Commerce and the pedestrianization of streets in Barcelona: 50 years of love and hate

Half a century has passed since the first urban action in Barcelona which had as its object transform a street of cars in a walkway for pedestrians. It was Portal de l’Angel and the chronicles of the time agree that the dialogue was not easy with the merchants, who at first were reluctant to change, but finally, over the years, collaborated in the improvement of the environment, even with money out of your own pocket. She before she had already acted in smaller streetslike that of the Boqueria or Petritxolbut the commercial avenue that dies in the chaotic Plaza de Catalunya They were big words. It was, after all, the first proposal with a superapple aroma.

The suspicion of some ‘botiguers’ was very similar to the one distilled in the press release that Workforce Development shared last weekend and in which he echoed a self-made study that estimates that the municipal plan for green axes It will be a black hole for merchants and restaurateurs. Nothing less than the loss of 25,000 jobs and 20% less than billing for both unions. This newspaper asked the Catalan employers on Monday, and again on Thursday, about the details of this report, about how these numbers had been arrived at. There has been no response, but that is not the object of this articleas are the coincidences with what happened 50 years ago: the fear of change already the unknown.

1973, fir trees in Portal de l’Àngel

In the 70s there was talk of a pedestrian island. The subject was not gratuitous, since it implied that it was a portion of something (a street with no or fewer vehicles) very different from everything that surrounded it (roads with hardly any space for pedestrians). The government of Mayor Enric Masó, in power since the assassination of Luis Carrero White until the death of Francisco Francothat is, from 1973 to 1975, was the promoter of an idea that cities like Tarragona or Santa Coloma de Farners they followed soon after in their more commercial corridors. In the case of Barcelona, ​​it happened in the middle of December 1973, when traffic strangulation meant a bunch of Christmas trees set up in the middle of the street. all that vegetationalso the planters located on both sides of the avenue, were tactical urbanism, since the Comprehensive and definitive reform of Portal de l’Àngel It wouldn’t make it to 90.

Convincing the merchants was no easy task. From the association then called Barnacentro, Amadeo Bagues said in January 1974 that the volume of sales had grown compared to the previous year, but also claimed more cleaningextend the hours of unloading of goods and increased local police presence to drive away the careless; demands, all of them, that have not gone out of style over the decades. They did not see it so clearly in the Commission of Merchants and Residents of Carrer de la Boqueriawhose president, Juan Frias, called on Mayor Masó to put an end to the perimeter closure. They even asked for it in writing, first with 280 ‘botiguers’ and industrial firms that a few months later there were already more than 500. Among their arguments, the damage caused to garages and hotels in the area was already Medical consultations whose patients could not drive to the door. Unlike Bagués, Frías assured that the billing was equal to or less than Christmas 1972. They requested, in short, to return to the “previous situation of free transit“.

The balance of Sant Antoni

Foment estimates in its report on the 21 axes green than merchants and restaurateurs of the affected areas will earn 20% less. That, for the moment, has not happened in any of the ‘superblocks’ deployed in Barcelona since they were released in 1993 in the Born. Rather the opposite has happened. Although, like in the 70s, it depends on who you ask. In July 2021, Barcelona Oberta presented a survey that reflected that practically all of the ‘botiguers’ of Sant Antoni considered that the ‘superblock’ had made it difficult for their clients to access the area (especially those who came from outside Barcelona) and had reduced their salesin addition to showing lack of cleaning and maintenance.

The city council, however, contracted with data a few months later: the number of transactions was similar to the pre-pandemic and the global one in the pacified nucleus (in Masó’s time the most accurate “humanized” was used) was very superior to the records of the rest of the city. The real estate consultant Laborde Marcet supported the municipal point of view by calculating in 2021 that businesses located in places without cars invoice 30% more than those of the adjacent streetswhere the car has more prominence and the sidewalks are more of a runner than a ride. They defined, after all, a two-speed Barcelona: the one inside the humanized nuclei and the one that remains outside. According to this company, the premises located on these pedestrian lanes revalue their price up to 20%. Portal de l’Àngel can write a thesis on the subject, since it has been, for more than 10 years, the shopping street with the most expensive square meter in all of Spain. Hence, it only remains, as a store of all life, outside the giant thermometer that Cottet hung in 1956, Planelles Donat and its nougats and sweets handmade.

The town hall, as happens with any public project that has to do with the street, made changes and modified schedules. But he did not give in and kept the pedestrian island despite the reluctance of a business sector. Over the years, in fact, and already with Pasqual Maragall in the mayor’s office, the role of the ‘botiguers’ would be essential for Portal de l’Àngel to become what it is today at the public thoroughfare level. what of the gentrification -of families and shops of a lifetime, including the Paris cinema (1928-2007)- is another matter. Years before, with democracy in its infancy, merchants even requested and promoted the humanization of streets like Avinyó, Ample, Ferran or Jaume I.

The false ruin of Plaça Reial

Also in the royal square the passage of vehicles and parking was prohibited, something that today seems impossible to happen. He had to negotiate, accept exceptions, create permissions, give in. agree to get a more walkable Gòtic and less circulatable. Interestingly, those opposed to all that used arguments very similar to those put forward now by Foment. “It creates a difficult situation for us, really discriminatory and distressingwith great loss and damage for all of us and certain ruin for many“, they complained in 1974 in ‘La Vanguardia’. If the ruin is that the large multinationals they would start kicking them out 30 years later, they hit the nail on the head. A lot would have to do with five-digit rents. Interestingly, a study by the Chamber of Commerce carried out in 1975 already pointed out as one of the virtues the revaluation of the premises located within the perimeter of the pacification. That is, that the old ‘no parking, no business‘ was not entirely true.

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The paving of streets and the arrival of unique platforms was not produced until 1985, with first performances in Portaferrissa, Cucurulla or Boters. Portal de l’Àngel was one of the last to be transformed. It happened in 1991, after years of tactical urbanism, by the way. All these interventions were performed with public-private financing, with merchants contributing money based on the square footage of their store. In Portaferrisa, for example, they paid 8,000 pesetas per linear meter plus another 300 per square meter of surface. The Leoni shop it was one of those that contributed the most in an improvement carried out in the mid-1990s, with a total of 250,990 pesetas (about 1,500 euros). In the case of Portal de l’Àngel, the ‘botiguers’ disbursed 25 of the 350 million pesetas that the work cost, according to figures from Barna Centre. That coincided with the municipal decree that Maragall made public in 1995, under the title of ‘pedestrian rights‘, called to recover for the passer-by “spaces that on certain main roads were destined primarily for the vehicle”.

Now money is no longer asked of the ‘botiguers’. At most, that they collaborate with local festivals or in the correct waste managementin addition to the taxes who pay for their economic activity, which are not few. The past experience is what it is, the distant one (Gòtic) and the closest one (Sant Antoni). But only time and the progressive growth of the green axis plan that this year should start with Consell de CentThey will pass judgment.

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