Archive for February, 2011

February 24, 2011

El Carrito: Week Six, Thursday, February 24, 2011

El Carrito and the DHUB Display

El Carrito and the DHUB Display

On Thursday afternoon, El Carrito was not the only element vying for people’s attention in Plaza Fort Pienc. In the middle of the space, a three-dimensional display proclaimed the eventual launch of the new DHUB space in Plaza Glories, on the north-eastern limit of the neighborhood. The municipal plans for the reconstruction of Plaza Glories include the new Disseny HUB Barcelona (DHUB) building scheduled to open in 2012. The dialogue between metropolitan (global) and neighborhood (local) concerns  is poignantly evident in the project for Plaza Glories, its relationships to other buildings of national significance within Fort Pienc (especially L’Auditori and the National Theatre of Catalunya), and how these all relate back to the neighborhood.

 

Once school let out that day, however, the children were mainly concerned with transforming this display element into a place to play:

Claiming Space!

Claiming Space!

The objectives evident in the approved plans for the Glories Plaza are mainly global in nature by aiming to position the area as a new metropolitan center with marginal attention for the adjacent neighborhoods on its peripheries. Conversely, Raons Publiques continues its position of exploration within the neighborhood. I want to note here, that while my observations of the activities of Raons Publiques revolve almost entirely on the ground operations of immediate public participation as manifested around El Carrito, there are many other activities that take place. Raons members continually meet with neighborhood organizations, interested supervisors at libraries, schools and other neighborhood institutions, and individual parties from fields as varied as architecture, education and sustainability who can help with this complex endeavor of exploring the social and spatial aspects of a neighborhood.

Claiming Space

In both the DHUB Display and our own model, the participating children have their own ideas as to how to make use of the present situations. They the DHUB Display into a hide-out fort, while they write their names and stake a claim to a piece of the neighborhood on the Fort Pienc model.

 

Finding Oscar

Today a little girl came to El Carrito, looked at the model, and proclaimed: “I know Oscar!”

On the Move

In order to diversify participation, we moved El Carrito a couple public spaces away from the main plaza to Antiga D’Horta Street. Like Ribes Street that expands into Plaza Fort Pienc, Antiga D’Horta is a remnant of an old village street that existed before the expansion of Barcelona in the mid-19th century. The old path is now a courtyard with several playground spaces. Unfortunately, and perhaps we came too late, but there were few people to participate. One of the problems now is that, among the demographics that participate, teenagers, young adults and members of the Chinese community, remain at large.

 

El Carrito traveling to and in Antiga D'Horta Public Space

El Carrito traveling to and in Antiga D'Horta Public Space

 

 

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February 17, 2011

Public Space Characteristics

 

Relationships between the Characteristics of Public Space

See the Approach page for continued updates exploring these relationships.

February 17, 2011

El Carrito: Week Five, Saturday, Monday, February 14 & Thursday, February 17, 2011

Participation and Rain Don’t Mix

We went out with El Carrito on Monday and Thursday afternoon during “Week Five” of Public Space and Participation in Fort Pienc. It rained on both days. On Monday, the people rushed passed us, even though we were strategically located under the overhang in Plaza Fort Pienc, it became evident that rain and participation don’t mix. We tried once more on Thursday to confirm the theory; it is now confirmed. And so, there are no photos (rain and cameras also don’t mix) and not much news from El Carrito until the sun begins to shine once more.

I will however, take this opportunity of not having new photos to post, to include a location map of El Carrito’s most frequented location – and the node of participation in Fort Pienc:

Fort Pienc Civic Center Location Map

Fort Pienc Civic Center Location Map

February 13, 2011

El Carrito: Week Four, Saturday, February 12, 2011

Participation Approach

On this Saturday morning, El Carrito serves as an outpost in public space as the Raons Publiques members branch out to any perceivable prospect of participation.

 

El Carrito: Outpost of Participation

 

 

On Thursday we began to critically rethink the approach of location and public participation. What is the balance between having many people participate that all frequent one type of space versus trying to engage a greater variety of residents, even if the net numbers decrease? On Saturday, even the Fort Pienc Civic Center was somewhat lacking in concerned neighborhood residents. In order to broaden our influence, we went inside the market to inform customers of our public space mission. Surprisingly, about half of the people we spoke to do not live in Fort Pienc; they work in the neighborhood, and so came on Saturday specifically for the market. Not as surprising was the fact that people don’t generally like being approached by people offering unsolicited information; even though the initial approach is difficult, once people understood our interest in public participation, most willingly engaged.

