Friday, May 1, 2009

Madrid, Madrid

I have been off line for a while because I started a new interesting project that I will have a chance to write more about. Not that my readership missed me that much and demanded to read an update – but hey, who knows? Who do we write blogs for? For others first? But who are they? Or for ourselves? Anyway, I will revisit this topic at a later point I am sure. Alright then, in mid-March I spent a wonderful long weekend in Madrid – weather was gorgeous and warm for that time of year, in the lower 70’s (over 20 degrees Celsius), exactly when we needed after the long Boston winter.

What struck me in Madrid is the money that has been poured into infrastructure and public spaces. The subway has undergone a vast improvement / expansion plan – absolutely modern and efficient today, a lot of trains throughout the day and at night, a lot of new stations that have made the network pretty dense. There are good bus connections from what I could tell in the outer subway stations to reach suburbs where the subway does not get yet - and there is also a brand-new light rail system that I did not have a chance to experiment.

The real estate boom that has characterized Spain in the last several years before the meltdown has been accompanied by the construction of new monuments or public spaces all across town. I am certainly biased with respect to the place and importance of culture in society, having grown up in France, but the myriad of monuments and public areas, old and new (the Prado garden which dates back to the 17th century is wonderful) make Madrid so livable and just great.

So, the 64-thousand-dollar question to which I don’t have an answer is who foots the bill (and how…). Obviously, it is a big one. In America we would say, “well, that’s why they pay higher taxes in Europe”. Why is it such a bad thing anyway? At least, everyone gets something concrete (a much improved public transportation system) and, granted this is a bit more subjective, a better quality of life thanks to the presence of art in more and more public spaces (free and accessible).

I am not sure Americans realize that so many cities around the world have gone through those beautification processes which have often entailed the integration of more art accessible to everyone. Several US cities have done a good job of revamping parts of their downtown areas, for instance with the construction of ballparks (baseball stadium) that triggered the resurgence of the area around them, especially through the arrival of retail stores and restaurants. Denver, San Diego, and Baltimore are just a couple of examples. But - and this is where it goes back to the subjective part – don’t we need more than just sport, food and shopping?

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