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OPENING UP A CITY'S GREEN SPACES:
THE ADVENTURE.
by Antoni Falcón i Vernis, managing diretor,
barcelona parks and gardens, municipal institute.

In 1981, "Parcs i Jardins de Barcelona", the body responsible for the city's parks and gardens - at that time a municipal department -, undertook a census of the city's green spaces, which would be concluded the following year. There were two main reasons why such a basic measure had not been carried out at that time. Firstly, the maintenance of green areas was performet with little checking of the spaces themselves. Secondly, the list of parks in the urban area - and also of squares and trees - was rather short. In fact, during the boom in development, the population and the built-up area of Barcelona doubled in size, while only six urban parks were created, three of which were gardens situated on the Montjuïc hill !

With the arrival of democracy, therefore, serious consideration had to be given to the subject of finding a balance between concrete and green spaces. Among other reasons, this was because many citizens were demonstrating in the street to demand that disused space or areas scheduled to fall into disuse be allocated for their own use, in many cases in order to obtain their neighbourhood's first green areas. However, it is also true that the list of priorities, in a city that had been neglected by Franco's regime, included all sorts of other significant matters needing action. The "periferia", or outskirts, included everything that was not in the city's central area, and were not fully established residential neighbourhoods. Green spaces, therefore, were not really a priority within the enormous task of the renewal of the outskirts - and developing them -, but rather just one more issue for consideration, along with transport, markets, schools, libraries, civic centres, pavements and many others. The new urban parks were included in the overall plan established by the development department in the City Council. (...)

In any event, between the inauguration of the Joan Miró Park and 1992, new parks opened at a rapid pace: two or three a year, all over the city, with a total of twenty opening in eight years. It is quite clear that green spaces play an important role in Barcelona's great urban renewal programme. Each of the large Olympic structures has its own adjacent public park or green space, including works aseptic in nature and monumental in scale such as the new "Nus de la Trinitat" road intersection (with its splendid and surprising park), or the "Les Glories" area. The creation of the beautiful space of the "Estació del Nord", one of the most successful of that period, should also be remembered. It both recovered the long neglected building for Olympic use and complemented it with a flat green space sprinkled with magnificent Beverly Peppers statues, although perhaps it lacked a little in trees in the original project. It is no coincidence the the "Vila Olímpica" (Olympic Village), since its beginnings, has kept a green space - a sequential line of parks and gardens - that serves to mark a sort of frontier with the sea. This way, the uncovering of the beaches is in tandem with the uncovering of green spaces. In Barcelona, this is a conceptual revolution.

After the Olympic games, with the city renewed and feeling euphoric, and 872 hectares of green space hurriedly created but well established, the moment came to sit back and reflect. Barcelona had finally changed its image: it was no longer a grey, densely packed city, where it was impossible to breathe. Of the 364 hectares added since 1983, not all were in urban parks. As a matter of fact, splashes of green have covered the entire city, in corners, at road junctions and in disused areas. Improvised old parking spaces on waste ground are now nearby pleasant gardens. And, better still, the people who use them like them. Residents have changed at the same pace as the city. While, years ago, they preferred empty spaces in which to leave their cars, after the extensive greening of the city, the pride of each neighbourhood lies in its newly-opened garden, its landscaped park, and the trees that line its streets (as many as 56.393 trees have also been continually planted in the city's streets over those years).

In 1993, a period of serious reflection started. Because, once the greening of the city had been achieved, it was necessary to think of green areas in other terms - i.e. to think in green terms, but not only in terms of development, social or aesthetic requirements. At that time, Barcelona began to consider what is internationally known as "differential gardening", a technical expression meaning sustainable urban, ecological or simply rational gardening. This process is also taking place in many other European cities. How should nature be adapted to urban life, which is in so many ways artificial and aggressive to vegetation ? How can this be done in a sustainable way, without exhausting resources of any kind ? In the case of Barcelona, environmental realities (derived from the highly demanding Mediterranean climate) and sociological conditions (our parks are generally small, highly urban and heavily used) were taken into consideration to create an overall greening design adapted to this twofold difficulty and that, at the same time, managed to take advantage of the maximum of nature's potential as an environmental regulator. In other words, it was an attempt to take environmental action using green spaces better adapted to Barcelona's own characteristics.

Once again, it was necessary to go back to the drawing board, and to catalogue and classify all the green spaces, both large and small, in four different categories according to the type of maintenance needed: historic parks and gardens, urban parks and squares, wooded parks and spaces, and roadside trees. This cataloguing was the foundation for a new working routine, based on a more gentle form of maintenance, so as to allow nature to more closely resemble nature. It was also necessary to "build from the bottom up" in other areas: an exhaustive cataloguing of Mediterranan plants, or those with similar characteristics, was then carried out in order to promote their use (obviously, Mediterranean plants are those which adapt best to our climate and are therefore the most resistant to city life). A more appropriate water saving strategy centred on the use of ground water and a more efficient use of water when watering plants were formulated thanks to technological innovation and automation.(...)

In the nineties, the emphasis was also placed on communicating with citizens, with a continuous effort made towards spreading the message that nature is a living entity, which it is necessary to look after and not mistreat excessively, because the further we get from nature's needs, the more expensive it is to maintain, among other reasons. The nineties were also a period of austerity in budgetary terms, so that the constant increases in green areas in the city had to be compensated for by a more efficient use of human and economic resources. This also led to a sustainable gardening system. (...)

The restoration of the Labyrinth was a milestone, as the project was selected and partially financed by the European Union in the year officially dedicated to the restoration and preservation of historic parks and gardens in Europe. (...) Moreover, 1994 was the year that the "Catalogue of Trees of Local Interest" was started in Barcelona, an action that aimed at protecting those trees which are considered to be of special interest due to their age, their size and shape, their rarity, or their historic or symbolic significance, and that, once listed, may not be removed or moved. This is another example of teaching people that nature is an asset to be preserved. Nature is in fact part of the city's heritage, like its monuments or landmarks.

Once the conceptual process of ecological gardening had been established, which required many hours of internal reflection and training, urban gardens designed within the framework of those new criteria began to be born, generally under the auspices of the Parks and Gardens department. This is another step towards the ingraining of a renewed conception of nature within the city. (...) The Mediterranean concept of new green spaces, viewed like fragments of rural life in the urban landscape, succeeded in finding a place in the sensibilities of Barcelona's citizens who have discovered a new, inexhaustible wealth of vegetation native to their city.

The new parks are spaces that favour nature, as a framework in which to develop diverse social attitudes - play, walking, rest and companionship - which the first generation of parks had reserved for more architectural and representative spaces.(...)

Every city has is own green typology, which is linked to local tradition without rejecting contemporary innovation. Barcelona's green areas are thus Mediterranean not only in geographical terms but also in terms of their close links to the city residents' memory, beacuse they are at the roots of the city.

Consideration of sustainable gardening, which from 1994 onwards started to become evident in the statistical data that showed the decline in water consumption and the fall in maintenance costs per hectare, culminated in the drafting of the "Pla estratègic dels Espais Verds de Barcelona" (Strategic Plan for Green Spaces in Barcelona). This plan is in fact an exhaustive compendium of strategies for preservation, planning and production of green spaces in the city over a ten-year period. (...)

Thus, over the years, Barcelona has reached a total of 150.000 roadside trees, an impressive figure which places it among the most heavily wooded cities in Europe.