Cities around the world have long followed the strategy of using a landmark project or an international event to put themselves on the map or to revitalize the urban landscape. In Spain, this has been done with a good measure of success by Bilbao, with the Guggenheim Museum, Barcelona with the 92 Summer Olympics as a springboard and, lastly, by Valencia with its City of Arts and Sciences and the America´s Cup. In the US, the Millennium Park in Chicago has been a boon to the Downtown area.
Now it is the turn of Zaragoza (a.k.a. Saragossa, in English). The city is hosting next year´s World Expo, under the theme of Water and Sustainable Development. Four key thematic elements will be treated, developed in areas ranging from individual to global responsability (Water, a Unique resource – Water for Life – Waterscapes – Shared Water).
An Environmental Resources Agency has been established to ensure that the event meets its required environmental obligations.
The event is expected to receive about 7.5 million visitors during its first three months. Tourists visiting the Expo at Zaragoza will be able to get there from Madrid by high speed train. In about one hour and fifteen minutes, the train covers a distance of 186.4 miles. That is more or less the distance from Indianapolis to Toledo, Ohio.
As befits the green spirit of the Expo, the design of the Spanish pavilion has been awarded to the Center for Renewable Energies and is being built following environmental and bioclimatic criteria. Francisco Mangado is the architect selected for the project (his work was displayed recently at the MOMA museum in New York).
The MIT-designed Digital water pavilion for the Expo has already made a splash. It features liquid curtains for walls. Not only can they be programmed to display images or messages but they also sense an approaching object and automatically part to let it through.
Another exciting feature related to the Expo is the “Zaragoza Digital Mile” or “Milla Digital”. The whole idea behind this project is to link the spaces of the old city with the new, through a pathway called “Paseo del Agua”, because of its innovative use of water. It is also a tribute to the precious element that, in a dry land, gives the city its personality through the river Ebro.
This Digital Mile project, also developed by the MIT, will incorporate digital media into everyday aspects of the public realm to make places that respond to their users, like the “Memory Walk”, a walkway in which digital pavers record and illuminate where citizens tread the most and thus become paths of light. Digital street furniture will display practical information for citizens such as bus arrivals, restaurant menus, and the location of available parking spaces.
A system of waterwalls will extend for a thousand feet in front of buildings and across the pedestrian bridge. The system will be fed by a landmark water tower which will collect and cleanse storm runoff from the roof of the new rail station and nearby highways.
Bordering the Digital Mile, there will be other key elements of city development such as a business center, high-tech offices, research facilities, plus, of course, gobs of: bandwidth for wireless connectivity and green spaces.
The centerpiece of the Digital Mile will be a new landmark, the Aragon School of Media Arts and Sciences, bringing the city´s long tradition in the visual arts and higher learning together with digital technology and culture.
A third line of presence of the MIT in the city is through their International Logistics Program at PLAZA (the Logistics Platform of Zaragoza). PLAZA is the largest logistics park in Europe, a 140 million square feet complex of distribution centers, transportation, dry port and intermodal services.