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Ciutat Vella is at present undergoing definitive change. The rehabilitation of the most degraded neighbourhood of Barcelona began in the mid eighties. In fifteen years, an area affected by degradation, delinquency, prostitution, drugs, poverty, and insalubrious and marginalized living conditions, has given way, in large measure, to a new and palpable reality such as universities, young people, centres of art, public investment, rehabilitation, fashionable apartments, and a cultural mix. The old heart of Barcelona is now stepping closer to integration with the rest of the city. "Barcelona. Metr˛polis MediterrÓnia", which already dedicated the Central Issues 1 and 18 to Ciutat Vella, does not wish to let one of the most crucial urban transformations in the past decades pass without comment. We have dedicated the present number to a review of the work already done and the work remaining to be done.

by Joan Fuster i Sobrepere, historian and councillor for the district of ciutat vella 

The political failure of the Reform of old Barcelona (1859-1979)

Barcelona became Ciutat Vella (Old City) in 1859, with the virtual creation of Ildefons CerdÓ’s project for the New City. In this project, sanctioned by law, what had until then been the city itself throughout more than 2,000 years of history was automatically converted into the Old City, even though the future new town existed only in the virtuality of the project. Thus, we can regard the date that CerdÓ’s reform and extension project was passed, 7 June 1859, as the date of birth of old Barcelona and its failed Reform as the historic centre of the city. CerdÓ’s design for the reform of the Old City involved cutting through the old fabric with a series of major thoroughfares that were none other than the continuation of others in the New City. Although they were never built, these thoroughfares drafted by CerdÓ have conditioned all the reform projects for Ciutat Vella that have been presented over the intervening 140 years. From that moment on, Barcelona poured all its resources and energy into the construction of the New City, at the cost of leaving the Old City to decay. Despite the projects presented over the years, the Reform was never carried out, since at no point in the second half of the 19th century did Barcelona City Council wield enough political power to recuperate the Old City as the historic centre and showcase of the city. The impossibility of getting the Reform under way was a direct consequence of the pervasive political weakness of Barcelona throughout the 19th century and much of the 20th.

It was only with the political and economic scenario of the beginning of the new century, which brought together the repatriation of overseas capital (through Banco Hispano Colonial) and the electoral victory of Catalan regionalism and republicanism as of the 1901 elections, that a start could be made on the Reform that had been planned more than 40 years earlier.

From that moment on, the Reform of the Old City took on a different complexion. The city needed to dignify its public space as a showcase, as it had done before in the periods of municipalist fervour during the liberal revolution. Thus, the Old City definitively consolidated its function as the historic centre of Barcelona, and a few years later, as the urban reform pressed firmly forward in the central spaces of the Old City, the idea of what was later to be called the Gothic Quarter began to take shape. (...)

In this way, Barcelona selectively began to recuperate some areas of its historic neighbourhoods as renovated spaces for the social and political representation of the city and, by extension, of Catalonia as a whole. The city had very seldom had the opportunity to create spaces for urban representation: in the 18th century, with the "Capitals Generals" scheme, and into the 19th, during the rise in municipalist feeling that attended the liberal revolution as of 1820, which was responsible for, among other things, the demolition of the city walls, the extension of the city, the sale of church lands, the laying down of new streets such as the axis formed by Ferran, Jaume I and Princesa Streets, and the renovation of other important spaces such as Sant Jaume Square, with the new facade of the City Hall facing the old Generalitat. (...)

The Old City, or inherited city, formed a contrast with the New City, or designed city, in that it stood for radically different values in the framework of industrial society, which justified the kind of radical intervention that such reform projects involve. The urban designers of last century and much of the present one were convinced that the methods of rationalist town planning were to be brought to bear to correct the insufficiencies of the Old City, the outcome of an age-old history of interventions.

According to this comparison, the New City was rational and hierarchized, functional and specialized, fluid and accessible. In other words, it contained all the characteristics that society demanded at that time: the designed city was the result of the deliberate action of man, not that of time. In short, the design of the New City made it possible to control the space to which the grand schemes of the industrialist culture and rationalist thought of the 19th century aspired.

In logical contrast, the Old City was anarchic and chaotic, confused, tortuous and insalubrious. Unlike in the New City, in the Old City time predominated over space. At a time in the development of our society when the old parts of big cities were regarded not as historic centres but as old neighbourhoods that focused all their shortcomings because their morphologies failed to adapt rapidly to the industrialist aspirations of contemporary society, old Barcelona and its reform (i.e., its adaptation to the values of the New City) became one of the unfinished jobs of industrial Barcelona.

For industrial society, so keen on controlling its environment, the Old City was therefore a dead weight that required a complete overhaul. Practically all the urban reform projects presented in the wake of the passing of the CerdÓ Project share this concern. One of these, until recently one of the least known, was the project for the alignment and improvement of the Old City by the municipal architect Miguel Garriga i Roca. It contained several ideas that today, in retrospect, have undergone a thorough reassessment due to the type of scheme proposed. (...)

The Metropolitan General Plan of 1976 still sought the traditional opening up of major thoroughfares in the historic centre of Barcelona, albeit with variations in detail. The shadow of CerdÓ and Baixeres continued to be visible, even though the cultural parameters of our society has changed radically in this period, particularly in the last 30 years or so. (...)

