Local residents’ involvement in the reconstruction of neighbourhoods at risk of social exclusion reduces segregation

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This is the main conclusion drawn from a study by the UIC Barcelona School of Architecture on the process of urban reconstruction in the Barcelona neighbourhood of San Cosme since the 1970s

Local residents’ involvement in the reconstruction of neighbourhoods at risk of social exclusion reduces segregation

The involvement of local residents in the reconstruction of big-city neighbourhoods is crucial to combat the social segregation and risk of social exclusion that affects these districts, and hence guarantee greater cohesion among their inhabitants. These were the conclusions of the study entitled “Neighbourhood reconstruction, community identity and place attachment: mixed experiences from the mass social housing complex of Sant Cosme, Barcelona”, headed by Raquel Colacios, a professor at the UIC Barcelona School of Architecture, with the collaboration of researchers Carmen Mendoza-Arroyo and Isabelle Anguelovski. 

The research project, which ended up being published in the specialist Italian Journal of Planning Practice, analysed the process of urban reconstruction undertaken in the social housing complex of San Cosme, an archetypal model of the housing estates built in the 1960s on the outskirts of big Spanish cities to house the migrant population from the countryside who were in great demand as labour for industry. “We chose the neighbourhood of San Cosme firstly because this district underwent a complete reconstruction process between 1979 and 2003, including both housing and the design of public urban spaces; and secondly because it represents a socially vulnerable urban landscape subject to powerful spatial segregation,” explains Raquel Colacios. 

The research method was based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative techniques that included 20 in-depth interviews with local residents, association members and public administration officials, 120 questionnaires developed in an academic workshop with Master’s degree students, and an urban analysis of the neighbourhood that examined the morphology of the public space and the housing.

As the study shows, the same physical reconstruction process can have very different results at a social level, depending on the degree of citizen involvement. In San Cosme, the phases during which community participation was much more pronounced engendered a strong sense of community identity and pride which still remains today among a large group of residents. On the other hand, the reconstruction of the most socially vulnerable sector and the design of their public spaces, in which the involvement of the community was either negligible or non-existent, failed to generate any positive feeling among local residents and merely exacerbated the division through spatial segregation and local residents’ increased dependence on the public authorities.