This post is part of the Portraits of Place series.
For some, civic space in plentiful. But for me, civic space has always been a commodity -– that is, until recently. You see, I´m from Los Angeles. Los Angeles is both fascinating and complex. It´s large, complicated, and not typically on magazine’s livability list. But this is why I love it. It´s not European-style — it´s not anyone´s style. It is its own unique entity that can’t be compared to traditional city forms. And if you’re willing to give it a chance, it just might surprise you in a really great way. It is a city of serendipity. But as a result of all these reasons, Los Angeles is also one of the most widely misunderstood cities I´ve ever come to know. I´ve had a chance to learn from and/or live in other places, including: Zacatecas and Tijuana in Mexico, Boston and Cambridge, Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Buffalo. Still, there is no place is like Los Angeles.
Currently I live in Barcelona. I am exploring civic space and cultural landscape policies and planning projects with the International Laboratory on Cultural Landscapes with support from MIT´s International Science and Technology Initiatives Spain (MISTI Spain). Although I find some similarities between Barcelona and Los Angeles in regards to climate, modernist design legacies, and natural landscape, the cities largely differ is their history, culture, and in their approach to urban planning and development.
My first visit to Barcelona was in 2001, after completing an undergraduate internship in public history/historic preservation advocacy with the Los Angeles Conservancy through the Getty Foundation´s Multicultural Undergraduate Internship Program. I was full of new ideas on how to see and interpret cultural history and urban spaces. It was almost ten years after the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and Barcelona was in still in the midst of its complete transformation into an international example of civic space design and urban planning. I was so taken by what was occurring in Barcelona that I knew that one day I would have to live here to fully understand its transformation
Over the next few weeks, I will use this blog to chronicle and reflect upon my ideas of various projects–both temporary and physical–associated with Barcelona’s public realm. These may include entries about: Barcelona’s recent Mobile Design Conference: Designing the Networked City, Mozilla’s recent international open source learning conference, Drumbeat Festival, on the Plaça dels Àngels in El Raval, a review of the FabLab BCN (a lab for the development of youth ideas in urbanism and technology), reflections on the programs and tours related to Any Cerdà (Cerdà Year) and the El Centre de Cultura Contemporánia de Barcelona (CCCB) that celebrated the 150th anniversary of Barcelona’s urban plan and “extension” in the Eixample, and other ideas as they come along.
Frankly I realize that in my time here, I too am an immigrant. I’ve seen the Gaudí and Miró. I’m no longer a tourist. I have limited paperwork to stay and although I’m fluent in Spanish, I don’t know Catalán, the preferred language of conversation. Perhaps this series will also explore how I consider my feelings and thoughts about civic space in Barcelona as an outsider.
The importance of creating multi-use spaces for social interaction is a necessary factor in all cities and communities. If in the end the city is its people, than so to should the people be the city. Because civic spaces are the site for everyday practices, they are also the first line to generate new ideas on how to use, consider, and live in the city. What can we learn from Barcelona´s transformative civic space and its role in the contemporary city? I hope to provide offer some enlightening thoughts.