Naturally, the urban regeneration of Ciutat Vella has not been dealt with from the town planning viewpoint alone, which in isolation would have been insufficient. The macrostatistics of the action taken since 1988, when the integral regeneration process was given the definitive go-ahead, constitute a highly illustrative indicator of this approach. In total, direct public investment in the district has amounted to 118,648 million pesetas, of which 11% corresponds to spending on infrastructures (12,709 M), 3% on parking (3,775 M), 23% on renewal of the public space (27,196.5 M), 19% on public housing (22,681 M), 11% on neighbourhood facilities (13,088 M), 22% on city facilities (25,962.5 M) and 11% on universities (13,236 M). (...)

At the same time, the problem of the obsolescence of a large part of the district’s housing has been tackled through a specific programme of grants for private owners. Almost 15,000 out of a total of 45,000 dwellings have benefited from public subsidies granted through the Ciutat Vella Rehabilitation Office. This amounts to more than 3,330 million pesetas in grants for private rehabilitation, on top of the more than 14,000 M of private investment. The indicators of the recovery and economic promotion of the district are fairly clear about the point of no return of the revitalization of Ciutat Vella in recent years: for every public peseta spent by government bodies, at present the private sector invests on average 1.6 pesetas. (...)

However, our society, postindustrial society, no longer aims first and foremost to develop our environment, but to preserve it at the service of rational sustained growth. The keyword in today’s society is no longer development but sustainability.

Furthermore, if industrial society needed to control its environment in order to guarantee optimum growth, it was because it was concerned above all with space. The city was read in a fundamentally spatial way.

And yet, if change and sustainability are the characteristics of the city of the future, the values of the historic city can be regarded as future values to be preserved and reassessed. Among the refound values that the Old City can offer the city as a whole we can mention, for example, the proximity of the political community, the energy savings made in view of the fact that no great distances have to be covered to meet one’s own needs, the elimination of private transport for getting around the city, the promotion of cycling and walking, the richness that comes of social and historical complexity and the complexity of uses. And in addition to all this, it is important to bear in mind those elements that the historic centre provides to build a strong local identity. (...)


by Joan Busquets, architect

The town planning projects and actions carried out in Ciutat Vella in the past fifteen years have constituted a giant step towards the consolidation of its future in the medium term.

(...) We could rightly say that, in the context of the sweeping transformation of Barcelona through town planning programmes, the recent process in Ciutat Vella is comparable in scale to the recovery of the city’s sea front. They have been very different processes, both in terms of the instruments used and of their management approaches, not to mention the aspect of public image. The sea front is representative of the new image of the Barcelona of the future, conceived as a European metropolis with centrally-located services and leisure facilities, as well as a series of easily accessible bathing beaches, all tinged with the glamour of the Olympic Games. On the other hand, Ciutat Vella has undergone possibly a much profounder transformation, one that is not so immediately evident but that could, in the medium term, have much more significant repercussions. (...)

The old walled city was already a priority, and without a critical study of this area, the full grandeur of CerdÓ’s plan for Barcelona remains beyond our grasp.

As we know, CerdÓ dedicated a great deal of effort to the study of living conditions among the working class population of the old city. It is precisely the conclusions that he drew so eloquently from this study that explain the radical nature of his proposal for the Barcelona Plan, in which he attempted to provide solutions for the problems of overcrowding and inadequate sanitation prevailing in Ciutat Vella in 1856. Above all, we must bear in mind that it was the modern Barcelona’s grand development project, with the ambition of linking the Eixample to the renovation of the city. It was the starting point for town planning projects that established the renovation of Ciutat Vella as a means of solving the problems of unhealthy conditions and chaotic construction in the area bounded by the walls. To accomplish this, CerdÓ proposed opening three avenues through the built-up areas and using them as the focus for improvement of the overcrowded city.

What we tend to forget is that in carrying out his Plan, he proposed that the major costs of renovating Ciutat Vella be covered with a portion of the revenues generated in the construction of the Eixample. This redistributive aspect of his project disappeared in the vicissitudes of the Plan’s political approval, and the only remnant were the large-scale clearances, which have survived for over one hundred years and have on many occasions been seen as the only available means of carrying out the desired renovation.

This served to formalise a certain approach to actions in Ciutat Vella, with two factors that are worth taking into account: 1) on the one hand, the concept of an overall plan, with the need to consider the old and the new together, and with the old city as one of the parts making up the whole; and 2) on the other hand, new means of access, appropriate to new needs in the way of mobility, as the basis for transformation.

Other cities such as Paris carried out renewal projects based on the opening of grand boulevards as directed by Baron Haussmann, but here the impetus and the success of expansion into the Eixample thwarted, to a certain extent, the renovation. In addition, the concept of reinvesting the profits in the old city centre backfired, when the increasingly dense construction carried out in the Eixample was imitated in Ciutat Vella in the upward growth of buildings, completing the final stage of internal crowding, with dramatic results (1).

