25 September 2010 was a big day on Madrid’s calendar: it was on this date that, after six years of planning and hard graft, the newly renovated Calle de Serrano, in the upmarket Salamanca area, was officially reopened. This street, all two kilometres of it, has long been Madrid’s go-to place for luxury brands, with every designer label from Gucci to Armani and Loewe found here. Its recent facelift has further elevated it to the upper echelons of fashionable shopping destinations.
Calle de Serrano was given its name following the Spanish Revolution in 1868, after the famed military leader Francisco Serrano y Dominguez, who lived in a hotel on the street. Well located, with a good water supply and wide walkways, it soon became a desirable area and over the next 130 years, the great and good of Madrid society aspired to live there. In fact, even before its makeover, Calle de Serrano was already ranked the third most expensive street in Spain: in January 2008 its rental value was estimated at €2,100 per square metre, earning it the nickname of the Golden Mile.
As well as being home to some very affluent residents, however, Calle de Serrano also held the dubious honour of being one of the busiest roads in the country. It had become infamous for its heavy traffic which, coupled with a chronic lack of parking, was not exactly conducive to a carefree shopping experience. So, when it emerged that a new railway tunnel would be built under Calle de Serrano, a decision was made to address gridlock issues on the much-loved shopping street at the same time. The project was all undertaken at once thanks to a €106m investment in the project.
Now, all on-street parking has been eliminated by the building of more than 3,000 underground parking spaces, on three different levels, for delivery vans, local residents and visiting shoppers. The pavements have been widened to as much as 10 metres, allowing plenty of strolling space, and 800 trees have been planted. A cycle lane has been added, along with a lane exclusively for public transport. All in all, a grand total of 120,000 square metres of space previously taken up by cars has been liberated.
‘We had two key areas to consider when undertaking this project,’ says Rebeca Gil, head of communications for Madrid’s town hall. ‘One was humanising the public spaces, to make it more pleasant for shoppers and people who live locally, as well as giving the local area a commercial boost in response to requests from local businesses. Calle Serrano is Madrid’s most famous and important street for window shopping and we wanted to bring that back.’
Already the regeneration looks to be proving successful, on both a commercial and personal level. ‘It’s a work in progress, but already it’s so much nicer,’ says English teacher Fred Lowe, who works locally. ‘It was always so busy round here, with car horns beeping, miles of traffic, exhaust fumes everywhere. Already we can see a difference – it’s somewhere you actually want to come shopping or just to walk around in the early evening, people-watching or looking to see which celebrity is in Gucci.’
Ana Benitez, who works in one of the street’s many stores, agrees. ‘It’s exciting round here again now. Because of the financial crisis we were all worried about our jobs, about public spending, about the economy, but this is a real boost. It’s given Salamanca a buzz again.’ Retailers are catching on too, with upmarket Spanish fashion label Adolfo Dominguez choosing to open its first flagship branch here.
After the success of the Calle de Serrano rejuvenation, Madrid wants to keep the ball rolling. ‘As a city, we’re now probably making one of the biggest investments worldwide in pedestrianising and semi-pedestrianising important areas,’ says Gil. ‘Over the past couple of years we have dedicated a special budget to the improvement and regeneration of important commercial areas of the city. Right now we are in the process of development, talking to the locals, shops and businesses to work out the best way to do that.’
So, next time you’re in Madrid, put a visit to the capital’s most exciting new shopping area at the top of your itinerary. After all the effort that’s gone into making it shine again, it would be rude not to stop and linger.