Barcelona, ​​joy and order: natural and artificial aspects of a unique city

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Barcelona, ​​joy, and order: natural and artificial aspects of a unique city

CityMakers is working with ArchDaily to publish a series of articles, conversations, and interviews with the different actors of the city co-production behind CityMakers Barcelona Lab 2022. This event will take place from November 14th to 18th. On this occasion, Camilo Osorio, Architect and Master in Urban and Territorial Development at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia – Barcelona Tech, presents his article “Barcelona: Joy and Order.” The natural and artificial gifts of an exemplary city”.

When we set out to write a scientifically sound article, we often find ourselves in the position of avoiding anecdotes or simply reports of experiences that subjectively marked us in some way. On the contrary, perhaps without realizing it, what leads us to a plausible thesis does not rule out intrinsically personal experiences. For example, it is quite likely that Jane Jacobs (may 4th in, 1916, USA) concluded that a street is safer when there is informal surveillance (“eyes on the street”), thanks to the fact that, among others, she walked the streets of some cities. This shows the conclusive power of observation.

Thus, all or almost all experiences that allow us to understand the world better have to do with getting to know new places or people. But, intimately, we are, even professionally, the places we’ve been and the people we’ve met. That’s why I dare to write in the first person, to say how I concluded that Barcelona is what it is because two values ​​come together: joy and order.

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Barrios Poble Sec and Sant Antoni de Barcelona: Image of the public digital archive. Image Courtesy of CityMakers

It all started ten years ago when I was living in London, and Víctor Torres invited me to visit Barcelona, ​​where he lived. It so happened that, that weekend, the La Merce, a kind of village folk festival, was taking place, but in this case at the city level. Every corner was filled with joy: concerts, art exhibitions, festivals, and all sorts of cultural and leisure activities that made an already vibrant city especially attractive to all those who, like me, lived in gray and bustling towns.

That weekend, Barcelona left me with a deep concern about the qualities a city should have to offer its inhabitants a better quality of life. I discovered that the sun, good food, the sea, and smiles could make everyday life in a city less burdensome, things that I missed from time to time in London. In a way, they were, in my view, characteristics associated more with joy or that, at least for many, evoke joy. All this would lead me to return to Barcelona often and later to settle there.

My search for a city where I could find relative fulfillment (or anything like that) made me think that joy, in its broadest sense, was just a fundamental value for a city to be an excellent place to live. However, she alone would never be enough to achieve such a laudable goal. If there are sun, sea, and smiles, but maddening mobility, polluted air, insufficient or poor quality public space, or decaying or non-existent facilities, there is no city for life or not so much for life that aims at achievement. In any case, although I didn’t know if Barcelona was also endowed with these artificial things decided to move, moved only by the sun, the sea, and the smiles.

As soon as I moved to Barcelona, ​​the city showed me, in fact, an artificial order. It was the order of its morphology, streets, public transport network, and nearby facilities and services. All this was, in my opinion, an artificial and splendid order created for people to live their daily lives with less stress.

Especially in the early years, I walked with great admiration through the district of Eixample, Cerdá; I used the buses and trains that took me from place to place with extraordinary efficiency; I studied in public libraries contemplating the interiors of the green blocks; I did my weekly shopping at a street market less than a block from home. I couldn’t complain.

Later I started working in District 22@, and I saw how many SMEs, startups, and tech payments were settling here in an old industrial area, barren and empty at night. Many weekends I”IBA de cañas” (“go out for drinks”) in small neighborhood bars where tactical versions of the superblocks were beginning to be implemented. I spent hours reading in the interior gardens of the blocks, many of which had been restored to compensate for the scarcity of parks and green spaces. I lay on the beaches of La Barceloneta, Bogatell, and not Forum, all backyards of polluting industries before the 1992 Olympic Games. The experience of living in Barcelona made me see how a city that promised little just three decades ago has given way to the quality of life, opportunities, comfort, and travel. Diary of a “normal” and dignified life; without so many fears. So, I stayed in Barcelona for six years without overthinking it.

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Parc de La Solidaritat in Barcelona. Photography Camilo Osorio. Image Courtesy of CityMakers

Far to the north of the world, I found order but no joy, and far to the south of the world, I found joy but no order. I stayed in Barcelona ​​because I had a little bit of each.

If I may make a final note, and almost as a footnote, Barcelona, ​​despite having all these facilities and the experience of living it fully and learning from it, still has a debt to settle: social cohesion. It is not entirely understandable that a city, which has been global and welcoming, is being tainted by the shame of fanatical and silently destructive nationalism. When the town has the mission to unite all its inhabitants, which is not only to make it happy and orderly but also global and free from any social fracture or recalcitrant nationalism, it will be the best city in the world.

Camilo Osorio is an Architect and Master in Urban and Territorial Development from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia – Barcelona Tech. He is an expert in urban planning and security. For over 15 years, he has been developing architectural and urban projects worldwide, especially in Colombia, Mexico, England, China, and Spain. He has also worked with local governments to design and implement public policies for urban development, social housing, and neighborhood rehabilitation. He has participated as a speaker at several congresses.

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