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Nice, the new Mediterranean metropolis

The Spanish architect Josep Lluís Mateo designed the Nice urban plan for the future.

Between the sea, the Alps and the difficult course of the Var River, the new Nice is built. It is not just a new eco-neighbourhood – here the eco-label is spreading to an entire EcoValle – but a Mediterranean metropolis that wants to compete with Barcelona and Milan.

It is designed by a Spanish architect: Josep Lluís Mateo, whose project won the competition for starchitects such as Rem Koolhaas or Norman Foster.

At the end of the 19th century, Nice became the summer town of Queen Victoria I, who made it fashionable in England and gave its name to the promenade: Promenade des Anglais, from when the indolent Englishmen wandered on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in a dolce far niente. But the Côte d’ Azur wants to break with that nineteenth-century image. With direct flights to Beirut or the Emirates, Arab sheiks and businessmen now own their holiday homes on the Côte d’ Azur.

And that new Nice has already begun to be built next to the airport, with the project of the Grand Arenas neighborhood, its entrance door. Fifteen years ago, Josep Lluís Mateo presented a plan for the renewal of the territorial that, however, did not prosper. “It was a very scenic and somewhat radical project, with a Copacabana-style promenade,” recalls the architect, who has maintained a certain Brazilian touch in his ambitious master plan that affects 50 hectares. Its central boulevard, an extension of that Promenade des Anglais, is a modernity between California and tropical.

“Nature has a lot of weight in the project. When defining the urban plan, I followed the geographical flows, parallel to the sea, generating a plot in an organic and natural way, not as abstract as the one made by Ildefonso Cerdà in the Ensanche de Barcelona.

We have carried out many engineering studies for the orientation of the buildings, which have been placed in relation to wind and sun, surrounded by parks and squares, with many empty spaces. “It is far from has everything been filled with constructions! In fact, the nicest thing about Nice is its gardens of palm trees and tropical plants,”explains the architect who, in some way, draws on that legacy of Cerdà, one of the founders of modern urbanism (and whose original plan for the Ensanche, with public gardens between buildings, did not materialize as he conceived it).
Until now, the Grand Arenas was a peripheral area with flooding problems due to the Var River. In summer it is dry, but after winter it overflows with the melting water of the Alps,”says Mateo. If the works are carried out according to schedule, in just three years it will become a new centre in Nice, five minutes from the airport and 15 minutes from the historic centre, with a large multimodal station that will integrate all the transports: shuttle to the airport, high-speed train, buses, tramway, bicycles….

The Grand Arenas is only the first of several neighbourhoods under development in the EcoValle de Niza along the Var riverbed. A macro operation to become an engine of a new industry in the western Mediterranean (companies such as IBM have already established themselves). In 2008, then-Minister Christian Estrosi – the current mayor of Nice – succeeded in declaring the operation of National Interest, which means that it will be completed 30 years from now with abundant state resources. “It is a country strategy, a priority for France”.

But it is also an opportunity for southern Europe to start competing with the pole of economic activity in the north,”Estrosi claims. In France there is already talk of the Mediterranean Sunbelt, like that belt of the sun in the United States that crosses the south of the country, from California to Florida. This plan is an economic, technological and ecological revolution that no one would have imagined nine years ago.



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