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Danae Esparza, “Barcelona a ras de suelo” (“Barcelona at Ground Level”), Edicions de la UB, 2017.

Appropriating Our Streets

The Covid-19 pandemic, with its associated movement restrictions, changes of activity and need to maintain a safety distance between people, has had an interesting and deeply debated repercussion on the re-design of Barcelona’s streets. In some streets, above all in the Ensanche zone, traffic lanes have been replaced by pedestrian spaces, signposted as such with the logo of the supermanzanas (“superblock”) scheme which is currently still being implemented. They are painted in coloured stripes, sometimes with drawings of roses and sometimes with geometric patterns, to reproduce the city’s typical paving stones. These pedestrian areas are separated from the traffic with plastic cones, concrete blocks, or different types of barriers. Another, less regulated type of logo has been used to mark out queueing positions at supermarket doors and “lanes” for children entering schools. Bar terraces have also begun to replace roadside parking spaces.

Irreversibly (hopefully), the city is gaining more car-free spaces, and this has started to reduce air and acoustic contamination levels—although this can also be put down to the decrease in movement. But these new pedestrian zones raise questions about how and for what they should be used. Safety has been mentioned as a major problem, but concerns have also been voiced about how such spaces relate to urban furniture and the uses of neighbouring ground floor premises. Jane Jacobs, that great defender of urban sidewalks, said that such areas are nothing more than abstract spaces if they are not linked to the buildings and uses that delimit them—which is why they are so very important for spontaneous social interaction. In times gone by, when children used to play on the sidewalks (that was one of the arguments for making them wider), it was there that they learned their first lessons in urban coexistence based on responsibility towards others and acquired the confidence to operate in public space.

This first step of delimiting roadways highlights the problem of appropriating these new spaces. Appropriation is always a collective process associated with symbolic and affective identification. To leave its mark, to create “place”, it requires space and time for social interaction and for the physical action that sometimes tends to modify a space . Different designs for Barcelona’s public space have facilitated appropriation by successfully seeking new layouts, explaining urban histories, and proposing activities and connections. The history of a city’s roadways and sidewalks is a part of its social history that is well worth explaining1: from mud, macadam, and cobblestones to patterned pavers and asphalt. Perhaps this could have been the moment to look back on that history, or at least to study and improve the sidewalks we have today, which are often poorly organised and maintained.


Text translated by Andrew V.Taylor
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Danae Esparza, “Barcelona a ras de suelo” (“Barcelona at Ground Level”), Edicions de la UB, 2017.

Autor:
(Belgrado 1972) Arquitecta por la universidad de Belgrado (1998) y Doctora por la UPC de Barcelona (2006) con la tesis sobe representación e ideología en la obra arquitectónica. Ha co-comisariado con Jaume Prat e Isaki Lacuesta el pabellón Catalán en la XV Bienal de Venecia, en la edición anterior participo en el pabellón de Corea ganador del León de Oro. Ha investigado la modernidad arquitectónica del mundo socialista, escrito y dado conferencias en diversas universidades europeas. Colabora con el departamento de Historia contemporánea de la UAB y es miembro del comité científico del Premio Europeo del Espacio Público.

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