(...) We can say that the shock treatment has been applied in the framework of a new approach to rehabilitation of sizeable city centres in Europe, which, without being restricted to a rigid formula, has striven to overcome the concept of isolated monuments and to establish active references in the recovery of old city centres. We must bear in mind that people’s attitude towards the past has undergone substantial changes. At the beginning of the 19th century, for example, ruin was considered to be a fine art, an act of fate and a rich source of Romantic inspiration. After the mid-19th century, ruin was seen as a sign of failure and was combated with huge, systematic and ambitious efforts at restoration. At the beginning of the 20th century, the revision of well-conserved ruins as a witness to the past coincided with an increasing emphasis on the importance of the archaeology of historical sites. Lastly, recent decades have seen an increase in efforts at restoration and rebuilding, with a desire to actively recover old city centres.

Returning to Ciutat Vella, we might say that the rehabilitation planned back in the 19th century has finally got onto the right track, following a contemporary strategy, and that this process is now well under way. However, in this sort of lengthy process, it is always recommendable to take stock along the way, in order to ensure that the overall objectives are to be met.

(...) In this sense, we believe that Ciutat Vella can, in the medium term, take on a new role as a symbolic and functional referent in our metropolitan system. This will occur in the context of new perspectives, at a moment when cities would appear to turning towards a more open type of relationship with their territory, one not necessarily based on physical cohesion, as has been the case in traditional town-planning models, but which allows for new ways of appreciating and enjoying old city centres. In such a situation, systems for planning and heritage protection can be established on foundations of shared coherence.

In any case, we can safely assume, on the basis of experience during the past fifteen years, that Ciutat Vella has the potential for becoming a vital centre, a reference for the Catalan metropolis with a reanimated heritage, which, as a whole, will have made significant progress with regard to its own history.

 1. We have only to look at the severe increase in density in the Barceloneta district as a result of copying the heights of buildings in the Eixample, when neither the streets nor the size of building plots were appropriate for development to such heights in a minimally habitable neighbourhood.

by Joan Subirats
professor of political and admninistrative science, universitat aut˛noma de barcelona

Welfare and the quality of life are becoming ever more closely linked in everyday life, since social protection is required not only in an abstract sense. Quality depends on these benefits being offered in a context of proximity, one that is perceived as pertaining to the sphere of social relations. Some neighbourhoods in large cities have successfully maintained sufficient social cohesion to strike a balance between the benefits and drawbacks mentioned earlier in regard to cities. This sort of neighbourhood is the privileged site of community structures or networks that imbue them with a distinct character and give rise to original approaches to community life. Barcelona is fortunate in that it has been capable of undergoing a profound transformation in recent years without its different neighbourhoods completely losing their distinctive character.

Ciutat Vella is a name applied to the various different neighbourhoods and communities existing within the city’s old centre, where a characteristic way of life has survived in spite of the demographic and developmental changes that have occurred in recent years. We might say that there is a social and cultural environment in Ciutat Vella that has made its various neighbourhoods into physically differentiated areas. Areas where people lend things to each other, where they visit each other or gather on a regular basis. Areas where they discuss neighbourhood problems and help each other out with small favours. Areas where they work and socialise, where they attend religious services, shop, or take their children to school. This is the city’s most ethnically diverse district and the one with the highest density of institutional buildings, both government and cultural. The district with the narrowest streets and the most complete system of access by private and public transport. An area full of specific communities: residential, business, religious, ethnic, educational, age, musical and artistic.

This ensemble of distinctive characteristics, summarised only partially and very briefly here, confers these neighbourhoods with a reality that is quite different from that of the rest of the city. People often label Ciutat Vella as one of the city’s problems, referring to its heterogeneity and complex make-up. Instead, we ought to see this ensemble of all types of neighbourhoods and communities as a precursor of the city that can fortunately carry on adapting itself, as long as those who would prefer a much more homogeneous and firmly entrenched reality do not win out. Barcelona’s problem is in fact its solution, if Ciutat Vella is capable of maintaining and strengthening the internal links that make it habitable and supportive, if representative institutions persist in facilitating the creation and consolidation of bridges, connections and relations between these different communities, preventing their isolation or manipulation.

Ciutat Vella’s social assets are consistent. There is a sense of belonging and loyalty among the people who live there, and we have seen examples of how they have been able to use these social and cultural characteristics as leverage in collective actions. Networks of relations and contacts with a great deal of spatial, ethnic, religious and social power have been forged. What must be avoided is the risk that the structural voids separating these communities could become barriers to collective action, or that they might be occupied by entrepreneurs seeking to turn these potentially divisive differences to their own benefit. The authorities should strive to ensure that this productive effort at forming community networks, at building bridges, is made collectively, with everyone involved taking joint responsibility for the areas and spheres of coexistence. This means starting off with the recognition of citizens and their potential as active agents in the community, with all of the corresponding promotion and management of social networks, and with expanded areas for participation by citizens. It also means understanding the role of government more as one of facilitator rather than one of controller, better able to administer through influence than through regulations and hierarchy, more adaptable and flexible than rigid and procedural. (...)

