalities stretch for 12 kilometres along both banks, housing a total population of around one million.
Ports along the river provided the basis for the development of Bilbao as a city until the arrival of the international recession, which had serious knock-on effects, particularly in the Basque Country in the early 1980's: heavy industry reached a crisis point; the steel and shipbuilding companies, which had sustained the economy of Bizkaia, had been dealt a mortal blow.
In this context, the problem of obsolescent industrial concerns was seen as an opportunity for the future. The areas freed by the closing down of industrial, railway and port activities were flat and waterfront sites: this was a chance to give metropolitan Bilbao a new urban structure centred on the river, linking municipalities and providing a physical backdrop for the setting up of the new economy on which the city would depend for its future.
A process of transformation was started in the late 1980's with the ultimate aim of renewing the economic base of the region. There was a widespread political and social consensus as to the need 'to do something' to find a different future. Unlike in Sevilla or Barcelona it is an 'eventless' process and therefore has no completion date. A highly general strategic plan was drawn up and involved action with regard to the basic infrastructure, the promotion of new economic activity and the upgrading of cultural amenities. The Guggenheim Museum has become the flagship of this process but the changes have only just begun.
In late 1991 the Basque and Spanish authorities decided that a body should be set up to deal with transport, urban development and environmental policies in Bilbao and its metropolitan area: BILBAO Ría 2000, a management instrument .

What is BILBAO Ría 2000?
BILBAO Ría 2000 is a limited company operating with public funds, which was incorporated on 19 November 1992. It is run jointly on a fifty-fifty basis by the Spanish Government and by Basque administrative bodies (Basque Government, Provincial Council of Bizkaia, and Bilbao and Barakaldo town councils).

Why was BILBAO Ría 2000 created?
BILBAO Ría 2000 was the result of a climate of understanding between the various administrative bodies within the framework of a process of co-operation for the transformation of Bilbao. Thus in 1987 the municipality of Bilbao drew up its first General Urban Plan , which proposed that the major opportunities for development in Bilbao were to be found at Abandoibarra and Ametzola, on land belonging to companies dependent on the central administration. The General Committee of what was the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, which was the co-ordinating body for work to be carried out, arranged the creation of an entity in which 50% stakes were held by both parties, for the regeneration of metropolitan Bilbao.

What does BILBAO Ría 2000 do?
The mission of BILBAO Ría 2000 is to revitalize decayed areas or obsolescent industrial sites in metropolitan Bilbao. To achieve this aim, it co-ordinates and takes action with regard to development, transport and the environment. Its projects are carried out on a comprehensive basis, and are assisted and supported by all administrative bodies.

How is it financed?
BILBAO Ría 2000 was created by means of a small capital contribution of 300 million pesetas. From this point, the entity has shown its ability to achieve financial equilibrium with no need to resort to public funds, and total investment envisaged for the various projects is around 60,000 million pesetas. 
Shareholders have relinquished their property around the centres of Bilbao and Barakaldo, and the municipality has upgraded the land. On this basis, BILBAO Ría 2000 invests in land development and sells off the plots to private developers. Since the location is extremely central and is therefore in great demand, sales generate capital gains, which are in turn invested in extensive city projects such as the Southern Connection, Bilbao La Vieja and the Barakaldo Urban project. BILBAO Ría 2000 also receives subsidies from the European Union.

Areas where BILBAO Ría 2000 is working

  • Abandoibarra: 345.000 m2 in the very heart of the city, the symbol of Bilbao as an industrial city and port until the 1980's. Today it is to become a symbol of the revitalized modern city

  • Ametzola: 110.000 m2, formerly the location of three goods railway stations, now a residential area with a 36.000 m2 park.

  • Southern Connection: a project to restructure the complicated rail system which formerly passed through the city centre. Five new stations have already been built.

  • Bilbao La Vieja, an area located in the old town. BILBAO Ría 2000 is investing here the estimated surpluses arising from the sale of land in Abandoibarra to develop urban projects.

