When a river floods a nearby city again and again, one controversial and outmoded solution is to basically pave it over, turning a winding natural path into a concrete ditch. That’s what happened in Elche, a small Spanish city south of Valencia. In the 1970s, the local river was straightened and “channelized.” Flooding stopped. But apart from destroying a wildlife habitat and looking fairly ugly, the new so-called solution also managed to cut the city in half. Locals could no longer easily cross from one side to the other.
More than 30 years later, the city is finally connected again. A new design from architects at Grupo Aranea links the main part of the city with historic green space–a huge palm plantation and farming plots that happen to be on the other side of the river, originally planted over a thousand years ago. Now some of the old paths people used to take have been recreated.
“Channeling the river destroyed the natural pedestrian crossings, limiting them to just a few bridges spanning the gorge,” say the architects. “For years, the slopes were forgotten and impassable…Now, any time of the day, you can see people walking, running, and cycling.”
Instead of just adding more bridges, the designers created a system of connected paths. “A single bridge becomes a network of trails which fold, bend, stretch, tighten, disperse, curve, and twist,” the architects explain. “Everything should be understood as the same element.”
Though the design included planting the barren hillsides around the river with native plants, it still looks very industrial: The simple paths, in concrete, match the river in its current state. And while thousands of locals now have access to new green space, it’s hard not to imagine what it might look like if the river was restored. In some places–like the Kissimmee River in Florida–that’s actually happening.