Life in society, life in one of today’s large cities, has numerous advantages. It offers a wide range of opportunities and a greater degree of well-being. However, it also creates much insecurity and entails certain unpleasant aspects. It offers greater technological capacity with a wider variety of leisure pastimes and possibilities for training at home or at work. But these added alternatives or opportunities are often presented in highly individualised and commercialised forms. Life has come to be dominated by money and technology, often making relationships more anonymous, less personal. Concierges, porters, night-watchmen, collectors, and small neighbourhood shops have gradually disappeared, coinciding with the rise of shopping centres and the consumption of types of products (frozen and other types of food) that do away with the servitude of daily shopping, but also favour isolation and a lesser degree of contact with one’s neighbours. The automobile is king, generating higher levels of tension and anxiety. The positive side of all of this is that it allows people to avoid the oppression of dependence on daily routine. For all of the opportunities for creativity and freedom offered by cities, they also tend to foster isolation, alienation and lack of solidarity.

Cities such as Barcelona and its neighbouring municipalities have undergone dramatic changes over the past thirty years. While the initial period of democratically elected town councils was marked by chaotic urban development and the lack of even the most basic services, the 80s were dedicated to restoring a semblance of order to these cities and the links between them, while the 90s have seen a substantial increase in territorial mobility and a blurring of borders. Today’s cities have more or less exhausted the potential of the model for responding to social needs and demands that they had been applying, and have been encountering certain difficulties in dealing with new trends in social fragmentation (based on factors such as ethnic background, age, sex, etc.) that seem to be leading to states of exclusion, with the loss of the personal resources necessary for overcoming that exclusion and with the tendency of such states to become chronic. Meanwhile, cities continue to create new cultural, commercial and leisure incentives, making life in them ever more attractive. We are entering a phase of redefinition of the type of city that we wish to live in and of the roles to be assumed by that city’s institutions, entities and other social agents in the resolution of collective problems, as well as of the mechanisms for participating and taking decisions.

At the same time, a redefinition of the reference points for collective identity is taking place. Traditional identities are losing their predominance, but are being replaced by new identities, ones focusing less on traditional cultural ties and having more to do with shared community experience. The political culture of welfare is being transformed and acquiring new dimensions. Not only social protection is required, but also a new system of social relationships that involves participation and promotes cohesion in the most appropriate context. In this context, cities and local policies are assuming specific prominence, a prominence that will continue to grow in future.

Cities maintain the human scale required to permit the sense of belonging that is an essential factor in people’s lives and that, paradoxical as it may seem, is increasing along with the progressive globalisation of the world. This localism, seen as the strengthening of community ties, gives rise to a different positioning of personal and collective identity in the pursuit of appropriate solutions and the adaptation of those solutions to reality. (...)

In effect, many people have seen large cities as more anonymous places, where they can easily pursue lifestyles or habits that might be considered deviant or dangerous for the community in a small town. It has been said, therefore, that when the sense of community and cohesion increases in any collective, behaviour considered deviant is easier to identify, and greater social strength brings with it greater social control. Diversity, then, is more easily accepted in societies in which there is a greater distance between individuals, where indifference predominates. When involvement with others and interest in the community increase, the capacity for coexistence, for accepting differences, is lessened, and anonymity becomes almost impossible. (...)


by E. Miralles, architect 

It’s difficult to stand at the right distance to talk about the overall project...

And distance is bound to make you lose the intensity you need to work with in places like this...

It is, it has been, a complex process...

With too many levels of government – and not always well coordinated...

And with proposals that are left forgotten in drawers, and then one day come to light...

It could be said that the planning of Ciutat Vella has been as confused and contradictory as the city itself.

And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.

Maybe identifying with reality, with all the most difficult aspects, is the only way to work.

Ideas and working hypotheses always seem too far off...

The reality of a street, a house, always demolishes the clear idea we had about it beforehand.

From this... on the basis of the existing conditions we have been carrying out a highly specific scheme on the growth between Cambˇ and ┴lvarez de Castro... and the surrounding area of Santa Caterina Market.

Although we know what we want:

Buildings whose ruins can also appear contemporary...

That don’t show pride in the new over time...

We have a conglomerate with the existing fabric of houses...

That accept the complexity – and density – of a place...

Their projects should display energy that is capable of playing with time.

And above all

they mustn’t hide their backs,

they mustn’t be a barrier against a reality that it is still considered necessary to get rid of...

It’s hard to talk about the future...

This mixture of contradictions means that schemes advance with a host of difficulties.

A no-sooner-said-than-done approach is not possible here.

We would like our proposal to disappear into the complexity of the historical city...

And so, if know we’re confused as we work, and the success of the proposal... on its disappearance in the future...

At a time like this it’s difficult to know quite what we’re dealing with...


by Arcadi Espada 

In the summer of last year, when the Raval district was in the midst of the death throes of its ill repute —the spurious dismantlement of a ring of pederasts—, certain members of the media took advantage of the circulation- and ratings-boosting event to trot out an elementary but extremely damaging rhetoric. While reporting the outrage, they spun their underlying metaphors around a striking contrast: the sinister sordidness of the pederasts’ behaviour against the backdrop of the resplendent white and explicit mass of the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (Macba).

