Issue 07, January 2008
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April 26, 2007
Alfonso Valenzuela-Aguilera

Professor Alfonso Valenzuela-AguilerarOn April, 26 2007, the Onassis Foundation Scholars’ Association organized a lecture by Professor Alfonso Valenzuela-Aguilera of the Universidad Nacional Autónomade México and visiting scholar of the University of California at Bekeley (Institute of Urban and Regional Development) on «The Invention of Heritage: Recent urban interventions in Europe and Latin America» the ceremonies' hall of the Athens Foundation.

The Invention of Heritage: Recent urban interventions in Europe and Latin America

The contemporary city is going through a process of functional specialization aiming at becoming more competitive within the market system, for which the full development of new centralities is mandatory in order to reactivate the economic tissue and guarantee social cohesion. Urban centralities represent strategic landmarks on the territory, which should be regarded as a major component of the global policies of the cities. These centers embrace the essential cultural elements to be used as a starting point for the strategies of urban revitalization design, as well as for the conception of specific instruments such as programs and regulations, in order to attain the preservation of the built environment. There are some remarkable examples of plans and programs for the recovery of centrality, such as the Politique de la Ville in Paris, the new Piano delle Certezze to be implemented in Rome, and the Ciutat Vella program for the city of Barcelona, where specific strategies were designed to permit the recuperation of the urban centralities of the historic inner city areas, both preserving and empowering the community in the process. The present paper aims to assess the strategies developed for the aforementioned cases, as well as the key role of the community in the design, promotion, and operation of the plans and programs, from which valuable guidelines and lessons will be extracted concerning the recovery of the patrimonial value of the inner city urban structures.

Left: Ciutat Vella and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona<br>Right: Housing rehabilitation and public spaces
Left: Ciutat Vella and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona
Right: Housing rehabilitation and public spaces

Even though the strategies of revitalization of the inner city are by no means new, there is some recent evidence that they have been considered to be representative of “smart growth” or within the strategies of urban competitiveness that aim to place the assets of a city within the global market of investments. Nevertheless, these strategies tend to privilege the economic reactivation of specific areas, leaving behind the creation of jobs, the participation of the residents in the formulation of the priorities of the project, as well as the mechanisms to create or enhance a sense of community. Contemporary cities are immersed in processes of macroeconomic globalization, in which the location of investments is a decisive factor for the future development of the metropolitan areas. Under this approach, the main goal for the local administration would be to program a limited number of strategic objectives, towards which the financial, technical and administrative conditions would be oriented in order to accomplish the economic strategy of the city.

Nevertheless, this seemingly vicious circle of plans and programs that reach goals and objectives of a strategic nature is at the same time generating dual processes, in which the economic, social and urban differentiation comes close to the polarization of a shared reality. Since the publication of Michael Porter’s controversial article on the competitive advantages of the inner city, the academic debate has no longer been centered on the convenience of redeveloping the inner city, but rather on the social dimensions of the operation. Without the intention of ignoring the economic advantages of taking an entrepreneurial approach as a platform for the development of the city, it is essential to introduce social, political, economic and environmental components into urban policies and strategies, in order to encourage residents and institutions to participate as main actors, who, after all, will be those that will sustain and shape the general initiatives. Due to the configuration and compact structure characterizing great parts of the European cities, it is not surprising that there exist some interesting examples of urban interventions concerned with the inherent complexity implied by the redevelopment of inner city areas as an alternative to the prevailing sprawl schemes. It can be suggested that in the vast majority of cases, it has become evident that the economic reactivation is not enough to sustain the social structure, especially when inherent differences, fractures, and discontinuities within the territory are generated, which prevents the construction of firm foundations to guarantee a sustainable development of the cities. Moreover, the economic dimension that the urban planning entails is necessarily echoed in the concentration of resources, infrastructure and services on specific points in the territory, leaving vast areas of non-strategic land behind the general development scheme. It can be claimed that sustainability is becoming a priority within the urban development strategies, as a means to anticipate and prevent social conflicts in the near future. The consideration of the social dimension as a point of departure for the urban policy-making has become the axis of the instrumentation of strategies in such countries as France, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, where, without missing the new parameters of urban competitiveness, questions of integration and sustainability are considered in order to avoid economic polarization ― and which promote the creation and strengthening of centralities, as well as the creation of a sense of communitarian identity.

