Posted May 16th 2011 at 10:05 am by
in Public Space and Participation in Fort Pienc

Weeks 11-12: Public Space & Participation in Plaza Fort Pienc

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.

1_Official Photos of Neighborhood Detectives

Official photos of the Neighborhood Detectives.

Neighborhood Detectives

Thursday, March 31st was one of the most continuously busy days at El Carrito. Once the elementary school let out for the day at five in the afternoon, we had an almost continuous string of young students excited to complete the Neighborhood Detective missions.

2_Completing the Urban Mission

Completing the Urban Mission.

The individual questions are designed to encourage children to explore the plaza and enter into dialogue with the people who use it. We hope to facilitate investigations of both the social and spatial qualities of the plaza. After the mission, each team poses for an official photo, of which they will receive a copy the following week. (We had four previous teams pick up their prints today.) Each team member also receives a small prize – Arquitectos Sin Fronteras postcards. Soon we hope to replace this with our Public Space Trading Cards – which are in the works.

Tools of the Participation Trade

3_Participation Tools of El Carrito

Participation tools of El Carrito.

Saturday was a sunny day in Plaza Fort Pienc. We introduced the Participation Canopy atop El Carrito. The structure displays the varied tools of El Carrito, including Raons Publiques pins, student drawings, postcards of other participation projects in Barcelona and, soon, Public Space Trading Cards! (more about this last element next week.)

4_El Carrito on Ribes Street in Plaza Fort Pienc

El Carrito on Ribes Street in Plaza Fort Pienc.

In addition to the model of the neighborhood, the maps and survey sheets, Raons is aware that participation at its best when it is pluralistic. Therefore we need a wide array of tools in order to engage community members representative of the existing diversity. The process is necessarily slow since we are learning about them, just as they learn about us.

Public Space Dialogues

More than ever, today I wished that my Spanish skills had increased to a level advanced enough to understand all the subtleties of the dialogue between Raons members and Manuel Delgado Ruiz, Professor of Religious Anthropology at the Departament d’Antropologia Social at the Universitat de Barcelona and Coordinator for the Doctoral Programme in Anthropology of Space and Territory and its Research Group on Public Spaces. If your Spanish isn’t lacking, you can watch this engaging lecture on Public Space As a Space of and for Communication.

5_conversations with Manuel Delgado Ruiz

Conversations with Manuel Delgado Ruiz.

Certain things are clear, however, and that is that the idea of democratic public space is still elusive in understanding and practice. One of the reasons for this, according to my interpretation, is that people have an idealized and nostalgic image of public space. This vision is at odds with reality (which is messy and complex), and thereby proves unproductive as a point of departure for dialogue. Essentially, people have a sudden and often defensive reaction to imminent change; the nostalgic image of how good things used to be is a defense mechanism that has its merits for coping with change and challenging change. However, it does not always facilitate a democratic exchange of ideas.

Along the same lines, I recently read an article about NIMBYism (Not In My Back Yard – a view antagonistic to development widespread in the United States, among other places), in which Matthew Kiefer suggests that among all the complex opponents to change, the common denominator is that “NIMBYists resist change imposed by others.” This is an important distinction, especially in light of what we are trying to do with participation that comes before not after a project is decided upon, designed and practically in the construction phase.

Post and images by Claudia Paraschiv. For more information on her work in Barcelona, read her blog,

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