It was a very fertile rhetoric and one that played strictly by the rules of metaphor. Before long, rumours began flying around the scene that some of the alleged pederasts had been in the habit of stalking their prey right there on the plaza in front of that monument to contemporary art. While tender young children scuttled about carefree on skateboards and bicycles, or ricocheted soccer balls loudly off the surrounding walls, the hunter’s watchful eyes —from the darkness of his soul— surveyed the scene. The conclusion was disheartening in the extreme: culture is ineffective against crime. Those wielding the metaphor did so for the most part without realising that the debate that they were serving up was old, ancient in fact. And that the almost defunct 20th century itself has been one of its most frequent and terrible venues. These rhetoricians, of course, were interested only in the affair’s strictly local ramifications, while at the same time running the risk that the metaphor might get no further off the ground than a frightened hen. According to their missives, the moral was that the Barcelona inspired to great expectations by Maragall had taken a direct hit from reality in the softest part of its underbelly, in the Raval’s weary heart. Culture, whether the traditional variety, symbolised by the Museum, or the more modern and perhaps inscrutable version, symbolised by the hygiene of town planning, had been incapable of keeping the neighbourhood from becoming a sinister pornographic backdrop to a parade of innocent flesh.

One year later, nothing remains of all that, aside from the profound and irreparable misfortune of the wrongly accused. This is neither the time nor the place to dredge the subject up once again, in spite of the fact that amends still remain to be made to the neighbourhood. The metaphors and those who wielded them have abandoned the scene, in search of greener pastures. They never stay long, being flighty and hard to pin down. As for myself, a year later I stroll through the welcoming streets of the Raval and I cannot help but succumb to the Pangloss syndrome: this is indeed the best of all possible worlds. And I am on the verge of proffering a shout of exultation at the top of my lungs. Long live culture, down with crime! But I hold my peace and stroll on.

I have entered the area by way of Carrer Gravina. One of many alternatives. A childhood reminiscence, perhaps: the street sloped down lugubriously, but on the corner, on Plaša Castella, a brightly-lit bar had just opened, purveying platters overflowing with appetisers, Russian salad, German salad, salads from all over Europe. Now, the street has been transformed and instead has all the bearing of a heroic admiral of the Spanish navy, with a hotel that looks as if one could suffer quite happily from insomnia there. But the greatest novelty is on the corner of Carrer Pelai, where there is a relatively new fast food restaurant. It has one rather special feature: according to their announcements, the food it offers is made only from fresh ingredients, with none of the more or less stimulating junk food additives. Otherwise, it is quite faithful to its genre, offering inexpensive meals at all hours with unpretentious service. And, as usual, it is always full of youngsters.

This is wonderful news for the Raval’s culture, a direct and simple but at the same time very powerful emanation of the momentous cultural occurrences going on around it, of the new university campuses, centres for the avant-garde, and new museums. Crime is fought on the front line of the palate. The formation of intuitive, healthy palates, ones that are capable of responding to stimuli and have not been dulled by vulgar spices, by explosive sauces, is a primary task of education. The damage wrought on intelligence by the dismal diet dispensed by student rooming-houses, permeated by boiled cabbage, is incalculable.

Across Plaša Castella we find another discreet novelty: the Nuevos Medios bookshop has recently moved to the neighbourhood, after an initial and brief sojourn on Carrer C˛rsega. It is now situated on the corner of Carrer Valldonzella, lodged between the back entrance to the premises of the daily newspaper La Vanguardia and the Faculty of Communication Sciences of the Universitat Ramon Llull. It hardly needs stressing that this bookshop specialises in journalism and journalists and that it has come in search of an ideal ecosystem. This is, in fact, the prime objective of municipal governments and public initiative: facilitating the orderly and strategic proliferation of ecosystems. In all likelihood, ecosystems need totems. The Raval’s ecosystem already has two: the Barcelona Centre for Contemporary Culture (Cccb) and the Macba. There is a curious complementarity between the two. The former has, so far, played a vital role in familiarising citizens with the neighbourhood’s new identity. Its agenda has been attractive, rigorous and consistent, although its vigour has diminished somewhat of late. But its architectural qualities are not displayed outwardly. Instead, its rather impressive architecture has opted for introversion. This is certainly a very positive choice from the standpoint of expository elegance, but one that offers somewhat dubious results with regard to the symbolic needs of the neighbourhood that is its home. Paradoxically, this is quite the opposite of the effect produced by the Museum of Contemporary Art. It is, to my taste, a mediocre building expressed in hesitant terms, one that seems to have imposed itself by mere force of arms. To make matters worse, it has so far failed to come up with a credible agenda. Even so, the force of the building’s sheer physical presence, intensely outward-looking and creating a huge plaza that has relentlessly modified the habits of movement and interaction of the people living around it, is more than sufficient, since its totemic aspect works to full effect. We might say, without stretching a point too far, that the Museum’s impact is totally divorced from its internal health: the Museum could be empty and inactive, and it would still serve its purpose, as long as no one were to become aware of the fact, which has effectively been the case for most of the time since its opening. To the extent that, in the shadow of the big white mass, even before construction was completed, the neighbourhood witnessed one of the showiest phenomena of transformation, i.e. the transfer or opening of a whole series of galleries selling all manner of modern art: glass (Espai Vidre), jewellery (Magari), photography (Urania), painting (Alter Ego, Galeria dels └ngels, Ferran Cano, etc).

