Society 11/07/2021

"We are the poor of the rich"

Neighbours of the area of les Planes in Barcelona claim to be "the forgotten ones" of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi area

4 min
The neighborhood of Las Planes

Barcelona"This is Sarrià-Sant Gervasi. We are the richest district in Barcelona. Do you see these streets with cracks? They are Sarriá-Sant Gervasi. Do you see all this cabling that hasn't been buried? For more than a year the main street of the district, Major de Rectoret, has been cut off because there was a landslide and we are still waiting for it to be fixed. Can you imagine this in the middle of Sarrià? We are the forgotten ones". Their names are Hortènsia Duran, Antoni Palanques and Mari Ángeles Zuazo and they live in the area of Les Planes, in Collserola but still within the city limits of Barcelona and not -by a few meters- of Sant Cugat del Vallès. The last report on disposable income of the City Council highlighted that, indeed, the census section where Vallvidrera, Tibidabo and les Planes are located is out of the mould of what would be usual in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi: in the mountain neighbourhoods, the average household income is between 80% and 90% of the Barcelona average, which is 21,484 euros per capita, well below the 33,113 euros of the district, which is the richest in the city.

"We are the poorest of the rich, but we are still the most disadvantaged because we have the houses affected and this is a condemnation", denounces Hortènsia Duran, president of the Association of Neighbours with Urbanistic Affectations of Les Planes. There is around sixty neighbours in the area that, like her, have seen how their houses, built in the mid-twentieth century, have been included within the Natural Park of Collserola and definitely doomed to disappear. For years they have been living with the burden of urban planning that prevents them from making major changes to the houses, although they claim that when they were built, before the General Metropolitan Plan of 1976, there was no qualification that prevented building on these lands, that the houses were "alegal" and that the neighbours paid the costs of urbanisation and have all the services. And now they see how in some cases, as in Nebuloses street, the line of the natural park leaves their houses outside the legality, but, on the other hand, allows to build new ones on the other side of the street.

The residents of the area feel "forgotten" in terms of municipal investment and very far from the rest of the district in every way. The border between one and the other is wooded, wide and has a railway connection. "The only thing left of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi here is its name", defends Antoni Palanques, who explains realities such as the fact that the bus that connects them with the FGC stations has a frequency of more than an hour. "Getting around without a car is very complicated. The climb is very hard", says this neighbour of the Rectoret area, where they are still waiting for the repair of the section of the main street damaged by a landslide in April 2020, and cut to traffic. The municipal government ensures that the forecast is to do the works in October. "If this were the center of Sarrià...", these neighbours are wary.

Invisible borders

This is not the only invisible border between neighbouring areas of the city. Nor the most pronounced: the most obvious ones are between the old part and the new part of the Diagonal Mar neighbourhood - what is above the Diagonal is not the rich area - and with the neighbourhoods of Besòs, in the district of Sant Martí: a narrow line - made up of tall buildings and large windows - that separates one of the areas with the most purchasing power in the city from one of the poorest. "They've erected tall buildings as if they were screens to cover up what's behind them", says José Manuel López, president of the Association of Neighbours of the Maresme, which is part of what's behind the luxury buildings of Diagonal Mar and the Front Marítim. The latest example has just been erected at the end of Rambla Prim, near the Forum: the so-called Antares building, by French architect Odile Decq, a spectacular 28-storey block with flats overlooking the sea that are advertised from 850,000 euros and are almost finished.

Blocks of flats in the Diagonal Mar neighbourhood.

"The residents of the luxury developments do not look at those of the surrounding poor neighbourhoods. It's as if there were a screen. They don't get involved in the life of the neighbourhood, we don't know them", adds López, who says that one of the problems of the Besòs neighbourhoods is that people don't go there to do things if they don't live in the area, and that many residents leave if their economic situation improves. That is why, he points out, they have made proposals such as asking the tourist bus to extend its route beyond the Forum and up the Rambla Prim so that "tourists also know this Barcelona". To make it visible. The tourist bus, however, does not get there. Nor do tourists.

Internal differences

Beyond the obvious contrasts with the neighbouring districts, Diagonal Mar and the Front Marítim also have important differences within their own boundaries, with the Garcia Fària promenade facing the sea and considered the fifth most expensive street in Barcelona - a study by Engels & Völkers recently set the price of housing on this street at 6,000 euros per square metre - and the humble buildings of the 1970s cooperatives on the other side of the Diagonal. "There are four neighbourhoods with very different realities in one: the old part of Diagonal Mar, where there are the houses that were built for the workers of factories like Macosa; the new part of Diagonal Mar, with the luxury blocks and the park, and the two parts of the Front Marítim, the most expensive, which is the first line, and the one that is further inland, with more mixture", summarises Amador Monleón, of the Association of the Front Marítim.

What remains to be seen, according to Antonio López Gay, from the Centre for Demographic Studies and the Department of Geography at the UAB, is which of the two realities of the area is becoming more important, which one is taking more prominence over the other. He points out that there are changes such as the differentiation between the Llobregat side and the Besòs side of the Rambla Prim: in the former he detects, he explains, a growth of the population with higher education, which can cause changes in the neighbourhood's fabric. Looking at the map of the differences in retail income of the census sections, López Gay also points out other areas of contrast, such as the distance that separates the Raval neighbourhood from Sant Antoni, accentuated by the process of gentrification that has taken place in Sant Antoni, now with an average per capita income of 21,627 euros, while that of the Raval is 12,351. Or the border between Sants and the Collblanc and Torrassa neighbourhoods of Hospitalet.