Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How Urban Green Is Mallorca?

If you take a look at a map of Palma, what do you see? Or rather, what do you see comparatively little of?

The other day I wrote a piece about the Feixina park monument in which I referred also to the Parc de la Mar that was created in the mid-1970s. Neither of these is a large park. There is other parkland and green space in the city, but it is this - the relative absence of green space - which is noticeable.

Not all cities are the same and nor should they be, but fine cities, despite their densities of population and construction, tend to have great parklands. A friend of mine, in London for the first time in years, commented recently on Facebook about the remarkable parks of that city: Regent's Park, Hyde Park. There are other vast green areas in London of course. There again, London is enormous by comparison with Palma.

But one can think of other European cities. Two of personal fond memory are Amsterdam and Munich. In years gone by, I spent many an hour in Amsterdam's Vondelpark and in Munich's astonishing Englischer Garten, so damn big that it even has a cricket ground on one extremity. Both cities are bigger than Palma. In population terms, Amsterdam is closer - approximately twice the size. Throw in its canals, and I'm guessing that Amsterdam could claim to be one of Europe's greenest cities.

This diversity of urban content in different cities is the consequence of divergent urban plans, legacies, donations and foresight. Back in the day there wouldn't have been attention paid to the climatic benefits of green land, but there was an appreciation of the aesthetic of a park, of its contribution to general well-being, to landscaping principles. In Palma, there seems to have never been such consideration. Greenery has been contrived, such as with the Parc de la Mar, rather than having been the result of distant conservation and landscape ideals.

Palma is a fine city. The more I go there, the more I appreciate its worth. Architecturally, it is splendid. Its attractiveness is varied. I was even able to admire the Palacio the other day. Highly contemporary, but nothing wrong with that, and arguably in the wrong place, it nonetheless has a pleasingly intriguing angular presence. But as the town hall embarks upon wishing the city to become the Mediterranean's tourism capital, it is the lack of green land which diminishes such a desire: the lack, in particular, of a great park.

But in terms of urban layout in Mallorca, Palma is not unusual. Or maybe it is unusual in that it does actually have some parkland. Of the larger towns on the island, only Calvia has detectable green areas, partly the result of the proximity of the Tramuntana mountains but not totally. Inca, Llucmajor, Manacor, Marratxi: green land is minimal.

It is of course the case that green land is close by. From Inca, for instance, one can soon be in open countryside and on the way to the mountains, but this cannot overlook the fact that within these larger towns the residents and visitors are deprived of a softening of the urban environment that comes with parkland. Urban Mallorca is, as a result, somewhat brutalist.

Go to other towns, smaller ones, and there is a similar theme. For some, there is the compensation of blue rather than green, the presence of the sea and the beach. This is the case in Alcudia, for instance. While the town has its natural areas away from the centre, such as La Victoria, within the town and resort, green areas are all but absent. But not completely. On a glorious Sunday afternoon this weekend, parts of the Bellevue hotel complex were quite busy. Not because of tourists, as they have all gone, but because of local people and local families. Bellevue, despite its rotten reputation, has green elements. They form a mini-park. With access totally unrestricted, people can come and use this greenery as though it were a public park, when it is in fact private.

Historical urban development explains a great deal as to why there is an absence of green space. Again, if you look at maps and at the shapes of towns, you can see how this would have occurred. Towns grew on a principle of the huddling of the local populace, not least for defensive purposes. Living space was at a premium, and so green space was all but eliminated. The resorts, though, were different. Some of them were originally conceived as garden cities, but the philosophy of urban green land contained in British and German concepts for new towns from the late nineteenth century was lost in the eventual scramble for touristic construction.

Tourism determined how the resorts are, but not Palma and the towns. Only belatedly has green space became a consideration.

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