I have focused so far on two totems, but there are actually three. Here it is, in front the Grup 62 building, a huge stone illuminated beautifully by the light of November, the month that best sets off the colours of Barcelona. The establishment of this publishing house in the neighbourhood was a welcome piece of news. In the first place, because it is indicative of substantial confidence on the part of the private sector, a gesture that increases people’s confidence in their own ecosystem. Citizens tend to view injections of exclusively public funds with rather seamless incredulity. Even when the outcome is irrevocable. It is only when they see someone laying their own money on the line that they react with —a modicum of— neighbourly affability. In this sense, the building’s architectural style is most appropriate: the bands of glass alternating with the bands of stone place the office workers in full view of passers-by. The sight of someone else working always suffuses the observer with a feeling of content, but this is a particularly noteworthy situation in a neighbourhood where such arrivals by private enterprise have been conspicuously absent for a long time. And the fact that it is a business dedicated to the manufacture of cultural products, besides, can only bode well. The publisher’s presence here has already begun to generate a pleasant wave of imitation more or less sparked by the opening nearby of a sort of cultural embassy of the Balearic Islands, offering a sampling of the archipelago’s current intellectual and artistic products, as yet without a great deal of coherence or completeness although promising much for the future.

In much the same way, news of Grup 62’s arrival has not exactly been discouraging for the other bookstores in the immediate vicinity. This is especially the case with the Llibreria del Raval, on Carrer Elisabets, which, after having jumped the gun, opening before it should have and then having to close, has now re-opened just as voluminously and professionally but with a greater air of permanence. The other two bookshops in the area, on Carrer dels └ngels, deal in second-hand books and they are magnificent. Their books are generally clean and displayed in an orderly fashion, and one of them has found a solution to the problem usually encountered by customers in this type of shop. As it was, you would enter the shop and would find first a heap of musty volumes, and behind them, in the back, the similarly yellowed face of the bookseller. You would try to avoid them, if possible, and browse. If you were looking for a particularly book, the search was usually fruitless, because next to a volume containing Mr. Ignasi Domenech’s best recipes, you were likely to find a first edition of Metropolitano, Carlos Barral’s underground poetry, a work tending to cause attacks of indigestion. In view of such an inscrutable filing system, you would ask:

"Gaziel’s complete works ... in Spanish?"


"La inspiraciˇn y el estilo, by Benet?"

"All we have by Benet is a book on repression."

"And what about Medio siglo de vida barcelonesa, by Mario Verdaguer?"

"I had one, but I sold it a long time ago." (...)


by Pere Cabrera i MassanÚs, arquitect 

With the introduction of democratic municipal councils, the General Development Plan was adopted as the framework planning instrument on the basis of which other plans were based, such as the Special Internal Reform Plans (known as the PERIs). (...)

In the eighties, the expansion of the port of Barcelona towards the west, coinciding with the policy of local government to recover the sea-front, led to the adopting of three very substantial projects: the redevelopment of what up to then was the Port Vell, or Old Port, the regeneration of the beaches, and the Parc de la Catalana, three projects which were essential to the periphery of the sea-front area of Barceloneta, where once again the revaluation of public space and the urban interconnection were the underlying driving forces.

It was necessary to redefine the city centre in relation to the new city and, in relation to the twentieth century, the metropolitan context. The new infrastructures took on a new structuring role. The route of the new Ronda del Litoral (Coastal Ring Road) passed through the historic centre, and thereby connected it with the greater metropolitan region and broke the historic dependence of the city centre on the Eixample. The roads network of the historic centre was defined by the Rondas, the Rambla and the Via Laietana, with the Gran Via acting as the basic link giving access to the metropolitan area. (...)

The construction of the Ronda del Litoral ring road system has connected Ciutat Vella to the metropolitan system, thus reinforcing its identity and its special position within the context defined by the General Metropolitan Plan. This constitutes the latest chapter in the process which commenced with the horizontal development of the Roman roads system, as opposed to the verticality of the grid system resulting from the growth and extension of the city under the Barcelona Plan.

The role of public space has been a decisive mechanism of social distribution in recent years and explains the process of action and transformation. The objective of public space projects in Ciutat Vella has been to create new itineraries and heal wounds, with a focus on public circulation. This consideration of public space in Ciutat Vella has taken into account concepts ranging from the change of scale to the regenerating role of development in order to generate and give structure to city and neighbourhood itineraries.

(...) The following classification should help us to appreciate this diversity.

1. Historic plazas, consolidated plazas

These plazas originated in the order of Carles III (1775) prohibiting the creation of cementaries within cities and subsequently in the creation of the plazas Sant Just, Sant Miquel, Sant Pere de les Puelles, Santa Maria del Mar, etc. Later on, the confiscation of church property, and the burning of monasteries and convents in 1835, and the bombing of Barcelona by Espartero in 1842, gave rise to these plazas where the interaction of building / public space took on its own significance independent of the surrounding urban context.