Lucia joins the discussion under some shade

Lucia engages the seniors

 

 

Montse engages market patrons

 

 

As Montse worked to engage the market patrons, Lucia spoke to the seniors in their regular location at the first-tier benches. In many ways, people are simply not used to giving opinions about how they imagine their immediate surroundings can change for the better; part of the process requires becoming a regular feature in the neighborhood, with El Carrito as a symbol that people can participate to improve their environment.

February 13, 2011

El Carrito: Week Four, Thursday, February 10, 2011

Location, Location

So far, one of the main problems we have encountered in engaging the residents of Fort Pienc to participate is the lack of participants in many of the neighborhood public spaces. I should note here that the perception of “enough” participants in a certain space is a relative ruling since some of the spaces in question, such as the Parc de l’Estacio de Nord (North Station Park) have a plenty of users by, say, Los Angeles standards.

students in the park

Stationed at the entrance of the park, a location that serves as a confluence for people coming to the park or passing through from the street or North Station (Bus Hub), we did receive some interested looks, but no one stopped to participate. Perhaps the problem was that the threshold was a place of transition rather than a place for more leisurely strolls.

El Carrito in front of the park entrance

And so we packed El Carrito and traveled to a pedestrian part of Ribes Street.

El Carrito on the move

The street includes a variety of spaces for both moving through and resting in the space, interweaving uses for bicycles, cafes and pedestrians. This location served as the most productive of the day.

Ribes Street

El Carrito on Ribes Street

Although it is on axis with the Civic Center Plaza, a wider range of the neighborhood population uses the street simply to access the adjacent shops. One of the main populations we hope to engage is growing Chinese community; while their presence is especially visible through shops and restaurants established in the area, we have yet to get any substantial participation from any new populations in the neighborhood.

And so, by the end of our three hour venture on the Thursday afternoon in three different spaces, we obtained less than ten participation documents when the average has been around twenty in the Civic Center Plaza. However, diffusing the option of participation to as many residents as possible is worth the effort.

New Discoveries

El Carrito at the neighborhood recycling center

El Carrito at the neighborhood recycling center

Another benefit to trying to discover the best locations for engaging the public is discovering new aspects of the neighborhood. The last location with El Carrito on Thursday afternoon was a Punt Verde de Barrio, a neighborhood recycling center that admits anything from appliances to shoes and in turn awards utility discounts. Such city funded infrastructure begins to hint towards possibilities of integration systems of productive public spaces, instead of isolated municipal elements.

February 13, 2011

El Carrito: Week Four, Monday, February 7, 2011

Plaza Past

The name of Fort Pienc derives from Fort Pio, a fort constructed in 1719 under King Philip V of Spain in the aftermath of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). The Fort has its place among other fortification located on the periphery of the old city used strategically during the 1714 battles including Montjuïc Castle atop the hill to the West of the city and the Citadel (now Parc de la Ciutadella) just south of Fort Pienc.

Plaque in Fort Pienc Plaza

The plaque in the Civic Center Plaza of Fort Pienc commemorates this history: “The old fort was constructed in 1719 after the War of the Succession and was demolished in 1868. The description [of Fort] has remained as the name for the neighborhood.”

The Importance of Participation

In the Civic Center of Fort Pienc another issue brought forth with El Carrito is the importance of participation. Using postcards created by other local factions of Arquitectos Sin Fronteras, we used these visual aids to discuss other instances of successful participation in Barcelona, or the consequences of a lack of advocacy for communities.

Martin and resident discuss participation over postcards

One of the most famous examples is the case of Forat de la Vergonya (Hole of Shame) where only diligent and ongoing community pressure succeeded in retaining a public space after the clearance of several blocks of housing from the Ribera neighborhood. In general, issues like eminent domain continue in Barcelona, as captured in a one of the postcards:

eminent domain monster mural

The postcard shows an image of a mural on a city wall depicting the gentrification that results from tearing down the old for the sake of the new.  Currently, the Glories Plaza, an object of design frustration for many decades, shows yet again that the dominant thinking in rehabilitation generally involves creating a blank slate.

February 13, 2011

Images of Forat de la Vergonya

In the Ribera neighborhood of Barcelona, a public-private partnership cleared blocks in the name of rehabilitation.

