Our neighbourhood: for you, for everyone

Barcelona, which was set to become the design capital, now pays tribute to its roots and traditions. People also want to make Barcelona a place for everyone, and supportive, critical and social protest initiatives are spreading.

Dani Codina
Portraits of neighbours from Poblenou exhibited on the street as part of the Now Poblenou project, which denounces the gentrification of the neighbourhood.

Parallel to the notion that, together, citizens can achieve feats that were once unthinkable, the neighbourhood sense of belonging is also growing. The balconies in the Barceloneta neighbourhood are festooned with flags commemorating its birth, to offset the image projected in recent years in the wake of what has been dubbed drunken tourism. Complaints have been replaced by a shared sense of pride.

Routes to discover Sant Andreu, the faces of Poblenou locals transformed into graffiti on the metal shutters of their stores, “The Water Trail” in Horta Guinardó, the Green Map of Sarrià, tapes routes, tee-shirts and shops that bear the Gràcia or Eixample brand, crowdfunding to save historic sites; together these all encourage residents to join a city-centred project. The city that they want.

And to give all this an identity, memories must be exhumed. Each place’s uniqueness is determined by its past. The defence of emblematic buildings or the photos of a Barcelona that no longer exists seek to rebuild it from its historic foundations. Its Roman legacy is resurging, as is the Bohemian epoch in which the middle-class and the rough parts of Barri Xino once hobnobbed on Avinguda Paral·lel, at the dawn of the 20th century. On crowdfunding site Verkami, the project to publish the book Un barri fet a cops de cooperació. El cooperativisme obrer al Poblenou  [A neighbourhood knocked together cooperatively. Worker cooperativism in Poblenou] has already raised almost 1,500 euros. It is the second volume of the Memòria Cooperativa de la Ciutat Invisible collection.

Dani Codina
Many residents of la Barceloneta proudly display the neighbourhood flag on their balconies.

The Núria bar in Canaletes and the old Niza cinema by the Sagrada Família are being given facelifts. The residents in the Badal neighbourhood convinced their town council to commit to recovering the air raid shelter. The cheap housing in Bon Pastor or the six thousand years of history of the Raval, inhabited by cattle-raisers and future farmers as far back as the Neolithic era, are the foundations of the city’s structure. People are also interested in discovering the hidden or more bizarre Barcelonas: the History of Gràcia workshop, for example, schedules a night-time walkabout to delve into the district’s darker history. Manel Gausa published Somorrostro, crònica visual d’un barri oblidat [Somorrostro, visual chronicle of a forgotten neighbourhood]. Strolls through cemeteries or moonlight walks, an underground sports race, a scientific route, sidecar tours, the smartest areas of the Born district with the help of a mobile app, or fishing-tourism are but some of the proposals that show us a city in hitherto unseen ways.

Authenticity is bound up with tradition. This city, which was supposed to become the design capital – pure aesthetics –, now pays tribute to the depth of its roots and traditions, such as pétanque, quintos (20 cl bottles of beer), meatballs, absinthe or mare’s milk.

Consumption and solidarity

Maybe you are one of those people who have your hair razor-cut at the barber’s. Maybe you are also a customer of the Les 1001 Dents clinic because you have the satisfaction of knowing that 13% of what you pay goes to funding healthcare for the needy. Knowing that you have contributed to a good cause makes that spectacular smile even more sincere and broader.

But let us not kid ourselves. Reality is still grim, but solidarity has helped it to put on a more festive face, not unlike your public-spirited smile. “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” said Mahatma Gandhi. The people of Barcelona no longer adapt to the city or meekly accept it; they are now learning how to manage it. And by making the city their own, by seeing that they can transform it, their enthusiasm is catching, and they try to help one another.

Several initiatives reveal an unseen, forgotten or hidden Barcelona. Here, the protest documentary Ciutat morta [Dead city].

Indeed, there are different initiatives ongoing to help you get to know the people around you better. SOS Racisme started up “Meals with the family next door” for residents from different cultural backgrounds to share meals. They thus start to break the ice while talking about independence, football and the recipe of what they are eating. In Barcelona, people of more than 150 different nationalities coexist, and shops and stores purvey ethnic products adapted to the new demands; the variety of purchasers is growing, as is that of the establishments’ owners.

In Sant Adrià de Besòs, in the section of the C-31 motorway that traverses the city, there is a photographic exhibition put on by the residents that clearly reflects this diversity. The youth group Taula Jove del Raval, together with organisations that fight social exclusion, started up a league between football teams to promote values such as teamwork, tolerance, respect and problem-solving among adolescents. The management team of the Fundació Arrels features two members with first-hand experience of being down and out. The Terrasseta restaurant in Gràcia doubles as a home-made fare eatery and soup kitchen. This city, devoid of architectural barriers, offers people with eyesight problems a home-loan book reading service and also transports medicine to the homes of people with mobility difficulties using WhatsApp, part of a trend to make sure that nobody feels invisible.

For some years now, the district of Ciutat Meridiana has been known as Evictionville. It is Barcelona’s poorest district, with the highest concentration of mortgage foreclosures in Spain. Its residents’ association is the main promoter of demonstrations to thwart evictions in the area, assisted by the Plataforma d’Afectats per la Hipoteca [Mortgage Victim Platform]. At its assemblies, where the people affected can have their say, “fraternity” is an oft-heard word.

Brotherhood as a value is gaining currency, as are the “occupational happiness recipes” cooked up by the IBO Foundation, the League of Pragmatic Optimists, or the BarcelonaActua solidarity social network. A university social responsibility entity has been created, and the organisations that look after people who live in the street have also promoted Hatento, an observatory that monitors hate crimes against the homeless.

There is a willingness to help to make Barcelona a city for everyone, and to do so with good vibes. Tell-all documentaries such as Ciutat Morta [Dead City] or Bye Bye Barcelona opened the public’s eyes and vitalised them. After using their right to protest with varying degrees of fortune they decided to take a different tack. Perhaps this attitude is somewhat naive, but the system works because it is attractive and pleasant; it does not scare off the more cautious people who also want to get involved. Everyone feels affected, and therefore involved as well. Slowly but surely it is yielding its fruits.

Llúcia Ramis


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