#OlotMésB: integrated and participatory urban regeneration in Olot

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Participatory and ludic workshop with neighbors form Sant Miquel (Font: Paisaje Transversal)

In 2014 our office developed a urban resilience project in Olot, a city of around 35,000 inhabitants in Catalonia situated 50km from Girona. We were initially contacted by the Olot municipality at the end of 2013 for a pilot program, and we carried out the project from May 2014 through the end of the year.  This project was particularly meaningful to us because through it we were able to fully flesh-out and utilize our Participatory Indicators [InPar].

The municipality wanted to plan and take action in the areas of highest vulnerability, so the neighborhood of Saint Miquel-Les Tries was selected to start. The area had been abandoned in the last decades, losing public space to infrastructure and commercial and industrial uses; this in turn caused rents to drop which attracted a large immigrant population. Thus, the neighborhood suffered from a negative image and was unattractive to many Olot residents.

Despite this loss of value of resources in Sant Miquel, there was much value in its location: rich with old industrial spaces that could be taken advantage of for new creative uses, situated along on of the main access points to the city, and nestled between two volcanoes along the Fluviá River which provided tourism opportunities. The mixture of immigrant groups, a network of community associations, and the diversity of buildings and landscape provided a great opportunity for regeneration, enrichment and improved quality of life.

[InPar] for #OlotMesB Project (Font: Paisaje Transversal)

The project took place in two consecutive phases: the first phase from May through July was directed at drafting a participatory diagnostic – identifying problems and urban, social, economic and environmental potential; the second phase was to start at the end of the summer, serving to define distinct actions of improvement, study temporary programming able to be tested and evaluated, and guarantee programming viability for the future.

The final stage of the first phase was applying [InPar]: a technical analysis based on calculations from a series of indicators to provide a quantitative value to the status of Sant Miquel. Using reports from the various sectors involved on functional, environmental, social, and economic aspects of the neighborhood, we filled in and analyzed quantitative data, along with qualitative data garnered from citizen involvement. We had used parts of the tool in previous projects, but Olot Mes B was the first time using it in full. Through this process, we identified strengths and weaknesses, and differences and conflicts between the technical analysis by experts and resident perceptions. The results of [InPar] were then put into a document utilized to guide the rest of the project, defining objectives and roles and developing Strategic Themes to advance to Phase 2.

Interdepartamental workshop with civil servants from Olot City Council (Font: Paisaje Transversal)

Moving on to Phase 2, the focus was oriented towards prioritization, construction, collaboration, and visibilization of proposals for temporary activations of disused spaces which we developed along two complementary yet distinct lines of strategy: 

  1. Sant Miquel as a nicer, more livable neighborhood (better quality public spaces, rich landscape, local businesses, walkable) though improved green spaces, public spaces for coexistence, reviving of sociocultural and educational groups, and improved pedestrian mobility.
  2. Sant Miquel as an active and attractive neighborhood with character, appealing to visitors, through valuing the neighborhood’s idiosyncrasies as an entry point to Olot, connected to natural park, home to an art school and diverse economic activity, and with an interesting public heritage.

 Though the focus of Phase 2 was different from Phase 1, the processes remained participatory and interdisciplinary. The two temporary interventions were selected out of collaborative workshops we hosted with interested parties from the community to share and validate 46 initial proposals that emerged from an interdepartmental work session of more than 25 experts from nine different municipal bodies. Through two consecutive work sessions addressing different types of proposals and employing shared decision-making, we moved from ideation to development of proposals to prioritization based on impact and viability. 

Through both phases of the project, participatory and transdisciplinary processes remained at the forefront. The opportunity presented to us by the Olot municipality enabled us to employ [InPar] as a tool to assess qualitative and quantitative data on sustainability indicators and resident opinions. Furthermore, the end result of the pilot was not only low-cost and easy to implement, but also flexible, testable, and adaptable, in line with the philosophy of beta permanente. 

Integrated urban regeneration plan for Sant Miquel (Font: Paisaje Transversal)

A contribution to transdisciplinary methodologies for social cohesion and urban regeneration in deprived neighborhoods

There is no doubt about the importance of urban regeneration and social cohesion on urban affairs related fields given the present context of urban inequality and rising climate change related risks. Governments are organizations around the world are lacking a comprehensive framework to tailor the knowledge of different disciplines into a system capable of tackling theses issues. It is our collective duty to work towards the development of such framework and towards the development of private-public conversations where each involved discipline can help inform government decision regarding urban affairs. 

Paisaje Transversal works towards this, providing a new vision and contributing to the development of comprehensive city development frameworks that embrace urban sustainability and resilience at their core. We do this by actively implementing our DCP methodology and [InPar] tool, innovatively and organically developed, and refined to a extent where we can now identify a core model applicable and exportable to different realities as well as other peripheral issues that change according to the uniqueness of each project. 

Our ultimate goal is to develop sustainable, resilient and socially based urban intervention projects, facilitating participatory processes and enabling a more democratic model for city construction and territorial action. The abovementioned Project of Olot, along with the rest of the projects developed by our office actively contribute to the building new conceptual approaches as well as to the generation of a set of indicators capable of fully analysing and understanding the multidisciplinarity of urban resilience. However we acknowledge the need of further development and dissemination of these tools to become part of a broader systemic approach for social cohesion and urban regneration.

Sant Miquel’s main squares improvement and activation (Font: Paisaje Transversal)

More about #OlotMèsB

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To read more posts in english on Paisaje Transversal blog, follow this link: http://bit.ly/PT_English

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