• This is the ongoing story of El Carrito, a mobile public participation cart that unfolds to reveal maps, models and drawing materials so that local people can describe what they want from their physical environment.
On Saturday morning at the Plaza Fort Pienc, the members and participants of Espai Jove (The Young People’s Space, Eixample District Association) hosted a festival and Calçotada (a barbeque of a green onion-like vegetable called Calçotsm, which is traditional in Catalunya). Upon arriving to the plaza with El Carrito, we saw the banner of “I ♥ Fort Pienc” hanging from the trees. Turning towards the library building, another banner hung, presumably by the Espai Jove members, with a remark that loosely translate as “go to s…t” taking a stab at humor and politics. Politics had an unexpectedly large presence at Calçotada, which is usually focused on food, music, and people.
Public Proclamations – Loving and Mocking in Fort Pienc.
Barcelona Decideix (10A), which often present in the city’s public spaces on the weekends, had a booth in the plaza distributing information and taking mail-in voter ballots towards the independence of Catalunya from Spain. (The particular initiative, begun in 2009, has gained international momentum with a presentation in late March at the United Nations headquarters in New York.)
Politics in Public Space: Advocating for Catalan Independence; Two political parties; and Solidaritat Catalunya.
I noticed another political group, Solidaritat Catalana, when one of the three members asked me to take a photo of them at their booth – a fold up table with a banner in front and a flag of Catalunya as a table cloth on top. To my surprise, they also sought resident participation! After a few minutes back at El Carrito, I wanted to return to ask more information about their objectives and process, but they had (to my surprise, once more), already left. While I understand the objective of Barcelona Decideix, the latter political faction seems dubious in their proclaimed interest in resident participation, which amounted to little more than a photo of the members. While I cannot understand the subtle motivations behind this political party, participation can easily be used as a tool towards self-aggrandizement instead of as a platform of listening to the real voices and needs of residents. Caught up pondering politics, participation and motivation, I decided to turn once more to the happier thoughts of the Calçotada festivities on hand.
Calçotada in Plaza.
At just before eleven in the morning, the plaza was full of activity. The youth members prepared for the festivities. The elderly observed them filling large containers of water at the fountain; parents with their children played and talked. It was also a sunny day. We set up El Carrito along Ribes Street to engage the residents strolling through the plaza. However, once the festivities began, El Carrito received little attention. We decided to wait until after the games and Calçotada. While waiting, two brave Raons Publiques members (Martin and Alice) participated in the pre-Calçotada games, which were as follows: 1) the Trash-bag race; 2) Limbo; and 3) Water Container Relay-Race:
Raons at the Races: Race 1 – Trashbags; Race 2 – Limbo; Race 3 – Water Containers Relay.
Meanwhile, El Carrito waited…
Patience and El Carrito.
Space for Democracy and Debate
It is generally agreed that “good” public space is democratic space – in other words, it is open to all people. Similarly, public participation capitalizes on this multi-opined presence to gather wide-ranging input about an issue of concern. In our case: How do Fort Pienc residents use the public spaces in their neighborhood? Conceivably, then we (as planners, designers and catalysts for inclusive city development) can synthesize citizen contribution towards the achievement of projects for the “public good.” As the Neighborhood Detectives are excited to simply participate in public space through play, we are left wondering how to enact successful public space that is inclusive of often contradictory opinions.
Postcard Prizes for Neighborhood Detectives.
Carlos Tapia had the following conversation with two residents at two different times regarding the Civic Center Plaza. As some background information, three cafes, a market, the library, senior-citizen housing and the elementary school all open onto the plaza.
Resident 1 remarks that the elementary school takes priority over the other uses in the plaza. Since all the recreational outdoor spaces of the school are contained within a relatively small footprint, portions of the public plaza should be given over for school use. Furthermore, he remarks that the school lacks sufficient green space like other playgrounds in the neighborhood, such as the Elementary School Ramon Llull.
Resident 2 proclaimed that the residents around the plaza are some of the luckiest in Barcelona because their public space contains so many activities beneficial for daily life. He also noted that his children, who attend the school, are more than happy with their recreational spaces.
Carlos Tapia drew some useful questions from these exchanges:
On what experience and knowledge are these perceptions and opinions founded?
Do the residents’ different perceptions of space and use hinder or enrich participation processes?
Post and images by Claudia Paraschiv. For more information on her work in Barcelona, read her blog, http://learningfrombarcelona.wordpress.com/.