The Metaphysics of Zoning

Welcome to one of Barcelona’s “newest” green zones. Barely a year old, it’s located one block off Las Ramblas, the old city’s main tourist drag, in the neighborhood of El Raval. It’s named Plaça del Bonsuccés.

Now, you might be thinking to yourselves: this sure doesn’t look very new. Those trees are way too mature for a newly created public space. It’s probably been like that for decades, or centuries. Indeed, physically speaking, nothing whatsoever has changed in this space. Metaphysically speaking, however, this is “new” green space because it has only recently been rezoned as such. Before, it was a zona viària, or “street zone.”

Why the zoning change? In the old part of Barcelona, there’s a law that says “no building shall be erected on public space unless the space lost is compensated by the creation of a new public space within the same district,” eg. through urban spongification or the conversion of empty lots into plazas or parks. The reason public space is protected by law in old Barcelona is because it is scarce and highly vulnerable to development pressure.

As it turns out, that is exactly what is happening to the Plaça dels Àngels in the El Raval neighborhood, where the MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona) wants to build an expansion that would eat up 908 m2 of its public space. The development pressure is being exerted by the wealthy business élite that controls the MACBA Board of Trustees, and Barcelona City Council is caving-in to this pressure by changing the zoning of a good chunk of la Plaça dels Àngels, which they could only justify by creating a new public space of equal size nearby. Guess where. Yup, they found an existing green space that just so happened not to be zoned as such, and voilá, there’s now a “new” public space to compensate for the loss of the “old” one. Pretty damn clever, eh?

In reality, of course, there is a net loss of public space. But as we all know, metaphysics doesn’t concern itself with reality.

908 m2 area of public space that has been rezoned to accommodate MACBA’s expansion plan

Please consider signing this petition to save Plaça dels Àngels

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