Sustainable urbanism: building a city by recovering, rather than expanding urban voids

  • City Model

Madrid Nuevo Norte follows the prevailing trend in urban planning: leverage the opportunity afforded by brownfields in large cities.


Madrid Nuevo Norte, Europe’s largest urban regeneration project, will build a new, 200-hectare city: streets, parks, houses, public facilities. When talking about urban planning in the past, what springs to mind are urban developments on the outskirts of the city designed on a drawing board or computer screen. These urban development projects continuously required new land, sometimes, to the point that there was simply no more land to build on. They expanded the boundaries of the cities, increasingly encroaching into the countryside, agricultural land or natural areas.

This trend has been challenged in recent years by a new generation of international urban projects that leverage the opportunities afforded by obsolete industrial lands or large railway, port or road infrastructures located within the cities. These urban voids, known as “brownfields”, are large extensions of vacant and abandoned land that almost always represent a barrier within the urban centres.

There are numerous examples of this trend. Indeed, there are dozens of urban developments that have helped cities grow, be better connected and more liveable, without further urban sprawl nor expansion of the city’s boundaries. Projects such as King’s Cross in London, New York’s Hudson Yards or Porta Nuova in Milan, were built on former railway land. Meanwhile, London’s Canary Wharf, Hafencity in Hamburg or Barangaroo in Sydney, were developed on obsolete port areas, to name a few.


Potsdamer Platz muro de berlin regeneracion urbana 1977

Potsdamer Platz in times of the Berlin Wall. A bustling square before World War II that was given a new life in the 1990s through an ambitious regeneration project. Photo: George Garrigues


Large cities in Germany, the Netherlands, Canada and Australia are developing these types of projects. Other trailblazing regeneration experiences in the past include the unique case of the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. This case is notable for its strong significance. Following the reunification of Germany in 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall, this project became the “scab” that healed the wound that was laid bare by the no-man’s-land between both parts of the city. A destroyed and barren area next to the wall, in the city’s historic centre.


Berlin Potsdamer Platz en 2016 regeneracion urbana

Potsdamer Platz, today. The project, carried out in the 1990s, healed the wound that divided Berlin’s historic centre in two and breathed new life into the area. Photo: Avda / avda-foto.de


Madrid Nuevo Norte, unite and grow without expanding the city

Many are the advantages of urban regeneration versus expansion. It not only connects the isolated areas within the city and improves mobility, but also enhances sustainability, since resources are optimised, and public facilities and infrastructures are used by more citizens, limiting the impact of the intervention.

The land on which Madrid Nuevo Norte will be developed extends along an elongated strip that is 1 kilometre at its widest and crosses the north of Madrid, from Mateo Inurria Street, near Plaza de Castilla, to the M-40 ring road. An area of over three million square meters, of which, 2,357,443 will be developed under this project. The remaining space is occupied by the train tracks and the M-30 ring road. The project will bridge the urban gap created by the railway facilities, brownfield and obsolete industrial areas, which runs 5.6 kilometres from north to south, equivalent to the distance from Plaza de Neptuno to Plaza de Castilla. Without a doubt, a historic opportunity for the capital.


vista aerea terrenos madrid nuevo norte regeneracion urbana urbanismo sostenible

Urban regeneration in Madrid Nuevo Norte: recovering an urban void for citizens, creating a city without expanding its limits or occupying more land.

16 September 2020


Madrid Nuevo Norte

16 September 2020

for Madrid Nuevo Norte