Life in Poblenou

What are the impacts of neighbourhood change on the use of public space? What can we learn from observing public life at the same sites, repeatedly, over multiple years? Life in Poblenou is a research project studying long-term changes in use and behaviours at four sites in Poblenou, a neighbourhood of Barcelona. The research project began as an international field studio course in 2018 with graduate students in planning and landscape architecture. We set out to observe public life at four sites in Poblenou: Superilla, Pere IV at Trullas, Rambla Poblenou and the Mar Bella Skatepark. We observed who used these spaces by age, gender, activity and group size. We also counted who was moving through the site: pedestrian traffic as well as bikes. Finally, we developed indicators of social cohesion: do people know each other here? Do they say hello? Kiss? Laugh? Together these indicators illustrate how and who is using these four neighbourhood spaces.

But the Poblenou neighbourhood is changing rapidly. New developments are bringing international residents and rising rents are squeezing out long-time residents. How might these changes reflect pedestrian patterns or use of public space in Poblenou? This project aims to compare data collected in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021. We anticipate data collection again in 2022. Our public life observations always take place in the first half of June of each year to ensure comparable climate conditions.

Life in Poblenou, report 2022 ~ Introduction

In 2022 Poblenou is bouncing back. After two long years of pandemic life, there are clear signs that the neighborhood is returning to its pre-pandemic patterns. Most restrictions on travel and movement have been lifted. Tourism has returned, large gatherings, concerts, and cultural events are allowed again. Parents no longer worry that children will be sent home from school for isolation. Except for public transportation and medical institutions, masks are no longer required in public spaces. 

The last two years have been exceptional. In the spring and summer of 2020, there were hardly any tourists in Barcelona, creating a memorable and local feel to public life. In 2021, Spain had opened its borders to welcome visitors from abroad again, but mandatory testing and vaccination requirements reduced movements across borders.

And now in 2022, much like elsewhere in Barcelona and Europe, Poblenou is returning to a new normal. The city is breathing a sigh of relief, with squares and restaurants bustling with life. Residents once again enjoy public spaces without restrictions or fear. Not long ago, in the midst of the pandemic, observers speculated about how the public health crisis would change how we use public space [1]. Might the pandemic alter activities, attitudes, or interactions in public, and if so, might these changes be permanent? Or would public life rapidly bounce back?

This report provides data that may begin to answer some of these questions. We follow up on previous work at the same sites, using the same methods and protocols. The project has collected data in June of each year since 2018, making 2022 the fifth year of a longitudinal study on public life in Poblenou [2, 3].  This report describes the results of observations from June 2022. As in other years, our objective has been to measure patterns in public life at four sites in the Poblenou neighborhood of Barcelona: The Rambla Poblenou, Superilla Poblenou, the Trullàs Park at Pere IV, and the Marbella skatepark and beachfront. 

While big data is able to measure how many people move and where they go, big data rarely is able to capture their age or gender, nor can these data sources reveal the finer details of what these individuals do in public or why. From the outset this study has sought to measure the gender gap in the use of public space, the use of space by the elderly and children, as well as the social interaction between public space users [4].

While Poblenou continues to evolve, many of the challenges we observed in 2018 still remain: Poblenou is still undergoing a transition from a post-industrial neighborhood to one that relies on tourism, technology and new media. New real-estate investments are driving up taller buildings. Rents are increasing. Fears of gentrification remain. Even after the pandemic, or perhaps especially after the pandemic, Poblenou remains a highly desirable place to live, work and play.

Report available to download here.