Rita Laura Segato, in an event at the Biennal, on 16 October.
PHOTOS: MIQUEL TAVERNA
TEXT: GUILLEM MARTÍNEZ
SELFACTINAS. Hello. Here we are hurrying towards the Mercat de Sant Antoni, one of the BCN markets that evokes the most mixed emotions. I’ll explain about this part of BCN. Here we go. It all began in 1854, with the birth of a new union and a wildcat strike against the selfactinas. The selfactinas were amazing. They were a new type of self-acting spinning mule from the UK. They were all automatic, they even had the Wi-Fi of the era, which was probably a water bottle. Introducing a selfactina in a factory meant firing workers. They won the strike, and BCN banned selfactinas. But there was a new Captain General - called Zapatero, with a new impetus - who legalised selfactinas again, and a series of events meant a firing squad for Josep Barceló, the union leader of BCN. This in turn led to the first state-wide general strike, which was crushed the old-fashioned way. In other words, with a massacre. What does all this have to do with the Mercat de Sant Antoni? Not much, but it’s powerful. Barceló was shot right there, on a spot which 30 years later became a market. A market which on Sundays, when closed, attracted parents and children who came here to swap trading cards. It’s where all of BCN came to find the card they were missing. Basically, a union, a strike is looking for the missing card. So I suppose, although they didn’t realise it, every Sunday BCN paid homage to BCN in trading cards. Meanwhile, the Mercat de Sant Antoni is very beautiful. Cast-iron architecture. You see the building and you see its structure. Being able to see the structure of things is lovely. If you don’t see them it makes you dumb. There is an urban legend that underneath the market was the world’s largest termite hill, and that all the houses around were full of termites. Recently some building work here uncovered a bit of the Roman Via Augusta and the surrounding walls of a bastion of the most invaded city on the Peninsula. So it was a pretty bad bastion. The event I’m going to is in that bastion, now restored, in the market basement. So by association, the event is about fragile defences against invasions, by selfactinas, by strikes, by termites, by markets.
IMPORTANT EVENTS. The events of Ciutat Oberta are going great, by the way. In a sign of the times, the most popular are about the personal-and-political-options pack. A few hours ago, an event with Paul B. Preciado and Eloy Fernández Porta – “Gender, sex and sexuality in techno-patriarchal capitalism: a mutation of the paradigm” was so crowded it blocked the street where it was held, as if there was a factory with selfactinas there. I’m also told Marina Garcés and Gayatri Spivak’s event –The education of the future– was a hit. I’m not going because I’m hurrying to the Mercat de Sant Antoni. It’s impossible to see all the events. If you’re interested you can find them on YouTube if you search for the event title. Some of them events described by the public. If you go there, click on ‘apunts col·laboratius’ and access that wonder we call collective narration. Wow, I got to Mercat de Sant Antoni. I haven’t been here since it reopened. The bastion is beautiful. And, given what we know of the 17th and 18th centuries, when the city walls of BCN were a sieve, useless.
SELFACTINAS 2.0: BCN is, against its will, the city which thought most about its planning in the 19th century. The Eixample, the neighbourhood designed by Cerdà, a federalist of the time – i.e., a libertarian, socialistic republican – designed a city without districts. In other words, without social differences. His city obliged social classes to live in the same building. The rich on the lower floors, the poor on the upper floors. This would make them talk to each other, and stop the brutality. It didn’t work. Or not much. The planning options of Cerdà didn’t last a second. And the city kept up its social brutality in other neighbourhoods. Until the Civil War, the neighbourhoods were places for living and working. Under Franco, where people lived and worked moved further apart. You worked in one place and lived in another. This produced two areas of resistance: at work, against the selfactinas of the era, and in the neighbourhood, against the other selfactinas of the era. These days it isn’t clear where residents of Barcelona live and where they work. Like all the big destination cities of Europe, it feels like they don’t anywhere. A selfactina called tourism, or housing-acquired-by-funds, has changed everything. The housing crisis is now out of hand. Just as out of hand as the economic crisis. The event I’ve come to see talks about that: Without neighbourhoods there is no Barcelona. Urban rehabilitation and the right to the city. And it’s called together the who’s who of town planning. Oriol Nel.lo, a geographer specialising in urban studies and zoning, and chair of the BCN District Plan Advisory Committee; Gaia Redaelli, an architect from Milan, ex-general director of Rehabilitation and Architecture in the Junta de Andalucía; Carme Trilla, an economist specialising in public housing policies, chair of the BCN Housing Observatory; and Jaime Palomera. Palomera, a social anthropologist, is the spokesperson of the Tenants’ Union, a symbol of everything that’s happening. The housing problems which led to peak owner evictions at the start of the economic crisis has become a crisis, affecting similar numbers, of evicted tenants. The Tenants’ Union, which has taken the role of the PAH in the rental jungle, with practically no resources except for pressure, has been able to win some notable victories against a few landlords. Housing, in BCN and in other European capitals, has become the new selfactina. The place where you are exploited now is not just your job. It’s your bed. Or your lack of one. The crisis is so huge that for the first time, something is happening. In the institutional order. The Ajuntament, with hardly any public housing to let, has issued a law obliging developers to reserve 30% of new homes for public housing. Let’s see how this ends. How the owners of the selfactinas defend themselves. The last time they defended themselves, this market did not yet exist.
LA COSA. Oriol Nel.lo explains a city: “There is no life without neighbourhoods, nor neighbourhoods without the right to housing”. Gaia Radaelli: “The Europe of cities and citizens is the European project”, “gentrification may decide the future of Europe”, “we have lost the old quarter of Lisbon, which now belongs to investment funds and cannot be planned. Venice is the most obvious case. If Venice dies, all the cities will die”, and this would be “the opposite of citizenship, the power of citizens against the force of a global power”. Jaime Palomera: “This is the deepest and most different housing crisis”, “capitalism is mutating. The place of suffering is now not work but the home”, "the law of supply and demand does not exist in housing, because the profits are planned by the State and the banks". Example: “three-year contracts are for three years because that’s the legal tax-exemption limit for investment funds”, “30% of funds are invested in cities, in a business defended by the State”. “The solution is collective. Housing must have the same statutes as education and healthcare”. Carme Trilla talks about the unique features of the housing phenomenon in BCN, to then explain universal issues and the measures needed in a city for planning housing: “the right to explore any town planning initiative by the Ajuntament”, “taking 30% of housing off the market”, “rehabilitation”, “the existence of private operators of social rentals”, “controlling the uses of housing”, “planning and predicting the evolution of society”.
MORE TO COME TOMORROW. I don’t know if I mentioned it, but there’s more to come tomorrow.
In partnership with the journal CTXT. Context and Action