Sevilla: sunshine, orange trees, bicycles and great public spaces

IMG_5465In February 2010, I travelled to Sevilla, Spain to speak at a conference on urban obsolescence put on by La Civdad Viva while working for the City of Malmö, Sweden. The conference focused on retrofitting social housing projects – how to engage residents and promote participation, improve energy efficiency and highlight architectural qualities. It was an impressive panel of experts, leading architects from the region, senior academics and experienced local authority representatives. I was humbled to be amongst the speakers (standing in for my boss) to give a presentation about Eco-city Augustenborg, a social housing project in Malmö. (The presentation is here if you are interested – more to come on Malmö in another blog post).

IMG_5577Sevilla, population 703,000, is the capital of the Southernmost of Spain’s autonomous communities, Andalusia. It is a very beautiful, and a very old city – more than 2200 years. It was a Roman city, a Moorish city, the great port city during the Spanish Golden Age handling all of Spain’s IMG_5602wealth, and more recently an industrial and education city. The architecture is ancient and astounding. Large public and private gardens exist throughout the city, and old cathedrals – former mosques – depict the city’s colourful past. Its historic significance is impressive and plentiful and definitely worth a visit.  What struck me most, however, was IMG_5614its public spaces and parks, its orange trees on every street, and its ample green spaces, and – like many European cities – its blossoming bike culture and rental system (which I did try). It is a walkable and bikeable city, with great public spaces for lingering in the sun, enjoying patio tapas, a cerveza, or for entertainment – and consequently great public life.

IMG_5585European cities are often presumed to have the upper hand in terms of planning strategies concerning biking and walking; with their old centres built before the introduction of the automobile, which consequently also influence modern urban behaviours. Biking, walking and public transport work out better in narrow city centres, while the car is often touted as being better suited in sprawling cities or suburbs. In general, I find this argument too simplistic: while historic centres are an advantage, city planners in European cities (and the world over) need to make active attempts in old and new cities to encourage bikes, buses, parks and walkability, working together with politicians, local businesses, NGOs and citizens. However, in Sevilla, its long history, windy narrow streets (that only permit a bicycle or pedestrian to pass) and historic centre do in fact give it a hand above the rest. The city is beautiful and residents and visitors alike linger in its public spaces, on park benches, in city squares or under the famous Andalusian orange trees – filling the city with their sweetest scents.

Beyond its natural walking and biking infrastructure, Sevilla has also made efforts to incorporate local sustainability strategies. It hosted the 2011 Velo-city conference on bicycle planning (to encourage cycling as a part of daily transport and recreation) and Sevilla has one of the highest cycling rates in Spain. Similarly, while Spain is known for its national efforts to incorporate solar energy, Sevilla is above the rest, featuring a solar tower in commercial operation. Parks and green spaces span the city, necessary to tackle the summer heat, and now serving as an example for other cities incorporating parks and green spaces to cope with urban heat island effect. Certainly, the city has a lot to offer: the beauty of its architecture, the charisma of its history, art, culture (the home of Flamenco) and great local cuisine … but also its sustainability strategies.

SEVici, Seville´s public bike rental system. Started in 2007, it has 2500 bicycles at 250 stations around the city - all of which are about 300 metres apart. There are 120 km of cycle lanes in the city, making it one of the best-served cities in Spain for this extremely clean, green and healthy means of transport. To date, SEVici´s bikes have been used 10 million times, with an average 25,000 daily uses.
SEVici, Seville´s public bike rental system. Launched in 2007, it has circa 2500 bicycles at 250 stations around the city (roughly 300 metres apart). Sevilla has 120 km of cycle lanes in the city, making it one Spain’s premier cycle cities – despite the heat (similar to discussions about biking infrastrucuture in cities like Doha or Abu Dhabi… see an earlier post). To date, SEVici´s bikes have been used 10 million times, with an average 25,000 daily uses.
Sevilla public spaces: This was actually a one-man show, receiving quite a lot of attention from locals & tourists
Sevilla public spaces: This was a one-man life-size puppet show (he played one of the puppets). It was quite impressive, receiving a lot of attention from locals & tourists.
Sevilla public spaces: Hot summer temperatures are nothing new to Sevilla - with or without climate change.  We could learn something from this anchient city that placed  city squares with fountains and green spaces to cool the surriounding buildings
Sevilla public spaces: Hot summer temperatures are nothing new to Sevilla – even before climate change. We could learn something from this ancient city that – before the invention of electric cooling – placed city squares with fountains and green spaces to cool the surrounding buildings. Many of its ancient streets were designed to maximize wind flow and provide shade for pedestrians under the hot summer sun. Smart!
Sevilla public spaces: where people just linger...
Sevilla public spaces: where people just linger…
Built in the late 1100s, the Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville and it once stood as the minaret at the then mosque.Sevilla Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the fourth-largest church in the world.
Rich in history: Built in the late 1100s, the Giralda is the bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville; however it once stood as the minaret of the then mosque. When the city became Christian again, a cathedral was built around the tower and the former mosque, demonstrating the triumph of the Christian faith. Sevilla Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral & the 4th largest church in the world, housing the tomb of Christopher Columbus.
The mild Mediterranean climate of Southern Spain make it ideal for growing food year round. Citizens of Seville and Cordoba annually forage the trees in the public realm in organized groups that strengthen the town's sense on community and place. Towns such as Cordoba and Seville provide wonderful examples of urban agriculture as a formal design and cultural identity. The fruit in these Spanish cities are not private orchards. Instead, they are found in the public realm and together they create a network of fruit trees which can be considered a disperse urban agricultural system, cared for by and available to all. The fruit is harvested in a variety of ways, from spontaneous fruit consumption by a wandering individual to larger organized neighborhood work parties.
Joining the locals: Orange picking.
Here’s a quote, found on another blog“The mild Mediterranean climate of Southern Spain makes it ideal for growing food year round. Citizens of Seville and Cordoba annually forage the trees in the public realm in organized groups that strengthen the town’s sense on community and place. Towns such as Cordoba and Seville provide wonderful examples of urban agriculture as a formal design and cultural identity. The fruit in these Spanish cities are not private orchards. Instead, they are found in the public realm & together they create a network of fruit trees which can be considered a disperse urban agricultural system, cared for by and available to all. The fruit is harvested in a variety of ways, from spontaneous fruit consumption by a wandering individual to larger organized neighborhood work parties… There are sweet & sour oranges found in the landscape. The sour oranges are primarily used for making jams and perfumes.”
Quick green glances: Sevilla residents make use of every space to enjoy a bit of green...
Quick green glances: Sevilla residents make use of every space to enjoy a bit of green…
Enjoying Guadalquivir river... Where Spanish ships once sailed, returning from the New World, local residents now enjoy for windsurfing, or cycling. (There is an excellent cycling and walk way streching for miles along the river)
Guadalquivir River: Where Spanish ships once sailed returning from the New World, local residents now enjoy for windsurfing, cycling or lounging. (There is an excellent cycling and walk way, with intermittent public art and green spaces stretching for miles along the river)
Joining the locals: European temperature can be extreme, one week after returning from Sevilla, I went iceberg jumping off the coast of Southern Sweden (at Lomma Beach - on the salt water!)
Joining the locals: Enjoying the sun while I could. A week after returning from sunny Sevilla, I went ‘iceberg jumping’ off the coast of Southern Sweden! European temperature shifts can be extreme! 🙂
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7 thoughts on “Sevilla: sunshine, orange trees, bicycles and great public spaces

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