Thursday, September 8, 2011

Barcelona: Day 15 : The Contemporary European City .

Today was the first day of a class I like to call European Cities, even though it's something much more complex and longer than that. European Cities is certainly enough words to say... The class is sort of a mix of a lecture class and the travel class that we have. Often it seems as if we start things in class and then get out there and go see them. Thus, today, we began taking a virtual walk through the city, starting from the east and moving west.

Barcelona is actually the densest city in Europe. I can relate, I come from one of the most dense states in the country back home. Barcelona is actually a lot smaller than most cities, but that comes from partially from the limits that so rigidly define its existence. The city stretches from west to east, with the airport and the Llobregat area on the western edge. Fun fact: the airport is actually a really cool stretch of land because when you are landing you come in right above the Mediterranean, and it's absolutely gorgeous.

Because the water is at one end of Barcelona and there are mountains at the other, there is a constant slope that leads from the water up to the mountains, and eventually leads over the mountains. Oddly enough, the original Barcelona was very much a rural area -- the old city is dwarfed by the current size of Barcelona and all its suburbs.

To me, it feels like a very strange area, but it certainly carries some similarities with other places I have been. The main thing is that it grew and developed in an entirely different part of the world -- not to mention a much older part of the world. Things are just different, and also evolve differently.

There were three major things that really jumpstarted Barcelona and changed it forever. The first is the Telefoneric Tower, the second is the W Hotel that emerged right on the coastline of the new port area, and third is the coming of the Olympics in 1992 that really opened the city to the sea. Originally, there was one road that was a very distinct barrier between Barcelona and the sea. With the planning of the Olympics, Barcelona suddenly became an instant tourist destination. And what would a tourist destination be without beautiful accessible beaches?

Barcelona has always been considered a city of big ideas, a sort of 'avant garde' feeling. It is also emerging into a biking city, when the Bicing company brought in public bikes in 2007. According to our studio professors, cars really hate bikes and bikers... the city has a lot of potential for bike transportation and bike lanes but it's just not ready for it yet.

We went on to talk about some major buildings and landmarks in Barcelona and how they have sort of affected the city. Everything from towers to flea markets was mentioned. There was also mention of a great contrast between the green areas and the skyline. Even in the city, there are a lot more green public spaces popping up and trees within the urban areas. There are lots of squatter movements, as the economy gets worse and people are forced out of their homes due to rising rent prices. Everything becomes more expensive, and at some point people can't afford it. Strangely enough, these squatters aren't hiding from anyone -- they proudly proclaim their existence, and publicly express their frustration with the state of things and the housing situations all across the city with banners hung out their balconies. At some point we need to look at things and ask, what qualifies as dignified living?

There is a lot of industrial heritage in parts of the city, particularly in Poble Nou, where we will be doing our major studio project, and there is always a struggle of whether to demolish, renovate, or completely rebuild certain areas. A lot are in agreement to keep reminders of the industries past, and it is actually a law to keep the smokestacks from factories intact and in place as a constant reminder.

We basically moved through the entirety of the city (not literally) touching on things such as The Diagonal, The Forum, the AVE train, the Llobregat Border, and several other key elements of the city. We finished off the class with a walk to a library where we can apparently spend time if we wish. It's got tons of architectural stuff in tons of languages -- the only catch is that its open hours basically suck. I don't think we'll get there much -- but if we can that'd be great because it's air-conditioned!

European Cities should be a really interesting class, and with the occasional walks, just the right mix of lecture and hands-on experience.

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