Plaza Real, Barcelona
Plaza Real, Barcelona

The strategies of consolidation, infill housing, and urban recycling, and building the “city within the city”, are among the most innovative initiatives to have appeared over the last years, and include redevelopment projects for vacant land, as well as the redensification of the existing urban tissue. The strategies in both cases aim to serve as an alternative to the sprawl patterns mentioned above, as well as embody an instrument for the local governments to draw the middle-class into the inner city, expand its base of contributors, and support social housing in central areas. Nevertheless, in order to accomplish these goals, it is often necessary to deal with the existence of contradictory policies, which limit the operative feasibility of the interventions, since the objectives of equity and efficiency do not always match the dynamics of the real estate market. In the following sections, three recent cases will be assessed, in which a comprehensive and inclusive approach has been used for the regeneration of the inner city: The Piano delle Certezze of Rome, the program Ciutat Vella of Barcelona, and the Politique de la Ville in Paris. Although it is important to emphasize the integral character of their programming, we will comment on the strategy as a whole in order to get to the core of the problems faced, which will then be analyzed and evaluated.

Barcelona: Ciutat Vella Program
The city of Barcelona launched a large-scale program of integral renovation of the central district of Ciutat Vella by means of a comprehensive process of urban, economic and social regeneration, which revealed a strong commitment to a model of inner city totally integrated with the urban tissue, maintaining the residential land use and privileging the quality of urban life. The district of Ciutat Vella includes the Gothic, Raval, Casc Antic and Barceloneta districts, each one with its own processes and specificities. The districts had fallen into decline over the last years, economic activities had been restricted, and the urban environment reflected the abandonment and lack of investment in the built environment. It is important to note the dimensions of the physical conditions of the built environment in Barcelona at the time:  almost three quarters of the fifty thousand houses constituting it were constructed before 1900, and among them seven thousand houses did not have a bathroom; moreover, the provision of amenities and public spaces was not much better.

Rambla del Mar, Port Vell, Barcelona (before and after)
Rambla del Mar, Port Vell, Barcelona (before and after)

Following the decentralizing tendency of the eighties, the regional and local governments promoted the designation of Ciutat Vella as Area de Rehabilitación Integral (ARI) in 1986, having as a central objective the maintenance of the complexity of the urban system, through the mixture of uses and the diversity of users. It was also a major goal to strengthen the local identity of the historic center and to be consistent with the principles of sustainability and low-energy consumption. Moreover, the participation of a wide range of social actors throughout the process guaranteed the continuity of the program, avoiding, as far as possible, the conflicts of interests. The program permitted, among other things, the creation of the corporation Promoció Ciutat Vella S.A. (PROCIVECSA) in 1988, as an independent unit to manage the urban transformation.  The corporation started to operate as a joint-venture company of mixed capital (which, nevertheless, was mainly municipal), and had as its main tasks to provide about twenty-five thousand square meters of new spaces, promote new housing by using both public and private capital, reactivate the local economy and rehabilitate the existing public spaces. For example, in the district of Raval, a considerable number of degraded buildings were demolished in order to create the new “Plaza central de Raval”, a square where the creation of a cultural pole including the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Cultural Center of Catalonia was also considered. An important methodological element existed at the level of management, which allowed the coordinated accomplishment of the project. It is based on four points: 

Firstly, the program took advantage of the administrative decentralization policies of the eighties, and the city was structured into urban districts, where Ciutat Vella played a prime role within the strategy. The second element is one of operative nature, and consists in the decision to carry out the interventions in a short period of time, in order to effectively change the progressive degrading tendency of the district. Thirdly, as a product of the aforementioned intensive action plan, a combination of urban renovation with economic promotion and social welfare was implemented. A fourth element within the definition of the project was that associations of residents participated and intervened in the decision-making processes. The program assumes its main axes of action through six thematic plans: urbanism, housing, mobility, economic revitalization, cultural and social promotion, and security. The physical renovation is orchestrated by means of the Planes Especiales de Reestructuracción Interna (PERI), which required the participation of the residents to define the renovation criteria, as well as the redefinition of uses in areas within a limited extent. With the intention of endorsing the rehabilitation of privately-owned buildings, the Office of Rehabilitation of Ciutat Vella was created in 1990 (ORCV), its mission being to inform and advise individuals about rehabilitation schemes, as well as to administer the resources assigned to this program. The works included the rehabilitation of the houses as well as the common areas; as a result of its operation, about 17,000 houses were rehabilitated with an average cost of 842,340 pesetas (4,000 USD), and 10,800 pesetas per square meter (50 USD). The impact of such a large-scale and complex plan as that of Ciutat Vella is by no means easy to evaluate. Nevertheless, the public sector was in charge of the conceptualization and promotion of the project (more than eighty billion pesetas), which permitted the private investors to participate in the initiatives and, moreover, to start shaping the socioeconomic consolidation of the historic center. In evaluating the improvement of the urban quality of life, it can be concluded from the actions undertaken in terms of new housing, urban amenities and public spaces that the general trend has been upward, without generating extreme processes of gentrification, and has even come to generate a renovation tendency from the proprietors of old housing. With regard to citizen participation, although variations in the different stages from the project may always exist, it is possible to affirm that the city is more vital, and its public spaces more often used, after the interventions. The transformation of the Ciutat Vella has caused important qualitative changes in the urban quality of the city, and has triggered an economic revitalization, despite the fact that it has also affected the real estate market. Therefore, it is suggested that the change of population derived from the regeneration program in Barcelona can be regarded as a product of the centrality generated by the numerous educational and cultural amenities attracting young professionals, students and artists who are migrating into the rehabilitated houses with the consequent lost of social diversity.

