Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

When Investment Leads to a New City

The idea of a city within a city has always baffled me. Whether it’s Disneyland, Google headquarters, or a gated community. The only exception I can think of is a university, but even then, in my opinion those that are integrated with their urban surroundings are more livable in the long-term. It makes me wonder what was wrong with the surrounding city that planners couldn’t make the relationship work. In Valencia (Spain’s third largest city, currently growing in popularity as a tourist destination), the past ten years have seen the completion of the City of Arts and Sciences (CAS), a vast complex of cultural and scientific amenities including a Sea World style aquarium, an IMAX theater, a “theater” theater, a multiuse exhibition space, and a carpark. Yes, one of the most imposing buildings in Valencia is a parking structure. But that is a completely different issue. 


Don’t get me wrong, the space is architecturally stunning and the exhibits they have are fascinating. It is just completely incongruous and not related thematically to the city and its history. This oasis of architectural innovation and modernity follows the model of the countless cities who have used international events to revitalize their images; Valencia has also recently hosted the America’s Cup. As I walked in, I had the feeling that for the first time in six months, I was back in the US. This was reinforced since my hometown of San Diego has both of the things I visited in the complex (Sea World and a science center with an IMAX theater), but the model on which the City of Arts and Sciences is based is so quintessentially not Spanish.


As I walked through Oceanografic, the aquarium, the perfectly manicured spaces and acoustic elevator music immediately made me feel at peace. But should I feel at peace when the impulse to build this complex in the late 90s and early 2000s was the same that caused Spain to reach its current downward economic spiral? I can’t imagine the resources needed for the space that cost 1.3 billion euros to construct. The revitalization of the port for the America’s Cup cost 1.8 billion euros, so together we’re talking about over 3 billion euros spent in order to “keep up” with other regions. 


The space is innovative, especially for Spain, and even could be called progressive with its emphasis on sustainability and education, but the fac that it is called “ciudad,” or city, is indicative of its externalized idendity. While I’m certainly glad that it is removed from the city center, there must be a better way to integrate the Valencian character with this internationalized complex. It’s uniqueness has made it lose the very thing that people come to Valencia for. 


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