La Mina: Underconstruction
These days, La Mina feels like its changing
La Mina is under siege. Buildings are being torn down, streets are being ripped up and residents are being moved to make way for change. Progress has finally caught up with one of Barcelona’s most notorious 'barris' (neighbourhoods), and may soon erase its reputation as a no-go area to all but those who live there.
Since its inception in the mid-Sixties, La Mina has been the poor cousin of Barcelona and a byword for crime, drugs and social degradation. The development was initially proposed by the Ajuntament and the Patronato Nacional de la Vivienda as a way of solving the growing problem of blocks of slum housing that were springing up in Barcelona. These were being constructed to house the flow of gypsy and other immigrants arriving from Spain’s poorer regions, principally Andalucía, who arrived in Barcelona with few resources and no access to traditional housing.
Almost as soon as La Mina Vieja was completed in 1969, it was obvious that its predominantly five-storey apartment buildings would not be sufficient to house the steady flow of newcomers. La Mina Nueva was thrown up, its 10-storey apartment blocks providing homes for hundreds of families. However, the speed of construction, and lack of planning, left a neighbourhood characterised by poor local facilities and public resources, low education levels and high unemployment rates.
After years of half-hatched plans and one-off initiatives, the Consorci del Barri de La Mina was formed in 2000. Made up of four members—the Generalitat de Catalunya, the Diputació de Barcelona, the Ajuntament de Sant Adriá de Besòs and the Ajuntament de Barcelona—its mission was to develop a plan integral to the rejuvenation of the neighbourhood.
The Consorci, funded by its four member organisations and by the EU’s urban regeneration programme, Urban II, meets twice a year to discuss and approve spending. The most recent meeting, held just last month, approved a budget of €19.6 million to be spent across a range of areas from infrastructure (€1.5 million for the completion of La Rambla de La Mina), key social services (€2.3 million for La Mina’s new library and cultural centre), social and educational support services (€448,000), and improvements to access and structures of existing buildings (€1.6 million for the installation of lifts in La Mina Vieja buildings).
Residents can have their say through the Consorci’s ‘Participation Council’, a forum open to all members of the community. Not everyone in the community believes throwing money at the neighbourhood is sufficient. “More money is fine but unless the project reduces delinquency and the drug problem, it will have served no purpose,” said local resident José Creus, who moved into the neighbourhood at the beginning, and has seen it through development and decline. “I have lived here for 30 years and things are worse now than in the shanty town I used to live in.”
His concerns are shared by the Consorci. It has highlighted security, civic responsibility, infrastructure improvement and urban planning as the key areas for attention and spending. The establishment of the Mossos d´Esquadra’s headquarters for Sant Adriá de Besòs in the heart of the neighbourhood in 2003 was a major step in improving security.
A Consorci member, who asked not to be named, stressed that the improvements derived from the group’s efforts has been dramatic. “Before, you could see drugs being dealt and consumed in the streets. In the worst period, the Seventies and Eighties, it was a no-go area for anyone who wasn’t from La Mina.”
Seven years after the Consorci’s founding, and millions of euros later, the aesthetic changes within the neighbourhood are obvious. Nearing completion, La Mina’s new library and cultural centre are being built not just as a necessary public resource but also as an icon symbolising the new La Mina. A central rambla is being constructed along the border, which traditionally served as the boundary between Mina Vieja and Mina Nueva, to reinforce social harmony by providing a central meeting point to be used by all members of the community.
Streets have been widened and connected, trees have been planted and play areas for children have been installed where none existed before. Importantly, members of the community have been involved in the projects, forging a relationship between change within the neighbourhood and the community itself. Existing buildings are being improved with lifts being installed in blocks of flats, particularly those in Mina Vieja where aging residents urgently need such facilities.
However, La Mina’s problems are far from merely aesthetic. The development plan was initially slated to run from 2000 to 2010, but the Consorci has accepted that major social changes in the neighbourhood cannot be implemented under a forced timetable. Culturally-based differences in attitudes towards civic responsibility, and the role of education and employment, particularly within the barrio’s large gypsy community, will take time to change. Support for social services will be provided as long as need and vulnerability remain prominent features of the neighbourhood.
There are a variety of initiatives currently in place to help improve the lives of La Mina’s residents. Project Polydor, which involved the restoration and conversion of Sant Andriá de Besòs’s Polydor Building into a leisure sports and cultural centre gave unemployed young men and women work experience in the building trades. Another, ‘El Programa de Prevención y Motivación’, has focused on reducing truancy during the transition from primary to secondary school. Families and social workers combined forces to encourage students to stay in school. And, the many new construction projects within the neighbourhood require that a percentage of workers are residents of La Mina. This year alone, 33 jobs have been created for people from within the community.
For the Consorci, changing the neighbourhood’s reputation beyond its boundaries is a challenge just as tough as resolving its internal problems. “For me there are two goals,” said the Consorci member. “The first is to change the image of La Mina from the inside, and the second is to change the image from the outside.”
Recent cultural events such as ‘Dikela la Mina’, a project of the photographer/artist Mariona Giner, which traced the traditions of the gypsy culture and the urban transformation of La Mina, are a step forward in presenting a more positive image of the neighbourhood. Giner’s aim was to break down the barriers that the myth and external image of the neighbourhood has created, and to help young gypsies from La Mina find professional tools with which to discover their own voices.
Whether or not La Mina can overcome decades of neglect and clean its muddied reputation remains to be seen, but the Consorci member remained cautiously optimistic. “Connecting everything is important. When you improve the family life and life in general by putting lifts in buildings, improving security and public spaces, hopefully this enforces the change.”