>Bringing Back the Barri Gòtic

>One of the joys of visiting Barcelona has always been to lose oneself in the twisting alleyways and stumble upon unexpected little squares in the Gothic Quarter or “Barri Gòtic”, the nucleus of the old city. Unfortunately, over the past ten years things have gone decidedly downhill in this area. The profusion of yobs, trashy shops, muggers, garbage, and graffiti has in some cases completely ruined the experience of dropping back a few centuries into the past, as one strolls down a little street so narrow that you can reach out your arms and touch the buildings on the respective sides of the street. Until recently, Barcelona seemed to be impotent to do anything about it.

And now a redoubtable woman, and one whom I have admittedly criticized previously, appears to be making a significant move to address the situation. Architect and city counselor for the Gothic Quarter Itziar González has helped to craft a number of restrictions and regulations for the district that will begin to come into effect in November. Some of these are particularly interesting, in that they may have a tremendous benefit to the residents and indeed to tourists – albeit not the drunks and the pickpockets who prey on them.

The plan would eliminate a number of 24-hour mini-marts that have been operating, selling liquor well into the night, and restricting the number of small and large supermarkets in certain zones of the old city based on the permanent population density. The plan also limits the construction of new hotels in the zone, as well as the increase in number of beds at the 160 hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, etc. that are already within the historical center of the district. At the same time it will provide incentives to hoteliers at the fringes of it to expand their accommodations, so as to get more people away from the tangled network of the old city center and encourage development elsewhere.

Fast-food joints will not be escaping unscathed either. The plan will limit the location of such establishments to the waterfront and to the four larger designated commercial streets in the Gothic Quarter, and ban them on any street in the zone. (In other words, no late night giant slice on the street in front of the Archbishop’s palace or City Hall, unless you brought it from somewhere else.)

These are, frankly, excellent steps being taken by Ms. González and the city council to address a number of long-standing problems in the area. When I was last there in December, I spotted a banner (reproduced below) on an apartment building next to the Basilica of La Mercè, where a resident complained that the entire neighborhood had been abandoned to drug dealers, people relieving themselves on the street, thieves, and drunks; the banner begged the city council to do something as the neighborhood felt abandoned. Clearly someone is listening, and one can only hope the city will be better for the effort.

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