jueves, 8 de noviembre de 2012

Barcelona’s Repensar Bon Pastor: A Collaboration of Anthropologists and Architects


Barcelona’s Repensar Bon Pastor: A Collaboration of
Anthropologists and Architects

Denise Lawrence-Zuniga
California State Polytechnic University

Repensar Bon Pastor (“Rethinking Bon Pastor”) is a multidisciplinary
collaboration between anthropologists and
architects–urban designers concerned about the proposed
demolition of one of Barcelona’s oldest public housing
projects, Bon Pastor (see http://repensarbonpastor.
wordpress.com/). This project reveals the possibilities of
social and political impacts when anthropologists collaborate
with environmental designers. The latter give visual
expression to ethnographic research that can be used to engage
andmobilize research subjects, and critique elite power
structures. This review is based on correspondence with
the participating anthropologists, review of the competition
website, and research documents posted by the collaborative
on their website (http://periferiesurbanes.org).

Located in the northern edge of the city, the lowincome,
low-density barriowas built in 1929 to houseworkers
whomigrated from rural Andalucia and Murcia. The 784
single-story worker cottages, or casa barates (“cheap” or economical
houses), are owned by Barcelona’s City Council and
leased to residents who informally pass them on to family
members. Lacking sufficient upkeep by the city, residents
have invested their own meager resources to maintain their
houses. In 2007, 145 of the houses were demolished as part
of the first phase of an urban renewal project, known as the
Plan de Remodelacion, which proposes to build 1,000 new
apartments in multistoried buildings on land currently occupied
by the barrio. The violent eviction of some residents
opposed to the project attracted public attention and outcry.
For critics, the urban renewal project was a speculative
neoliberal vision of public space planning that grew out of
Barcelona’s experiences with remaking the city for the 1992
Olympics. According to Barcelona anthropologist Manuel
Delgado, the city characterized the houses in Bon Pastor as
obsolete (“obsoleto”) and uninhabitable (“Vidas Baratas,” El
Pais, Feb. 13, 2007). Moreover, although the planning process
included a so-called “participatory” component, many
of the residents claimed their representatives in the Asociacion
de Vecinos (Residents’ Association), whose consent gave
legitimacy to the project,were co-opted by the City Council
and therefore did not actually speak for them. In 2007, after
the first phase of demolitions, architects at a local technical
college organized a seminar and workshop in the neighborhood.
Their investigations into the physical conditions of
the remaining buildings determined that Bon Pastor houses
had historic significance as early 20th century “social housing”
and exhibited conditions that could be repaired without
resorting to demolition.
From the very beginning some residents had also opposed
the city’s project, and in 2003 they formed the Avis
del Barri (Catalan for “Grandparents of the Quarter”). Because
some anthropologists were already involved in organizing
residents of several Barcelona neighborhoods to oppose
real estate speculation, Avis del Barri approached them
for help in documenting their claims of resident opposition.
Anthropologists conducted an initial 100 interviews with
residents in 2004 to provide that support. By 2009, Avis
del Barri, with support from Professor Delgado at the University
of Barcelona, received funding from the Generalitat
de Catalunya’s IPEC (Inventory of Ethnological Patrimony)
program for an ethnographic study entitled “Social struggles
and collective memory in Barcelona’s casa baratas.”
The three anthropologists–oral historians who oversaw the
study, Stefano Portelli, Nuria Sanchez Armengol, and Ulrike
Viccaro, proclaimed they were not “academics” but participants
in a “social movement.” They formed the “Peripheries
Urbanes” collective within the Catalan Institute of Anthropology.
These are activist anthropologists who collaborated
with barrio residents in participant-observation research and
conducting over 250 interviews to develop a comprehensive
understanding of the barrio with which to contest the claims
of the city, press, and Asociacion de Vecinos.
The Bon Pastor research documented residents’ strong
sense of place and attachment toward their houses and neighborhoods
and described the sense of familial relations and
long-term social ties that held the community together (see
http://periferiesurbanes.org for details). The researchers
also revealed how residents had internalized the City Council’s
discourse of power that stigmatized them by association
with their “cheap” dwellings. They argue that stigma
inhibited residents from fully expressing their rejection of
the “modernization” project, which, rather than enabling
their escape from poverty, would evict them from their
Government stigmatization of working-class families
as living in “blighted” housing has justified urban renewal
In searching for a way to intervene in Barcelona’s urban
renewal project, anthropologists collaborated with architects
who had also been working in Bon Pastor. They decided
to convene a “competition,” typically used in the design
professions for exploring architectural solutions, to create a
space for dialogue between residents and experts in imagining
what Bon Pastor could become. They judged entries
according to four criteria: respect for social, historical, and
architectural patrimony of the Casas Barates; a resident participation
component; interdisciplinarity; and feasibility and
sustainability. Of the 45 proposals presented, the jury, which
included anthropologists (among them, Harvard’s Michael
Herzfeld), architects, and an activist, selected 20 projects
and gave out four awards. A wide variety of issues were considered
among all the projects, some of which included the
social effects of real estate speculation, the unique lifestyle
of single-story residential neighborhoods, and the power of
developing a new collective memory to counter stigma—as
well as recommendations for physical designs.
Although the proposals have not yet had an effect on
Barcelona’s City Council’s thinking about saving the casas
barates, they are being used by anthropologists to further engage
residents in rethinking the material conditions of home
and to reconstruct identities and revitalize barrio social life.
The proposals are also evidence of a collective discourse
among residents, anthropologists, and environmental designers
aimed at critiquing Barcelona’s neoliberal planning
paradigm, although it is already weakened by the worsening
economic crisis in Spain. With the fate of the proposed
urban renewal project still unclear, public anthropologists’
collaboration with socially conscious architects has produced
research with a highly visual dimension that engages communities
where they live in a language intelligible to political
elites. These multiple outcomes may be well worth overcoming
the challenges of working in a cross-disciplinary
Denise Lawrence-Zuniga Professor, Department of Architecture
California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, Pomona

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