In Medellín and Barcelona the Spanish word piso has different meanings. In the Antioquian capital it means floor or paving, whereas in the Catalan capital it means apartment or flat. This polysemy connects two concepts that are normally opposed: house and street, floor and ceiling. The addition of the term piloto lends it an experimental character. This meaningful juxtaposition tempts us to appropriate the term piso piloto (show apartment in English) from the estate agent’s jargon and apply it to another way of making the city.
The Piso Piloto initiative has been organised by the Mayor’s Office of Medellín and Barcelona City Council, in association with the Museum of Antioquia and the Centre for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB). It seeks to overcome the limitations of conventional town planning in order to undertake a collective exploration and experiment with the housing solutions offered by the combination of public and domestic space. The objective is to make cooperation between Medellín and Barcelona a test bed in order to achieve more sustainable and inclusive cities where rights to housing and the city will be fulfilled.
Pilot Apartment is the result of co-operation between Medellín and Barcelona, two cities whose councils have been working together for many years on a range of social projects. The exhibition showcases the significance of international co-operation in the 21st century: the peer-to-peer sharing of pilot initiatives that contribute knowledge useful for any city around the world.
In spite of their differences, Medellín and Barcelona have their own unique yet comparable characteristics. Both are hemmed in by geographical features – the former lies in the Aburrá Valley; the latter is bounded by the Mediterranean coast and the Collserola ridge — which have prevented them from spreading too far. They also share second-city status. Although Bogotá and Madrid are the capitals, Medellín and Barcelona are the standard bearers of Antioquian and Catalan identities. They are both renowned for their hard-working, industrious character which has made them places of migration and fostered rapid growth. Moreover, their municipal governments have enjoyed a fruitful partnership that has continued through different legislatures.
The most striking similarity, however, is the international recognition both cities have garnered for their transformation resulting from a firm commitment to public space. Both cities left behind dark times by promoting public works that have provided infrastructures for the poorer neighbourhoods and made them more accessible. Nevertheless, the problems they have been fighting in the sphere of public space stemmed, to a large extent, from shortcomings in the domestic sphere. When the cities that welcome people are no longer welcoming they suffer from imbalances that affect the urban fabric as a whole. Medellín and Barcelona have seen that immense efforts are needed to try to overcome the delays in the public sphere when providing access to housing. This means it is not only essential, but of the utmost urgency that, in addition to improving urban premises, they should also try to better manage what is to come.
In recent decades, cities have transformed and spread as never before, providing space for half of humanity. In the meantime, many city councils have focused on beautifying public space and left the domestic space in the hands of the market. Moreover, local governments, professionals, building firms, property developers and financial organisations have imposed a kind of technocracy that fails to meet people’s basic needs.
This has created a disconnect between the home and the street. Many city centres have undergone regeneration that, paradoxically, has made them more expensive and driven people out. While their housing has lost its use value to become a property asset, their streets and squares have become more mundane, unsafe or hard to maintain. For their part, the outskirts have been peopled by residential monocultures where houses jumble together without having access to quality public spaces. Informal settlements, housing estates and the suburban sprawl are built territories without civility.
When cities disregard the right to housing and the city, they become more unfair and less sustainable. The lack of access to a suitable, well-located home not only affects the most disadvantaged. It harms society as a whole. It brings with it increased energy and environmental costs, and impinges on infrastructures and productivity. It affects health, the birth rate or individualism damaging our democracies. In short, it threatens the coexistence and survival of the urban.
Technocracy: the imposed city - The public space is not enough - Deserted centres - The informal city - The dormitory town - The dispersed city
Homeless - A right or a commodity? - From proletariat to property owners - The price bubble - New-build fever - Shutters down - The surge in evictions - The shortfall in social housing - Unfit homes
The home, as much as the street, is a collective issue, playing an equal role in giving structure to the shape and content of the urban space. The guarantee of the right to housing is the cornerstone of such basic rights as healthcare, education or the vote. Housing policies can achieve cities that are more mixed and compact, or, in other words, fairer and more sensible. After all, the combination of public and domestic space is key when it comes to addressing the economic, environmental and political challenges we face in the immediate future.
The response of conventional channels to the housing emergency proves that housing cannot be blindly entrusted to experts, representatives or intermediaries. We need to break with the technocratic regime that has monopolised housing. It needs to be addressed from a cross-cutting, integrated perspective while overcoming stereotypes, involving the people affected and creating rigorous debates that are open to new approaches. Above all, there is a pressing need to experiment jointly with housing, to apply and compare other forms of development, tenure, distribution and addition.
This is a selection of very diverse, and in some case opposed, housing solutions which stem from academic research, local government and civil society initiatives. They haven’t yet been applied across the board, but they have been put into practice and their feasibility has been proven. In short, they show that a more welcoming city is not only possible, it is already here.
The city of the future has already been built. It is time to recycle our inheritance and make the most of the leftovers of the past. The barren habitat must be brought back to life. Instead of building more remote housing, we should fill in the gaps in the established urban fabric; repopulate neighbourhoods without residents; fill vacant houses; reform laws and houses to adapt them to contemporary life and save them from falling derelict and from energy poverty;provide the grassroots manufacturing fabric with skilled jobs.
The city is a shared habitat. We have to smooth off the rough edges of coexistence and boost its advantages; discourage individualism and foster community life; promote social housing in order to break up ghettos and residential monocultures in order to achieve a diverse and balanced city. We not only need to think about the way housing is distributed but how it can be added to; enrich the threshold that separates it from the public; share costs and profits; commit to community services and social spaces where we can learn to contribute to the common good.
The city is a collective development. It isn’t wise to compete in something that concerns everyone; we have to work together for change. There is a pressing need to experiment with modes of development and tenure based on cooperation and use, instead of speculation and abuse. We need to break down disciplinary and technocratic barriers and understand the city as an open-source process: collaborative, dynamic, complex. We need to democratise decision-making through horizontal and inductive participation and make the most of collective intelligence to enrich the common good.