San Pedro’s new infrastructure: “…it will never happen here”

12 July 2015 | blog, comment, place making, small towns, tourism, waterfronts

San Pedro de Alcantara at dusk


San Pedro de Alcántara (pop: approx 26,500) lies on the main Costa del Sol coastal road 10 km west of Marbella in Andalucia, Southern Spain. It is easily accessed from either Málaga or Cádiz. As you enter San Pedro, through the entrance arch from Cádiz you find what is probably the most typical Spanish town left on the Costa del Sol. Kept very clean with a central shopping area, quiet parks and squares and beautiful gardens, it is an unpretentious working town largely unaffected by the ex-pat tourist focus of much of the Costa del Sol.

Ten years ago, San Pedro de Alcántara was split by the N730/A7 main Costa del Sol coastal highway into two distinct parts – the beach area and the town centre. The highway through the town was a notorious source of traffic jams, noise and air pollution, especially in the summer. In 2006, work started on constructing a 2 km underpass which would transform the town and the coastal highway. The underpass took five years to complete. Following this, a boulevard park was created over the underpass which has united the beach and the town.
San Pedro de Alcántara - underpass

Park over Infrastructure

Bulevar San Pedro Alcántara as the park is known is a haven of play areas and places to explore for young children. Over the total area of 55,000m2 there are six playgrounds, all offering completely different experiences. They are very well-maintained and are equipped with a wide variety of play equipment suitable for children of all ages. At weekends and evenings the park is very popular with families.

Within the boulevard there is an outdoor amphitheatre which often hosts performances and concerts, especially during festivals. A cycle lane travels the length of the boulevard, and Segways and various other wheeled transport is available for hire. The boulevard is popular with walkers, rollerbladers, scooters and bikes. Along the boulevard are several bars and restaurants.

With its spacious walkways, beautiful gardens, water features, recreational facilities and restaurants the boulevard park is a very positive addition to the town. It is maintained to a high standard by a team of workers who clean the area, tend the gardens and who are also a presence throughout the day. These workers are specifically assigned to the park and are part of the positive experience of being there.
San Pedro de Alcantara footbridge

The park also has a dramatic footbridge that passes over the central roundabout and connects the two areas on either side of it. The bridge is 300m long and was designed to reflect the sea. The local architect, Juan Antonio Fernández named it ‘Un Mar de Sensaciones’. The park has its own Facebook page with over 4,200 likes and a Twitter feed, both of which serve to broadcast events in the park, community news and a considerable volume of social media interaction. This intervention has not only solved a considerable traffic, noise and air pollution problem but has also created a new amenity for the town which is a genuine social and recreational facility for people of all ages. It also provides business opportunities and has a positive impact on tourism.

The underpass and the boulevard park were constructed under the auspices of the Ayuntamiento de Marbella. The park itself represents a total investment of 6 million euros that the Ayuntamiento de Marbella received in funds from FOMIT, the Financial Fund for the Modernization of the State and from the European Community.

Different approaches to infrastructure

Spain is typically regarded in the UK as ‘just a little better than Greece’ in terms of economy and financial administration – in other words a basket case. Yet Spain’s infrastructure and general quality of development is substantially better than what we see here. It is actually a typical mainland European country where developments of this nature are normal – the multi-storey car park under the town square, ubiquitous tram routes, integrated transport systems, underground car parking in residential developments, lush new greenspace, an absence of volume builder housing and many other points of difference. I wrote before about similar ambitions in Finland where infrastructure initiatives that enhance quality of life are the norm rather than the exception. The needle has stuck on the record.

Compared to the likely investment of UK local authorities or agencies in a town of similar size – Scottish comparators would include Cambuslang, Arbroath, Bellshill, Dumbarton, Alloa, Kirkintilloch, Bellshill or Peterhead – this is an extraordinary achievement for San Pedro. The limited ambition of many Scottish towns means that a measure of success – predicated of course on deference to the property market – is ‘getting an Aldi’ or accommodating some minor development that will achieve little and change almost nothing. Planners, suspended between two types of meaninglessness, will try to make this pointless development look ‘nice’.

Of course it isn’t just about the money. It’s about a different attitude and scale of ambition, a desire to do something that will bring about radical positive change, having the drive to see it through and then manage it properly. Unfortunately, I suspect that achievements like that of San Pedro de Alcántara simply provide opportunities for naysayers to intone, ‘it will never happen here’. And they may be right – for now – but at some point there has to be a change of attitude and planners have to take some responsibility for pushing for change instead of retreating further into their peculiar mixture of regulation on one hand and deference to the market on the other.

Notes: all images from TripAdvisor with credits to individual photographers as shown:
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