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Zaragoza Digital Mile

a project by William J. Mitchell

The Zaragoza ‘Digital Mile’ will incorporate digital media into everyday aspects of the public realm to make places that respond to their users; accommodate multiple activities; and provide stories, information and services to the people of the city.

The arrival of the high-speed train to Zaragoza and the urban transformations that will take place in the areas around the former “El Portillo” station and the new “Delicias” station constitute an opportunity to develop an innovative technological-urban development project: Milla Digital.

Milla Digital will make use of the spaces of both the areas developed to configure a City of Innovation and Knowledge, where housing, companies and facilities will exist together under a common orientation fully engaged in knowledge-intensive activities, an urban development of great quality and advanced telecommunications infrastructures which both the residents and the businesses located in the Milla will benefit from.

Milla Digital is a basic project of Zaragoza City Council to help companies, institutions and citizens position themselves to form part of the economic and social means of the 21st century.

All of the spaces, parks and buildings on the Digital Mile include free, public wireless connectivity as well as open access to the digital systems and responsive media elements located along the Mile.

The project evolves along the pedestrian path called the Paseo del Agua. The WATER WALL is an interactive fountain where people can digitally control the streams of water. With a command – by jumping into the water or sending a message through an electronic device – the water can start and stop or change in pressure.

The intelligent streetlight system creates a distinctive atmosphere along the Mile by changing color or intensity in response to the time of day, demands for use, or artistic desires. In tandem, digital street furniture – – like café tables, bus stops, and signage — display information about such practical matters as menus, bus arrivals, or the location of available parking spaces.

Affixed to the facades of buildings, URBAN PIXELS delineate the edges of the Zaragoza Digital Mile from the rest of the city. When viewed from the air or from the ground by pedestrians, drivers, and train passengers, this ‘light’ footprint intervention works synchronously or asynchronously to emphasize different moods or zones along the Digital Mile. Each pixel unit includes a solar charging unit and can be programmed wirelessly.

The MEMORY WALK walk makes visible the way people travel through the city by recording pedestrians’ steps across a space. Every time a footstep falls on a digital paver, the paver emits an additional increment of light. As people cross the pavement, paths of light are illuminated where people tread the most; untread areas emit no light. Thus, people become aware of the traces their movements leave upon the surfaces of the Digital Mile.

DIGITAL AWNINGS are screens that can rotate in four directions: up, down, left, and right. The movement of the awnings is controlled by either pre-programming, a command by mobile phone, in response to people’s physical movements, or in the service of a collective special event. This system enhances the experience of the Digital Mile by displaying abstract, impressionistic, provocative, personalized, or integrative content, including information and images related to Zaragoza’s history or people’s real-time activities in other areas of the Digital Mile.

Digital Public Space

The general design concept of Milla Digital consists in both the visual and functional union of different elements through a network of facilities and public spaces designed for educational and multiple community uses and special urban elements.  This network will be comprised both of digital elements and of physical elements that will be superimposed within the urban space.

PHYSICAL ELEMENTS: these are organised along a pathway that stretches from the southern tip of Portillo to the area of the Delicias rail station.  The station and the southern and western neighbourhoods will be linked into this area by means of a new pedestrian bridge that will acts as a symbolic gateway to Zaragoza and that will span the motorway.  The pathway will continue northward to the Expo site, which will be accessed by the Bridge Pavilion across the Ebro.  This pathway and the different bridges will knit Milla Digital together and provide an armature for many uses.

DIGITAL ELEMENTS: these will overlay and complete the physical framework

  • Digital infrastructures: The systems proposed include elements such as for example intelligent street and building lights that can be accessed through the Internet, changing colour and intensity depending on the time of day, on the demands or on the possible artistic interest.  Digital street furniture elements, such as coffee tables, bus stops or signs, can display information about menu content, the location of a bus line or the available parking spaces.
  • Ambient technology: Wireless access will provide a base level of service for public places along the Milla Digital, offering ubiquitous, free Internet connectivity, as well as access to the new responsive media and information.  In addition, location-based services will provide tailored content through mobile phones or PDAs to subscribers at key spots.
  • Digital public places: Digital places will support the different activities and will foster the relationship between people and public spaces by responding to the users’ needs.  Several kinds of digital plaza are proposed for the Milla, for example, façades that incorporate a digital display screen that can change colour and content, programmable awnings that can provide shade and modify spaces along the edge of a building, paving that reflects patterns of use and the responsive “water walls”.  The layering of all these elements will create a new type of place that can be both personal and public at the same time.


    This is one of the most significant historical and cultural locations of the city.  The Portillo was the former western gate of Zaragoza, protected by the Aljaferia, the old Moorish palace and currently the seat of the Aragon regional parliament.

    It also used to be the site of the former railway station that is going to be replaced by an underground/local train station so it will continue to be a place of great activity and an important access to the city.  Portillo is considered by the neighbours of the area to be part of their neighbourhood.  But during the different times of day, a variety of people pass through it such as tourists visiting the Aljaferia, people going to work and the citizens of Zaragoza, in general.

    The focus of development at Portillo is to create a community open space and services in concert with private office and residential development.  It will also be the location of a new bus transfer station and local train station.  The challenge is to create a truly usable place that can be used by a variety of people: residents, workers, public transport users, visitors to the Aljaferia, school children, and that can cover needs such as strolling and resting, spots, cultural events, events, picnics and socialisation.
    Among the actions to be developed at Portillo are the Museo de la Milla/Mediateque, where both school children and parents or citizens in general, can discover the digital culture.

    The Almozara Park near the Delicias train station, is one of the most prominent sites of Zaragoza.  It is on an axis situated between one motorway entering the city, the train station and the Expo site, so it will be visible for millions of visitors.  This place will also become a crossroads situated on the backbone of Milla Digital linked to Delicias stations by means of a new pedestrian bridge.  This area offers the opportunity to create a powerful gateway to Zaragoza, as well as a new image of the city.

    The most important aspect of the new development at Almozara is to achieve a highly visible node of public facilities, landscape and infrastructure that knits the area together, while defining a new entrance to the city.  Taking advantage of the topography of the land: facilities and public spaces at the upper level of the station and motorways will be devoted to functions of city-wide and regional importance, whilst the facilities and spaces at the lower level will be designed to serve neighbourhood residents.   One of the most outstanding actions to be developed at Almozara is the Centre for Art and Technology.

    This includes the connecting spaces and parks between the nodes of Milla Digital: Portillo, Almozara and the Expo2008.
    Paseo del Agua (South): The southern section of the Paseo del Agua that stretches from Portillo to Almozara, will act as a limit for a series of new open spaces, public facilities and sports and play areas, designed to serve the Delicias and Almozara neighbourhoods.
    Paseo del Agua (North): The northern section of the Paseo del Agua, situated between Almozara and the Ranillas meander (Expo2008) is an essential link with the Expo site as it will cross the most western limit of the Almozara neighbourhood, acting as a buffer between the houses, shops and community services and the major avenues.
    This area is located at one of the entrances to Expo 2008, on the banks of the Ebro river.  It will also be the place where the Bridge Pavilion will be located, which will take people to the site of the International Exposition.  This place will continue to be important after the event as it will be the gateway to the high technology business area of Zaragoza and to the recreation zone that will be erected on the Ebro river banks. As it will form part of the Expo, it will be a good showcase to show the potential of Milla Digital.

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