March 11, 2011

El Carrito: Week Eight, Thursday, March 10, 2011


El Carrito in Antiga D'Horta Interior Court

In Case You Didn’t Know…

While on one hand the philosophy of Raons Publiques is based on engagement without intrusion, which is why members rarely approach people that don’t seem interested in participating, El Carrito itself is under a bit of modification. Today El Carrito proclaims its presence with a large sign:


A bigger presence

And, as this week is Semana Blanca, the week marking the beginning of Lent and a holiday from school, we need all the attention we can get.

Too Young to Participate

Due to Semana Blanca and the lack of school-aged children in the Fort Pienc Civic Center Plaza, we made our way with El Carrito to an interior court designed for the play of younger children. Perhaps because the children are too young here, with few over the age of five, and the parents more attentive to the youngsters’ safety, El Carrito only receives minimal attention.


Some interest at El Carrito...

While participation was low today, I began thinking about the nature of participation once more. The other night at our weekly meeting, I passed out small pieces of paper and asked each Raons member to write down what each person thought was the objective of this Diagnostico (study) in Fort Pienc. I expected a variety of answers, but in fact they all revolved around the theme of residents being part of city building, including decisions about policy and design. The idea that a participation process can go beyond simply stopping bad development and act as a catalyst for good or even innovative development, which results from the deep knowledge of an area and the complexity of all its history, social relations, conflicts and paradoxes, is extremely exciting.


People at playground

And so, there we were, with our participation El Carrito, surrounded by people, not participating. Along with the paradoxes of any robust neighborhood, there are also contradictions in the objective of Raons Publiques’ attempts to engage the residents. Probably, one of the main obstacles is that people don’t usually look at their environment and think of it as constantly changing; by the standards of how fast other technologies evolve, cities are pretty static. I also think that the process of participating in city design has some relationship to voting, although the former is obviously in its infantile stage. Nevertheless, like voting, participation requires a certain engagement with the external processes of society, and even as different groups of people fought for their right to vote, voter turnout is not a unanimous practice. As a note, voter turnout in national elections in Spain is indeed high. While there are many reasons why voter turnout suffers in some regions and flourishes in others, one of the factors is literacy. Applying this to our desire for participation in the domain of public space, I often think about the “spatial literacy” of people. How could a deeper understanding of the surrounding environment, both natural and urban (although it is somewhat unfair to make them seem so separate, when they are so interconnected), encourage productive engagement with the environment as well as participating in its creation.

Until further developments, El Carrito waits for the Neighborhood Detectives to retrieve their Mission Portraits!


Mission Portraits await pick-up by Neighborhood Detectives

March 11, 2011

Collective Work Day, Monday, March 7, 2011

All Raons Publiques members came together at the Fort Pienc “Young People’s Place” (Espai Jove) to prepare for the March school activities and workshops. One of the main items on the agenda is recreating Fort Pienc on a large scale to really allow elementary students to explore their neighborhood.

Building the new Eixample

Click here for more photos from the Raons work day.

March 11, 2011

El Carrito: Week Seven, Monday, March 5, 2011

El Carrito y Carnaval

In the spirit of Carnival, we donned some masks before heading off with El Carrito to recruit Neighborhood Detectives on Saturday morning, an activity we tried out on our last participation outing.


Masked Participation

The Neighborhood Detectives, ranging in age from seven to twelve, are full of enthusiasm.

Neighborhood Detectives question people in the plaza

Public Space Interrogations: Complete!
Some work in groups and other independently; some groups come for clarifications after each of the five questions and one group completed the entire survey without any further help from us. In addition to the information gathered, the exciting part about this new activity is two-fold. On one hand, the activity encourages children to engage with their immediate environment and enter into conversation with adults about the surrounding space. Secondly, since we will print the photos to give the Neighborhood Detectives next time they see El Carrito, the engagement continues beyond an isolated even on a Saturday morning.

March 5, 2011

El Carrito: Week Seven, Monday, February 28, 2011

Putting down Roots (however temporary)

The first thing that charmed me about El Carrito was its mobility; and all the real and imagined possibilities of activating public space that comes with this mobility. When Raons members and I went out into public space to engage residents of Fort Pienc to participate in sharing their insights and experiences regarding the urban domain, I was eager to take El Carrito “out for a spin” throughout the entire neighborhood under study.  However, things are not quite that simple. The main reason that Raons Publiques is in the neighborhood of Fort Pienc is because it lacks many robust public spaces; as we tried to engage people at different locations, we keep returning to the most active public space in the area – the Fort Pienc Civic Center Plaza.

I was at first disappointed by what seemed as a missed opportunity to spread all this participation around. But then, today, I had a wonderful realization; El Carrito is mobile to allow it to be not just a constantly moving urban element, but rather to become a presence in the neighborhood. And this is best achieved by its recurring presence in the Civic Center Plaza; same place, same time, so to speak. And so, because of its mobility, El Carrito can take root in this successful public space, and from here, from this very spot, new things can grow.

Neighborhood Detectives

And grow they do! Although I have no idea what direction this new aspect of the project will take, I want to share the beginnings of the unfolding story of Fort Pienc Neighborhood Detectives!

Carlos explains the duties of neighborhood detectives

Carlos explains the duties of neighborhood detectives

It all started as a reaction. Raons members reacted to the fact that, while children were happy to participate, they quickly finished all tasks on hand, and it became clear that they could do more. Some responses have been recorded in these posts: drawings, draw-offs, random origami and marking space with personalized flags. And so, in order to broaden the horizons of participation, Raons members introduced the game of Neighborhood Detective to the children. We encouraged children to work individually or in teams; they preferred teams and quickly came up with names such as Corazones (Hearts). Next, each team received the following mission:


Ask 5 people what activity brings them to the plaza.

Ask 5 people what they think that children play in the street.

Ask an elderly person to play a game.

How many trees are there in the plaza? How many benches?

Ask a person if they have participated with El Carrito. If so, ask them why El Carrito is in the plaza.


Children gather info from people in plaza


The children were incredibly enthusiastic to delve into these questions. They in fact demanded more questions, once they completed the initial five prompts; a couple of them even came up with questions of their own to use:

“Do you like the neighborhood?”

“Do you think there is contamination in the neighborhood?”

In fact, the children can even explain our project and the methods by which to fill out the survey forms to other people. This little girl took over in explaining how to trace a path from home to the plaza to this lady:


she explains the form to an inquiring lady



And once they completed the questions we improvised prizes and let them choose one of the postcards depicting other urban actions taken by Arquitectos Sin Fronteras.


improvised prizes that day include ASF postcards of past projects



But, more than getting a postcard, they were happy to pose with their yellow cardboard detective badges with El Carrito in the background.


team "Corazones" with badges

team "Corazones" with badges



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



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.