  • Urban-Galindo (Barakaldo). Barakaldo is the second largest municipality in Bizkaia and the fourth in the Basque Country in terms of population. It stands at the geographical centre of metropolitan Bilbao. An ambitious urban plan is underway on this site with the aim of integrating Barakldo and recovering the waterfront for the use of local people.

Abandoibarra, emblem of a city
Abandoibarra is the most emblematic project taken on by BILBAO Ría 2000 within the framework of the regeneration of Bilbao, not only due to its ability to transform an industrial area, but as an urban revolution. This area is about to become the new centre of Bilbao as the natural continuation of the Ensanche area, and constitute a city model for the 21st century with almost 350,000 square metres of land. In accordance with the Master Plan drawn up by the architect Cesar Pelli, here is room for leisure, business, culture, green spaces, housing and an expanse of water which no longer constitutes a barrier, but has rather been transformed into an axis stretching across the city.
This is also a project which is very much here and now, since total investment of 14,000 million pesetas in development of the area received an important boost in the year 2000, following final approval of the Special Plan for Interior Reform Work (PERI). Thus Abandoibarra is no longer a mere plan consisting of paper and scale models - it is becoming a reality.
But what is Abandoibarra? Abandoibarra is a large area to the north-west of Bilbao, which has been the location at various times through the years for the Euskalduna shipyard (now the Euskalduna Conference and Music Hall) and the RENFE (National Railway Company) Container Depot. The entire area is now being revitalized as a new extension to the city.
Development work actually started on Abandoibarra in 1998. However, the first real phase was initiated by BILBAO Ría 2000 last year, running until the year 2002. This task involved the demolition and reconstruction of the Ribera quayside, development work on Avenida Abandoibarra and the Ribera Park and construction of the pedestrian walkway connecting Abandoibarra to the right bank of the river.
The second phase, between 2002 and 2004, involves an extension to the Doña Casilda Park and development work on Plaza de Euskadi and the creation of a park, La Campa de los Ingleses, next to the future building of the Diputación or Provincial Council, a thirtystorey structure for the departments which, until now, had been scattered around the city at various locations.
During this period, Abandoibarra will slowly take shape following the construction of several additional features: two office blocks (nine floors, with a total surface area of 20,000 square metres), and five housing blocks providing 800 housing units. The dynamic nature of the area, since one of the objectives in the plans for Abandoibarra is to ensure 24 hours vitality, will be completed with the Zubiarte shopping and leisure facility, designed by the United States architect Robert Stern; the five-star Sheraton hotel, which will be located next to the Euskalduna Conference Hall and built by a Mexican architect, Ricardo Legorreta; the University of Deusto Library and the University of the Basque Country's Paranymph.
The above shows that this is an ambitious project, one of whose main features is greenery. In fact, Cesar Pelli has transformed the area into a huge inhabitable lung for the city. In total, two thirds of Abandoibarra, an area of around 200,000 square metres, will consist of gardens and open spaces. This will be the configuration of the Ribera Park, which will stretch along the river for one kilometre between the Guggenheim Museum and the Euskalduna Conference Hall. This park of around 93,000 square metres is essential to the development of Abandoibarra because it is here that all possible leisure activities converge.
Pedestrian areas leading to the three-kilometre walkway, areas with trees, a 1250 metre lane for cyclists, an open-air amphitheatre, terraces, walkways decorated with sculptures by artists such as Chillida, Lüppertz, Garraza or Zugasti, and even two tram stops connecting other parts of the city.
A link has been made across the river between Abandoibarra and the University of Deusto in the shape of the pedestrian walkway. The main feature of this area, however, will surely be its sober avant-garde configuration.
The walkway appears as a large 1.500 square-metre dragonfly 140 metres in length, with a seven-metre bridge span. Its main features are the duplex stainless steel, an extremely durable and resistant material which has been used on a bridge for the first time anywhere. The modern stylised metal construction stretches over the river like a metaphor of the rebirth of a city transformed to take up the challenges of the third millennium.

Abandoibarra Bilbao - The metropolitan area