By Alexander McSpadden (bcn-metropolitan).

On paper, the 22@ plan appears difficult to argue with: the construction of 3.2 million square metres of new and refurbished space for various uses, 3,500-4,000 new units of protected housing and the provision of approximately 220,000 square metres of land for new public facilities and green spaces, as well as creating up to 100,000 new jobs in the area. What effect all this construction and renewal will have on Poblenou's traditional identity and community, may not be known for years.

Will Poblenou transform into a new Soho as some fear and others hope? That may seem like a leap of the imagination to some, and so far no Prada or Giorgio Armani stores can be found along its tranquil Rambla, but the ubiquitous presence of gigantic yellow cranes and construction crews points to an uncertain future for the working-class neighbourhood.

Known as Cataluyna's Manchester, Poblenou has a rich industrial heritage, and at the beginning of the 20th century had the greatest concentration of factories in the region. During the 1860s, its isolated location, separated from the old city by the Ciutadella, its proximity to the port and Barceloneta, and excellent connection with the coastal railway system made Poblenou an ideal spot for industry.

The textile industry and early modern industries like whitening, printing and finishing sectors established hubs in the zone, which filled with robust brick industrial complexes, accompanied by spiring chimneys and water towers. The ornamentation of the factories is limited, but often there is some ceramic on the towers and beautiful, functional forged iron supports.

A period of industrial decline brought about by global restructuring of industrial production. began in the late Sixties. With the relocation and the dismantling of existing industry, the old industrial sites were largely abandoned or broken up into smaller spaces for carpenters and other craftspeople. From within this industrial decay, a small but sizeable artistic community emerged as different creative types (painters, sculptors, designers, theatre companies, and architects) moved into the neighbourhood to occupy the vacated factories and warehouses.

The artistic community did not move in overnight, but little by little achieved a critical mass in the area by the late Eighties. The artists formed different associations and collectives depending on the building and their location within the building. By the mid-Nineties, several major cultural production centres had been established in former industrial complexes like the Caminal, Can Ricart, Makabra, and La Escocesa, among others, hosting hundreds of artists. The artists have become a small presence within the larger Poblenou community. Though the artists are often isolated in their own creative worlds, significant numbers of artist associations and collectives regularly collaborate and participate in the neighbourhood's festes. They also organise an annual festival when they open their studios to the neighbourhood, and host conferences, film screenings and parties. “It's evident that these types of artistic initiatives have benefited the neighbourhood,” said Aurora López Corduente, Director of City Planning for 22@, the public/private consortium in charge of the urban planning of Poblenou.

A visit to any of the ‘art factories' evokes the romantic image of the bohemian artist struggling away in a decrepit space chock full of clutter and eccentric contraptions, and bubbling over with creative energy. “The open lay-out of the industrial halls, with creative people from diverse disciplines sharing the same space has provided for an extremely fruitful work environment,” explained Marco Norris, an Italian painter and web designer who works in the La Escocesa, at Carrer Pere IV, 345.

Now, less than a decade since they first moved into La Escocesa, the artists find that their inexpensive studio space and collective experiment has fallen victim to the combination of rising property values and the 22@ plan, designed to convert the industrial sector of Poblenou into a high-tech, ‘knowledge-based' economic zone.

The building's owner, Renta Corporación, has negotiated the departure of each of the complex's different associations. Norris, like many of the building's residents including the avant-garde La Cónica/Lacónica theatre company, admitted that Renta's offers were “fair”. But, he added, “We felt that we had our hands tied, only having month-to-month rental contracts and fearing that we would be kicked out at the end of the month with nothing.” Norris tentatively plans to look for a smaller space in another neighbourhood, but others like the La Cónica/Lacónica troupe—residing in Poblenou since the company's founding in 1995—have said they will have to look for reasonably priced places outside of the city.

When asked about the future use of the rehabilitated building, Teresa Lloret, a Renta Corporación spokesperson, said, “It was a deteriorated building that we needed to fix up. Since it is a joint-project with the Ajuntament, [Renta Corporación] will follow all the instructions of city hall with the building and setting it up for public and private services. Part of the building will be for private residential use.”

She said that the artists currently in residence were “a grain of sand in the overall large-scale transformation of Poblenou and Barcelona. The building was a dead zone, and the surrounding area poor and depressing. We will help recover the building for the neighbourhood and now everything will be raised to a much better level.”

Public opinion about the complex and constantly evolving 22@ urban renewal plan, which La Escocesa's rehabilitation forms part of, are as numerous as the neighbourhood's chimney stacks. A sizeable contingent of people remain suspicious as to what a “much better level” means to current residents. For many it sounds like gentrification. “It is an attempt to standardise and homogenise the neighbourhood to fit Barcelona's high-tech design image,” argued Poblenou resident and cultural critic, Alex Brahim.

While recognising that the future use of the public facilities of La Escosesa is still “undefined,” López Corduente affirmed that “they would continue to contemplate facilities for artists in the building” and pointed out that “the artist production centre, Hangar, in Can Ricart, would remain, and another contiguous hall will be destined for similar use after its rehabilitation.” The end result being that loss of art spaces would only be temporary.

For life-long Poblenou resident and owner of the recently-opened NIU art exhibition space, Sergi Bueno Navarro, even the temporary loss of the artist studios and workshops amounts to a terrible mistake on the part of the Ajuntament. “The artists can't wait around two years. They will disperse out into the periphery or out of Barcelona. The Ajuntament has missed a golden chance to catalyse and create an artistic community with a real international projection, but now they will just lose them.”

For now, we can only hope that their former spaces don't follow the path of Soho and eventually end up as trendy shoe stores.

Miembro de:

Fàbricas de CreacióXarxaProd

Con el apoyo de:

Ajuntament de BarcelonaGeneralitat de Catalunya - Departament de Cultura

Gestionada por:

Associació d'Idees EMA

En colaboración con:

08 Birra artesanaGRAF AgendaRAIMA