In September I finally gave in to my friend who had been on at me to walk the famous Camino de Santiago. This is a medieval pilgrimage route across Northern Spain which is now ironically gaining increasing popularity in this age of the plane. I have to issue a disclaimer, I only walked about one fifth of the total, so I am not a true pilgrim with a stamped Credencial to prove my minimum 100 últimos kilómetros.
What struck me along the way as a planner? The first thing is the amount of urban sprawl in Spain. Naturally the original medieval pilgrims walked from town centre to town centre. Nowadays this makes for, shall we say, an interesting experience whereby a lot of the route is walking through suburbs, past industrial estates and (for a remarkable proportion of the way we walked) along motorways. This is different from the British concept of the long distance walk, which homes in on national parks and AONBs.
Road to nowhere (built at time of property Motorway crossing Navarre
But it is an eyeopener. We spent time experiencing planned urban extensions complete with bars and public open space, eating and drinking alongside the local residents who were just getting on with their lives. This was possibly more interesting that the parts of the route through pretty town centres with cafes and other walkers.
And while some of the urban fringe was pretty unattractive, valiant efforts had also been made to design and built some very impressive urban extensions with large areas of open space and what looked like good apartments.
Urban fringe, Logrono Urban fringe, Najera
Good planning in Logrono Good planning in Logrono
People embark on the walk for many reasons. I don’t think I have heard of comparative urban planning ever being one of them, but it was a valuable by product. And it raises within me an interest (so far theoretical) in that kind of “warts-and-all” walking that writers such as Will Self and Ian Sinclair described. Who knows, maybe one day I will be able to complete my dream of walking from the Baltic to the Adriatic, creating my own long distance route through whatever I find on the way.
Head of Policy, Practice and Research, RTPI - @RichardBlyth7