Tuesday, July 28, 2009

El Carmel and Tres Turones- Why Planning Seems so Different in Barcelona

A lot of the things we have done in my classes so far has been going to see presentations that are done by municipal organizations who are in charge of the revitalization of certain areas in the city. They have told us about their plans for changing neighborhoods and improving them to make housing conditions, services, and transporation better for certain areas. One of the groups told us about 20 times that they were trying to design their city so that there would be diversity between the young people, older people, families, and the disabled. They feel that this integration is very important and makes for a healthy community. I think in a lot of these neighborhoods it's required that about 30% of the housing be public housing, which has controlled prices and ia subsidized heavily by the government. It's not a very rare thing to have really low income people living next to those who are middle class, and many private developers who own buildings are required to have public housing and controlled prices in their buildings to a certain extent by the government who pays them to do so. It's incredible to me and to others that no one protests this social housing, because in California when people try to put up affordable housing units people tend to be very upset and show up at city council meetings expressing the fact that having affordable housing in their backyards will bring crime and cause property values to drop. It's kind of amazing here that people from different income levels are able to live together in the same building without their being protest for the tenants that are not receiving help via social housing programs that have been established and funded by the government- it's a total contrast.

The pictures here are taken in an area of the city called El Carmel. It has a very difficult topography, and because it is on the outskirts of the city many people immigrated to that area and erected houses with their own two hands in order to have a place to live. (The pirate flag picture is from an area where many building were erected by the people who inhabit them, rather than by professional developers.) Because they were constucted in this manner the city doubts the safety of them. Also many of them are very very small and have poor ventilation and there are doubts about the health of living in such places. The city has a major renovation plan that will put in a new main street and has also put in several elevators and escaltors to help people reach their homes that used to require them to climb steep hills. As a result of this construction projects and also as a result of tearing down a lot of the unsafe housing people are displaced. However the city never displaces people and leaves them without a place to go. It is the law that they must be guaranteed housing in the same area, and if they chose not to be relocated they are given a lump sum of money. The brick building in the city is an example of new construction at the top of three newly installed escalators that climb the hills for you, where many people were relocated when their houses were removed in order to make such improvments to the neighborhood.

I think that the unique thing about this renovation in El Carmel is the fact that the improvements are being made to this area in order to improve the lives of the people who live there. I think that the kind of development I am used to seeing in S. Cal cities has to do with making improvements to the city in order to bring in more business and to push things along economically or even for better transporation purposes. So if they have to build public transport or a freeway through a very poor part of a city they give people money and they expect them to find a place to move to, as where here the improvements that they are making are not to bring in revenue for the city, but in this neighborhood especially they are made to help the people already living there, and if the city does have to claim eminent domain over your house or property they don't just hand people money and expect them to figure out where to go, they actually faciliate new housing facilities for the displaced.

The only thing that is suspect is that fact that so far we have talked to far more municipal workers than residents, so its hard to tell what the attitudes of the people living in these neighborhoods really is. Are they happy with the renovations? Do they feel that it is ultimately helping them or that the government is interfering to much by chasing them out of their houses into new places? Do they feel like they are being bought out or are they satisfied with the compensation and services that the city provides? When talking to those from the municipality I get these feeling that the city governments here really are doing great things for their residents, but I am excited to get out into the field next week and hear a different perspective on things. At this point, all I know is that the city's approach to working with neighborhood residents here seems to be very different from what I have seen in Orange County. Municipalities work closely with neighborhood associations in ways that appear to really impact positive changes that containa great deal of input from the residents. It's difficult for me to accept this concept after working with residents in Anaheim who are practially begging the city to accept their input. It seems that there is great benefit to the many Socialist municipalities in Barcelona- at least from the perspective of the residents who seem to have much more say in what goes on than I have seen in my experiences in Anaheim.

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