A thousand villages dot the valleys of Spain. Zooming in from high above the globe on Google Earth, you can see the cities and towns connected like a spiderweb with one another, stretching and filling various spots on the map. From 30,000 feet above on the computer the towns look vibrant and full of life, but take a look closer. Notice the lack of cars…activity…or even people?
The central valleys of Spain have a small problem. Not rodents or financial…no, the problem is surprisingly more simple, one would think. Spain has a lack of people problem. These hundreds if not thousands of rural villages located in large gatherings of farmland quilted together by a network of roads and rivers are empty. Houses and schools stand still as if it were a scene in the movie Silent Hill. Reminds you of areas located deep into Detroit, where once filled blocks are now stranded and vacant, eroding in time. Locals, the few that are left, claim the land is dusty and desert like, lacking the necessary elements to farm a full field or make the space viable for other investments. Much of the vacancy was due to the entire continent and how it faced the Industrial revolution.
One village featured by NPR called O Penso is a small hamlet, with improved roads, six houses and a few outstretched farm fields making up about 100 acres of land. The entire village with a population of 0 is for sale at an astonishing $230,000. The village is ripe for an economic boom if someone wants to take the risk to invest. Located only six miles from the coast, the village sits near what is known by many travel companies as the best surf spot in Europe. The last full time resident of the town died nearly a decade ago, and locals from neighboring communities want to see these small hamlets, just like O Penso, come to life with children and businesses once again. The biggest issue facing the countryside is the lack of interest from the nation as a whole in improving the regions and smaller rural neighborhoods. The current residents of Spain want to live in Madrid, Barcelona or other urbanized areas which is leaving many places abandoned and unpopulated. The entire region as a whole is expected to lose nearly a third of its population by 2040. One community has even gone as far as giving away the town for FREE! The historic community of Cortegada is located next to one of Spains more important rivers and is sitting abandoned, the only stipulation is the person who wants the town has to agree to fix 12 abandoned homes, not bad when you consider getting an entire city.
It makes you take a moment and think, these abandoned communities…what could they be used for? If you could purchase an entire 100 acre city for $230,000 with an improved roadway connecting it to the outside world, could you use it as a test lab for community building? I often think of how Future CapeTown has brought urban designers from around the world together in a collective environment, creating and molding the future of South Africa. What if a group similar in make up decided to do the same in Spain? Could we use these abandoned spaces to help us better understand walkability, civic design and quality of life? We want to create attractive hubs of life, and Spain may be the perfect place to start. If their story is similar to many communities in America, why not give it a try. Sure it’s a risk and a huge undertaking, but in the end..it may be worth the investment.