El Cajón de Sants: Barcelona's Newest Rambla
'It's party time in Sants,' announced El Periodico on Sunday. 'And not just because of the inauguration of the festa mayor, but because finally, after many years of planning, el Cajón de Sants is completed.'
Cajón. A crate or drawer. It can also mean a casket or a coffin. An odd nickname for Barcelona's newest rambla; an aerial boulevard which follows the course of the AVE high-speed train tunnel from Plaça de Sants to the city boundary with L'Hospitalet.
For years Sants residents complained that the AVE line split the districts of Sants and La Bordeta apart, creating an ugly, impassable concrete wall, blocking views from balconies and bringing nothing but noise and disruption to the area.
The 15-year project to transform this controversial eyesore has spanned several mayors (Clos, Hereu, Trias), but finally under Ada Colau it has come to fruition. Now instead of naked hormigón and glimpses of passing trains, neigbours can enjoy a dash of nature in the Sants skyline, with Japanese pagodas and tipuana (rosewood) trees, nearly a hundred thousand plants and flowers, and over a half a kilometre of continuous of plantas trepadoras covering the walls and roof of the railway. Other planned features are children's playgrounds, herb gardens, a chiringuito and a library. With a total length of 750 metres and a width of about 30 metres on average, La Rambla de Sants is a green space half the length of Las Ramblas and covering roughly one-third of the size of Parc de la Ciutadella.
It earns its 'aerial rambla' nickname by reaching heights of fourteen metres, on an eyeline with various second-floor apartments on Carrer Antoni Campmany; an unfortunate feature referred to by El Periodico as 'an Hitchcockian indiscretion'. In Rear Window, a convalescent James Stewart became a voyeur observing the lives of his neigbours through the windows of the building opposite his back room.
Up on the Sants walkway, a similar collage of human lives can be viewed, leading La Vanguardia to run a piece on Monday claiming local residents felt so intruded upon that they were hiding behind pulled-down blinds. One apartment, it was reported, is only separated from the walkway by two and a half metres. Thus, not only the intimacy of the apartment block in question, but its security is threatened, and the building remains covered in very visible pancartas raising angry objections. It remains to be seen how the council will respond.
However, most of the residents of Sants will be satisfied, perhaps even excited, by the results of the obras. From its inception the AVE/metro tunnel caused ta deep fracture, both physical and emotional, in the area. One of the chief goals of the park's planners was to ensure it would be as easily accessible as possible to all citizens, with dozens of lifts, mechanical stairs and ramps making it easy to get to, and crucially, providing multiple links between two neigbourhoods that had so long been separated. Janet Sanz, Barcelona's Ecology councillor, calls this task 'cosiendo fracturas', 'stitching wounds'. Thankfully the lifts and escalators providing access to and over the park are also environmentally sustainable. The walkway is equipped with 539 paneles fotovoltaicas (solar panels), which will provide all the energy required to keep the technological features of the rambla in working order.
Now the Ajuntament has to decide what to do with several buildings overlooking the walkway. One of these is Can Vies. Today half-derelict following a controversial attempt to plough it down by ex-Mayor Xavier Trias's administration, Can Vies was for years one of Barcelona's largest okupas - squats. Run by a cultural and social association called CSA Can Vies, it hosted debates, theatre, workshops and parties. When, as part of an attempt to clean up the area around the designated AVE, it was faced by a 'reordenación urbanistica', there was passionate opposition from not only inhabitants of the squat itself, but much of the local community. In 2014 it all came to a head. There were violent clashes with the police, with protestors raising barricades and confronting bull-dozers, intent on preserving the building for public, not private, use. This forced the Ajuntament to reconsider, and the demolition of Can Vies came to a halt. Since then the CSA has attacted the help of architects and workmen to attempt to reconstruct the building. There has been criticism of Ada Colau for not continuing the attempted eviction and demolition of Can Vies. But Colau, herself an advocate of community organisations and positive social activism, has always singled out Can Vies as 'a social and political example.' so it seems that the Ajuntament will find a way to help conserve the spirit of the squat, despite the plastic surgery it will carry out on all the zones immediately bordering the park.
As far as Barcelona's newest rambla is concerned there is still much to do. This is only the end of the second of several phases, according to its architect Sergi Godia. The logical next step, he reveals, is to extend the rambla into the heart of L'Hospitalet. as far perhaps as the Can Mercader park in Cornella. This would make it nearly five kilometres long. In a congested metropolis embraced tightly between mountain and sea, it's something that the whole city, not just Sants, might celebrate.