The commencement in 1985 of the rehabilitation of the Plaša Reial, which was constructed according to a single integral plan, heralded the beginning of a phase of recovery of the original function of these spaces. This line of action also affected the Plaša de Sant AgustÝ Vell, les Basses de Sant Pere, and the Plaša de Sant Pere de les Puelles, forming part of an itinerary through the mediaeval city, and other examples such as the Plaša de l’└ngel, the Plaša de les Olles and the Plaša de la Llana. All these actions shared the same objective, complete restructuring, not merely restoration, in the light of the specific identity and characteristics of each case.

2. New plazas

The need for new public spaces in Ciutat Vella on sites formerly occupied by blocks of buildings is a constant concern which is to the forefront of all new developments right from the initial stages. These new spaces, which are in effect planned plazas, are growing in number. They tend to be of reduced dimensions, and their role is to act as a central focus for a new urban landscape, in the light of their inherent quality and of their profusion and strategic situation, as already mentioned by the GATPAC (the Group of Catalan Artists and Professionals for the Progress of Contemporary Architecture) in 1932.

At the Plaša de la MercŔ, the demolition of a building exposed the Baroque fašade (1765-1775). (…) While this strategy derived from the end of the last century, this is not to say that this type of action will not be repeated. Thus, prudence is required, so as not to engage in indiscriminate demolition which would not always yield good results. Experience shows us that the rehabilitation of the building stock will be more successful if the public space generated is more generous and more functional than the preceding situation. Thus in replacing new buildings on the site of existing buildings, new public spaces may be generated, creating new public plazas.

3. Parks and public gardens

Ciutat Vella is located between three very singular spaces: on the one hand, the city parks Montju´c and the Ciutadella, and on the other hand, the sea-front.

Throughout the past decade, Montju´c and the sea-front have become accessible to the citizens, in the case of the first, involving enhanced communications to the environs of Montju´c and in the case of the second, involving a radical change in the relationship between the sea-front and the city. The Parc de la Ciutadella is host to many different buildings and institutions — the zoo alone occupies two thirds of the park — and has a problem of accessibility. (…) Work should continue to achieve the full recovery of the Ciutadella as a city park for the East of the city, the meeting point of the neighbourhoods Sant MartÝ, the Eastern Eixample, and the Ciutat Vella itself. The area lying between the railway tracks at the Estaciˇ de Franša and the site of the former railway station serving nearby towns, near the Plaša Ocata, should serve as a new connection with the Barceloneta neighbourhood. (…)

4. The streets

On the instructions of Charles III in 1717, who remarked that "The construction of new houses or demolition of old houses, gives us an opportunity to widen and straighten streets…." there began a process of actions, improvement of the lay-out of streets, opening up cul-de-sacs, the straightening and widening of streets, applying mechanisms to achieve alignment and new street-lines. Place names in Ciutat Vella have a rich and meaningful vocabulary: from the street to the passage and way, front and rear, river courses and channels, climbs and descents…. All these historic formations have undergone development in recent years and have been renovated with care, and the reference adopted has been street-level development (without footpath) with stone from Montju´c, the so called Florensa model, where new technologies have incorporated remedies to the design problems from the outset. Right throughout the twentieth century, the quest for the suitable model has been a permanent feature, from the first streets paved with flagstones from Montju´c. In recent years the mechanisation of the production of flagstones has led to a reinterpretation of the model, and the course of the street is now further emphasised by the street level being completely horizontal (without a footpath), containing and highlighting water drains, and using calligraphic resources, such as texture, changes of direction, types of joints, etc., on a diversity of routes which could initially be expected to result in one single aspect, but which gains diversity, to the point of being in danger of lacking coherency. (….) New developments have been conducted such as the Palau Reial Menor, the region of Carrer Uniˇ and Nou de la Rambla and the Western Eixample with wider, more geometric and uniform footpaths. It is important to preserve the character of these streets, which is closely linked to the surrounding buildings.

5. The limits, the old roads and the new passages

The Gran Via, the Litoral Ring Road and the sea-front are the limits of Ciutat Vella, with the Rondas acting as connection from the former exits from the walled city. Other limits, such as the Passeig MarÝtim, in the course of the redesign of the perimeters of the Barceloneta neighbourhood, have been extended so as to connect with the Olympic Village and Montju´c, resulting from the recovery of public spaces such as the Moll de la Fusta and the Moll de la Barceloneta. A characteristic of the urban tradition of Barcelona prior to the Pla CerdÓ was the lack of large open spaces. There were only three of any substantial dimension: the Rambla, between the second and third city wall; the former Passeig de l’Esplanada with the Jardins del General located between the Ciutadella and the city wall, and the Passeig de la Muralla de Mar, formerly located on what is now the Moll de la Fusta. With the exception of the Universal Exhibition of 1888 and the Passeig LluÝs Companys and the Parc de la Ciutadella, we have had to wait to the past ten years to encounter new thoroughfares and urban public spaces.

To summarise, I would like to point to the following points in the story of the transformation of public space in the Ciutat Vella:

• Restoration should continue in the new consolidated plazas.

• There is an established model of design for the revitalisation of new streets.

