Hate Valencia? Then you might love this

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Imagine my surprise during my commute home last night when I heard the unmistakable sound of a Formula 1 car on the radio.

No, U.S. media hasn’t suddenly heard about the United States Grand Prix. Far from it. The piece, on Todd’s favorite news outlet, NPR, was about Valencia and its boom and then bust. Here’s a little bit from the story:

The Spanish region of Valencia has been called the “California of Spain” for its gorgeous Mediterranean coastline and modern architecture.

But now Valencia epitomizes the worst of Spain’s problems. It had the country’s most inflated property market and the biggest crash. Its landscape is littered with empty and half-finished buildings. Valencia has also had an unusually high number of politicians indicted for corruption.

In 2007, Valencia spent $730 million on a Formula One street circuit that hugs its Mediterranean shores. Two years later, Valencia’s regional president, Francisco Camps, did a victory lap in a $200,000 Ferrari. He’d just hosted the European Grand Prix and the America’s Cup yacht race. Construction was booming.

But that infamous Ferrari ride was the beginning of the end. Camps has resigned from office to defend himself full time against corruption allegations. Thirteen others await trial. And Valencia is now Spain’s most indebted province.

There’s a happy picture of Fernando Alonso, Luca di Montezemolo and Felipe Massaa in a Ferrari to go along with that description.

The piece concludes this way:

Miguel Angel Ferris Gil, a former journalist, runs alternative tours of Valencia — to show citizens just what they’ve paid for.

At the Formula One track, he says the regional president’s iconic Ferrari ride was a symbol of all the luxury and political corruption.

“They were enjoying his power in Valencia, their impunity with the media and other things,” he says.

An abandoned tramway leads to the fenced-off racetrack. There are no trains. “It finishes here. It doesn’t … arrive [at] the neighborhood,” he says. “It’s finished. It’s all like that.”

There’s no money to complete the project, he says.

Valencia still hosts Formula One races. But the regional government has run out of funds to repair schools, and some kids have been attending class in trailers for years. Politicians are thinking twice about Ferrari photos these days.

As I was listening, I was struck by the irony of F1’s inclusion in this piece. (I also noted that Valencia is off the F1 calendar, but what can you do? Which race isn’t?) We keep hearing about how having an F1 race builds up a country or region’s reputation (having just flown through Dubai, I can say with a little more geographic knowledge, that having races in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai is sort of ridiculous); that was a main theme to India and Korea’s addition to the F1 calendar.

Here, though, we have an example of the opposite: F1’s being used to show the folly (arguable folly?) of government spending.

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