Slide-show during Dr. Valenzuela’s lecture
Slide-show during Dr. Valenzuela’s lecture

Paris: La Politique de la Ville
The Politique de la Ville represents a set of specific policies for the city that started during the eighties to designate the ensemble of practices, proceedings and measures aimed to attend the problematic of the high priority districts. Even though these areas were defined with statistical criteria, the policies were oriented so as to reach a concerted and progressive solution to the social, economic and urban difficulties of the citizens. The policies of urban renovation that accomplished the disarticulation of the different sectors within the city set off a total rupture with the urban context. They also generated a traumatic effect from the aesthetic and urban perspectives, and, moreover, the State handled the housing interventions through large national organizations, which prevented the municipalities from controlling the urban development of their jurisdiction. As a result of the decentralization policies in the seventies, the Opérations Programées pour l’Amélioration de l’Habitat (OPAH) were established, which, over the last twenty years, have realized interventions in more than six hundred thousand buildings, as well as rehabilitations of vacant houses and qualitative improvement of urban amenities and public spaces. Having a strong social component, the program is articulated in different instruments that, within a general framework, could program their actions in specific ways. In their twenty years of operation, the OPAH have maintained a social objective, since they have regarded regard the degradation of the habitat as one of the main causes of the segregation. Different evaluations have been made about the OPAH program in recent years, among which we can highlight the fact that the policy has stressed the human dimension of housing, trying to be more persuasive than authoritarian, as well as the fact that it has served as an alternative to the large urban renovation projects as the only instrument of transforming the city. What is remarkable about this policy is that never before had the private owners become the engines of transformation by means of a socially-oriented scheme of intervention. Thanks to the mobilization of human and financial resources, the OPAH have been able to promote neighborhood-scale integral projects, focusing on preliminary studies, on the project rather than the procedures, as well as on the follow-up of the operations. The success of a great part of the interventions is based on the social organization of the community, a considerably wider approach than just securing the lodging, and the tailor-made instruments and procedures. Regarding the social link with the community, the participation of the National Federation of Centers PACT-ARIM has been decisive in all the stages of the rehabilitation process and the recycling of districts, thus becoming the first operator of the program all over the country. 

Left: Piazza San Pietro (San Peter’s Square), Rome<br>Right: Ancient bakery in Trastevere borough, Rome
Left: Piazza San Pietro (San Peter’s Square), Rome
Right: Ancient bakery in Trastevere borough, Rome

On the other hand, the creation of the OPAH matches the release of the Fonds d’Aménagement Urbain (FAU), which also allowed, by means of its multiple credit lines, to synchronize the financial, social and urban aspects of the rehabilitation. These resources were part of the initiatives of decentralization of the State, in which it was decided to support the cities in being in charge of the complementary actions for housing, such as the creation of urban amenities and public spaces. Other concurrent financings for the improvement of the habitat were addressed to the privately-owned houses as well as rental housing. In the first case, the State decided to supply up to 50% of the renovation works, according to the income level of the applicant, and, in the second case, to ensure the benefit from a subvention of the ANAH with the condition of maintaining the building in rent during the following ten years (that is to say, without sale possibility), as well as to establish a maximum level of rent increase, thus accomplishing the generation of a large supply of housing at reasonable prices. Through the OPAH program, the rehabilitation of the built environment was implemented in a significant way: in its twenty years of operation, three thousand operations have been realized, which include about 600,000 house interventions; nevertheless, at the present time, the challenge would be to establish parallel financial procedures aiming to promote the creation of urban amenities and public spaces, and foster social diversity.