• New communication routes should continue to be established, for example, from the Olympic Village to Montju´c through the Ciutadella and the Passeig del MarquŔs d’Argentera.

• The Ciutadella should be recovered as a city park, the Plaša de la Gardunya, the Pati de la Miseric˛rdia, Campmany, etc. with new gardens such as the Valldonzella or the Vila de Madrid, with a perspective of public space as a means of urban intercommunication, as such communication facilitates the recovery of these spaces as a city activity, accessibility, and the establishing of new and interesting buildings and facilities.


(...) The development works under the Integrated Rehabilitation Area programme are now in their final phase. We should recall that the PERI, for financial and legal reasons, limited its own actions to the areas which already came within the scope of the General Metropolitan Plan.

The experience over the past ten years of ongoing works in Ciutat Vella displays that the logic of the new city should not be imposed on the old city as the appropriate mechanism for the solution of its problems. Continuous and sustained public action is required, applying new ideas and above all the experience acquired in relation to the instruments of action and administration, since what is needed are agile planning systems with a very specialised field of application.

It is hard to implement a plan in isolation from the actual mechanisms of execution. It is difficult to see such a plan through unless it receives support from the institutions and from the public. There must be a will to return the historic centre to its vital cycle within the city: to maintain the centre, it must be transformed. Urban design criteria must be used, incorporating contemporary forms and requirements of public housing and services, maintaining a combination of residence, commerce and services traditional to these areas of the city. Historic and contemporary elements should complement each other, without having to recur to historic pastiches.

New buildings should incorporate the characteristics of historic city centre buildings, and participate in the new public spaces, to ensure that such projects and their execution achieve the desired urban design objective, and complex and sensitive architectural criteria should be applied in order to respond to the character of the environment, and enable development with a greater range of diversity. In addition, the qualitative and quantitative importance of residences should be acknowledged. (…)

Extensive areas of the city have been recovered with the new buildings viewed as large containers permitting new activities, and new uses. This is the case of the main Catalan civil Gothic buildings, which we can regard as containers which act as landmarks in the itinerary, not as isolated monuments but rather as references and integral pieces within the whole. These buildings acquire a new structuring role in the surrounding urban environment, in which the range of uses gives new life to buildings with historic and artistic value. This is also the case with small residential buildings which, owing to their strategic situation, their influence on the surrounding area, their own particular character, form part of the urban landscape and should be preserved to achieve a quality rehabilitation maintaining the character and the values of the historic centre. This is a particularly difficult objective where the density of the environment, superposition, uses and activities, the history of the location, should be regarded as positive qualities in order to achieve social, economic and cultural revitalisation of degraded areas and prevent them from sinking into irrecoverable situations. And all the while, we must be mindful of the quality of life of the residents, so as to incorporate the historic centre into the vital cycle of the city and bring new values to the centre, so that this procedure does not consist merely in a simple cleansing process.

Development in the historic centre within the context of an essential and constant process of reform is very complex, and cannot be reduced to a number of schematic formulas. Care should be taken not to fall into the trap of adopting criteria and courses of action which reduce historic centres to one single predominant use, such as tourism, services or university. In order to adapt the city to the change, it is necessary to discover its hidden structures, time, place and its evaluation, with patient investigation. What is required is to determine the inherent variety and disorder, different nuances and pockets, different scales and uses, density and ethnic flavours…, regarding diversity as a potential, as opposed to a uniform unit. Historic centres as opposed to functional segregation are characterised as being the result of a fragile balance of very disparate considerations. When development is required, special instruments are required to adapt them to these changes, and the position and function of the historic centre should be redefined within the new urban and metropolitan system, maximising the increased importance of their role as city-centre, not succumbing to regional segregation and dispersion, thus ensuring sustainable growth and in terms of economic, social and cultural progress and quality of life.

by Xavier Casas i Masjoan, deputy mayor president of the ciutat vella municipal council

From the mid 19th century until the current democratic period, well into the 1980s, the Ciutat Vella (Old City) district was unfairly prejudiced by the expansion of Barcelona beyond the former city walls. This should not have been so, but the truth is that for more than a century the growth of the new city was accompanied by the degradation of the old city. The different districts occupying the 400 hectares within the city walls had become one of the most densely populated urban centres in Europe. In 1986, more than 100,000 people were living in surroundings that had been allowed to undergo urban, social and economic degradation and which the public authorities had turned their backs on for many decades. Paradoxically, it was precisely the area where the representatives of public authority (rather than of local people) took all the decisions. In the second half of the 1980s, we started to do away with the absurd antagonism between the new Barcelona and the Ciutat Vella.To begin with, the panorama was not very encouraging. All the negative factors derived first from Barcelona's industrial growth and then the economic crisis of the 1970s, had been concentrated in the Ciutat Vella district. Unemployment, hard drug consumption and prostitution found fertile ground in a set of districts characterized by the degradation of the housing stock and the architectural heritage, and by historic aims first raised in reforms planned in the early 20th century, but which were never fulfilled. As a result of all these factors, many people moved away to other parts of the city, a phenomenon that was as intense as the influx of immigrants into this degraded area, precisely because it was the only area they could afford to live. (...)