View of Forat de la Vergonya

View of Forat de la Vergonya

The residents of the area were able to reclaim this space for their community after much ongoing struggle. The demolished blocks left a large space in the Ribera neighborhood. The appropriated space is self-managed by the community as is stated in the marker of the public space:

The Plaza Marker anounces the Plaza is Self-Managed

The Plaza Marker anounces the Plaza is Self-Managed

Uses of the space include gatherings for various activities at the civic center, located at one end of the plaza:

One end of the plaza includes a Civic Center for Gatherings

One end of the plaza includes a Civic Center for Gatherings

 

Cultivating an urban community garden at the opposite side:

The Community Urban Garden

The Community Urban Garden

And bird feeding, in general:

bird feeding

February 5, 2011

El Carrito: Week Three, Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unexpected Developments

This is the document Raons Publiques currently uses:

Plan and Neighborhood Survey

Plan and Neighborhood Survey

It shows a map of the area with limits well beyond the neighborhood so that residents can freely choose what they consider the “limits of the barrio.” In order to supplement the document, today we also asked people to draw, on a blank page, their image of the barrio, in the style of Kevin Lynch. Unexpectedly, one of the children asked Andres if he had drawn a Barrio Image Map yet, and then proceeded to challenge him to a draw-off!

The event ended in games and origami. But several kids lingered around El Carrito long after they finished “participating” by drawing and tracing maps. Pretty soon, they started engaging the residents themselves by handing out information fliers.

Where Participation Flourishes

The Fort Pienc Plaza is by far the most robust public space in the neighborhood that includes the most diverse population. Our position with El Carrito, naturally changes with the crowds: on weekdays it is either on axis with the library doors, or close to the school doors once the children get out; on Saturday El Carrito is positioned closer the main circulation of the plaza on Ribes Street that runs through the space, which is, in essence, an expansion of this path. However, it still only one space in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, one of the reasons participation is important in Fort Pienc is due to the lack of public space; and so there are few places to engage the public.

Fort Pienc Plaza is in the center of the barrio, along Ribes Street

Fort Pienc Plaza is in the center of the barrio, along Ribes Street

February 5, 2011

El Carrito: Week Three, Thursday, February 3, 2011

Public Dialogues

We met Thursday afternoon just before the Fort Pienc school ends at five in the afternoon, and set up El Carrito:

 

Getting El Carrito ready for Participation

Getting El Carrito ready for Participation

 

Unlike most schools, this one opens onto the Fort Pienc Civic Center Plaza (hyperlink) allowing both parents and children to linger, play and talk much longer than if it were a simple sidewalk. Most adults are brought over to El Carrito by the enthusiasm of their children. I want to show the kid-height table once more, as viewed over the higher “adult” section of El Carrito:

Kid-Height Table

Indeed, the children have no fear and like to talk; the photo below shows children engaging three police officers:

 

Children engage the Police

Children engage the Police

One of the most interesting conversations this day was with a woman who moved to Fort Pienc from Nevada, USA in 2003. She currently live north of the Civic Center Plaza in one of the Eixample blocks that still includes a public space at its center. However, there is no public access to this public space; it is a relatively wild park because maintenance is scarce. In fact, the woman lived across the way for some time, and could see this wild park from her parking structure and lamented not being able to enter. According to some municipal officials, she believes that the park is underway to gaining public access. The use of most of the Eixample blocks’ cores can only be seen on an aerial, but it is intriguing to think that, even without a door, some of these are actually on publicly owned land.

 

The Mailbox

Raons Publiques Mail Box inside the Fort Pienc Library Lobby

Raons Publiques Mail Box inside the Fort Pienc Library Lobby

Many people like to take their form home with them, either due to lack of time, or in order to mull over the options. To that end, a Raons Publiques mailbox has been set up in the lobby of the Public Library.

The Role of Participation in Project-Making

Earlier that day I met with Andres to discuss the work before heading out with El Carrito in the afternoon. We spoke about the incredible difference in the time dedicated to site analysis versus design. In school we learned to analyze our site for the first two weeks, sometimes one, but rarely over three.

The project in Fort Pienc also includes site analysis followed by a design component. The intended project area is an underused space, formerly part of the rail systems that terminated at North Station. Once North Station was converted to a hub for busses and all the rail lines cleared away, a great deal of previously occupied open space became available for new projects. The linear space occurs at an interesting part of the city. However, the project site (hyperlink) although important, is not the focus yet.

Unlike traditional projects where design and construction occupy most of the time, budget and creative ambitions of the people involved, the process of site analysis (including physical and social relationships of the past and present) has developed critically in time, breadth of scope and productivity. Now, Raons Publiques has already spent over a year analyzing the context of Fort Pienc, and I join them for a short three months!

It is also important to note that, especially in the United States, projects of participation are often seen as a good method to stop in whole or part of a development from happening; the development is usually of a nature that would be detrimental to a place or society.  And so, the idea is that, it is not important to simply decide on a project, say an Auditorium, and then come to a neighborhood and ask people to help personalize the Auditorium. Rather, the Raons Publiques approach to participation begins with the initial recognition of underused space or lacking facilities, and then, through a process of getting to know the spaces and people of the neighborhood over time, a clearer idea of a project emerges. Project follows Participation.