We do not want your urban projects! The case of el Born, Barcelona (Spain)
Control for the use of the space generates conflicts between the users, neighbors and residents, and the institutional and private powers of a city. We have a good example of that in the recently inaugurated Born Cultural Centre, in Barcelona (Spain), a great facility located in the old district la Ribera, now renamed as el Born. Its official inauguration last September 11th, coinciding with the National Day of Catalunya, was contested by residents in the neighborhood. Claims were based in getting more parking places and green areas for the residents. The City Hall had chosen a project where a private use of the space was privileged: more bars and restaurants with wider areas for “terrazas”, new licenses for hotels and hostels, etc. The intention is to turn el Born into a new example of the touristification of Barcelona. The conflict was obvious and the demonstrations the day of the inauguration were very significant.
Nevertheless, if we go in depth slightly, we can see something lower in this project. It’s not only a lost battle against the municipal power which have achieved to install an elitist facility in a popular neighborhood of the city, but a whole war. An unstoppable process of gentrification will come later. As a resident pointed: “a lot of elderly people and families have been kicked out from their houses where now we just find supercool ateliers, hotels, museums like Picasso’s or the last generation of a bistro”. It has just begun.
Something that adds interest to the process is the use of the collective memory of the city in order to justify the works. La Ribera suffered a great transformation once Catalunya was surrendered after the end of the Spanish Secession War in 1714. The Borbon King, Felipe V, destroyed a great part of the city in order to build a military citadel and control the rebel Barcelona. Later, in the XIX century, citadel’s walls were demolished and its space transformed in the actual Ciutadella Park. The interesting point here is that the City Hall, now governed by a nationalistic party, has used this part of the History to make a ‘face wash’ of its intervention. As Eric Hobsbawn pointed in his work The invention of tradition, the new Cultural Centre is full of historic references to 1714 and the lost of sovereign of Catalunya. The day of the inauguration, an installation art located in the balconies of the closer buildings, remembered and showed the surnames of the families who lived in the neighborhood three centuries ago. Nothing was said about the popular and working class district la Ribera.
This example shows, as we mentioned above, that the city has turned into a valuable object, a disputed element, and the urbanism appears like an ideological and technical system for projecting and justifying the actions.
As Henri Lefebvre wrote in The Urban Revolution, “urbanism […] under a positive, humanistic and technological appearance, hides the capitalist strategy: the domain of the space […]”.