Left: Green environmental design in the Piano delle Certezze<br>Right: Houses in Trastevere borough
Left: Green environmental design in the Piano delle Certezze
Right: Houses in Trastevere borough

Rome:  The Piano delle Certezze
Italy has a long tradition in the development of instruments of intervention within the urban fabric of the inner city. A further complexity is added, if one considers the significance of the urban and architectural heritage of most of its cities. The debates about the kind, scale and suitable instruments of intervention are, therefore, not new within the urban and social arena: they have been taking place ever since the first specific plans and programs were established. As the intervention scale changes from the focal building to renovate to the definition of the poligoni d’attuazione (in which urban environments are defined as primary intervention units), the approach of the policies starts to be centered on the preservation of physical structures that support the various activities within the city. Nevertheless, since the sixties and the seventies, the inclusion of the social dimension within the planning process has become essential, and the local residents have become significant actors with a decisive participation in the creation of strategies for urban development. The inclusion of different dimensions and subtle details within the urban planning is aimed towards the revaluation of the physical and environmental quality of the territory within an integral and complex perspective, where new definitions of the compact city, urban sustainability, and comprehensive strategies start to get shaped. As a product of a new generation of master plans, the Piano delle Certezze (or plan of certainties) arose: after a painstaking revision, which took several years, it was eventually approved by the Communal Council in November 2000. 

The Piano delle Certezze (PDC) is a general variant of the effective Piano Regolatore of 1965, and arose as a frame of reliable and safe reference for the short and medium term, from which other regulating and strategic plans can be developed following its guidelines.

Due to the specificity of the subject discussed in the present paper, we will briefly mention the different dimensions contained in the plan (environmental, administrative, constructive, etc.), in order to concentrate on the strategies related to the inner city, which can be summarized as follows: the new definition of the compact city, the programs of urban regeneration, and the initiatives aimed to revitalize the inner city. Consistent with the theoretical tradition of the plans that preceded it, the PDC examines the predisposition of adopting the prevailing “strategic planning”, which does not consider the urban dimension inherent to middle- and long-range plans. It also argues that even if the transformation of the economic base of the cities is imminent and required, this has led the strategies to the means of conquering hegemonic spaces and roles within the territorial hierarchy at world-wide level, being based on a philosophy of competitiveness. Therefore, the PDC assumes a critical position in relation to urban plans that end up becoming mere plans of economic strategy for the city. Although strategic planning has served as an instrument for the local governments to negotiate private investments, and reach specific economic objectives, it is also true that it has generated an economic, social and urban dualism, as a result of the extreme elasticity that key decisions have experimented with. Therefore, the creation of a general framework that would establish the criteria for an urban, social and environmental compatibility became mandatory, as a prior condition to the goals of economic competitiveness, and as an “organizational structure” that would frame a major political project.

In this context, the PDC arises like a structural kind of plan that would determine the invariants of the organization of the city, in which diffuse policies of urban regeneration could be assembled and coordinated in a comprehensive way. Therefore, the new Plan advocates, in the name of wider support and feasibility, the subordination of economic competitiveness goals to the definition of maximum operative efficiency in order to fulfill the objectives aimed to improve the daily life of the citizens. Under this approach, even though the public administration is actively trying to revitalize the existing urban dynamics, it is also committed to the stimulation of investments by the private sector in public infrastructure works that benefit a wider range of people. The PDC intends to render the objectives, times, rules, and procedures within a panorama of middle and long ranges, aiming to provide the entrepreneurial sector with a reliable framework to program its strategies with absolute confidence in its decisions. Another element of particular interest is the decision to organize the plan on the basis of urban tissues, leaving behind the traditional functional zoning, on condition that the interventions contribute to the enhancement of “the qualities of a place through a concrete and visible project which would be evaluated by the community”. Generally speaking, the PDC aims to delegate all the processes of promotion, evaluation and approval of diffuse policies, and even the executive projects themselves, to the local governments, with the intention of opening spaces for an active participation of the residents in the overall process.

One of the programmed actions that has had excellent results has been the launching of a program of improvement of the public space, denominated Centopiazze (one hundred squares), which, by combining diverse financial resources as well as by opening to international competitions of urban design, has managed to realize interventions in over a hundred spaces, while another 40 are in the process of construction, and yet another 70 are in charge of the Municipal Service of Gardens and Public Works.
The redevelopment of “the city within the city” constitutes a policy that is shared by most European countries nowadays. Besides, it is being considered in the American continent as a feasible alternative to the problems caused by urban sprawl, automobile saturation, and disarticulation of the city’s urban tissue. 

Alfonso Valenzuela-Aguilera

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