4 May 2011

Viva Espana, Part 1

We've been away in Spain, where we took a trip out of Barcelona - where Marga is currently teaching at the School of Architecture - to Sitges. This was a renowned centre of counterculture in the past, which continues into the present in the form of a Carnival and film festival. Proximity to Barcelona means it is a popular weekend day-trip for the citizens of Barcelona, and the  admirable attitude to city planning that we all know from Barcelona is of course present in Sitges too - as it is all across Spain. I was struck by the simple example of the car park we parked in (there were 9 of us in the car, so an attempt to make an efficient journey was made). The car park has been excavated beneath an existing street, on several levels with simple access ramps, lifts and stairs arriving at pavement levels above - where the street has been re-instated over the parking bays.

I realise it may be heretical for a cyclist to wax lyrical about a car park, but I believe the approach in Sitges to this simple intervention belies a more mature and long-term approach to urban thinking than has ever been the case in the UK. It would be highly unlikley for a similarly sized seaside town in Britain to fund an underground carpark of this scale, preferring probably the above ground or multi-storey approach. And yet this solution in Sitges re-instated and significantly improved the public realm, left the scale of the area intact, hid cars away out of sight and ensured that the people were made to feel important, rather than overpowering them with a massive visible sign of car domination.

What a tragic lack of confidence we have in our own rights as citizens that we don't seem to demand the same quality of urban spaces and experiences that are common in Spain for instance. We deserve better, but we will never get it unless we believe we deserve it.

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