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1998 Spanish Best Practices selected by the International Jury >

Project Ciutat Vella: Revitalization of the Historical Center of Barcelona (Spain)

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Experience selected in the 1998 Dubai Award for Best Practice, and catalogued as BEST. ( Best Practices Database.)
País/Country: Spain

United Nations Region: Europe
Ecological region: Coastal
Activity: City/Town
Partnerships: Local Authority. Other/Regional Government. Central Government.

Themes = Architecture and Urban Design: historic preservation; sustainable community design. Housing. Urban Governance: descentralization; partnership development.

Main contact:
Pere Cabrera Massanes
Barcelona City Council (Local Authority)
Pl. Caramelles 8
A.R.I. Ciutat Vella
Tel: +34-93 442 68 68
Fax: +34-93 442 68 81

Climent Solé
Generalitat de Catalunya (Regional Government)
Aragó, 244-248
Tel: +34-93 214 70 55
Fax: +34-93 487 26 78

Partner Two Support Type: Other/Financial and political support

Marta García Nart
Ministry for Development (Central Government)
Paseo Castellana 67 desp.B-605
Ministerio de Fomento
Tel: +34-91 597 75 72
Fax: +34-91 597 86 04

Partner Three Support Type: Financial Support

Nominating organization
D. Marta García Nart
Spanish National Committee
Paseo de la Castellana 67
Ministry for Development
Tel: +34-91 597 75 72
Fax: +34-91 597 86 04

Key Dates

Designation Area for Integral Rehabilitation: 13.10.86
Managing Comission Area for Integral Rehabilitation: 7.5.87
Cohesion Fund of European Union: Environmental Regeneration of Ciutat Vella (Raval-Casc Antic): 1994-1995
Agreement (Ministry for Development - Comunidad Autónoma de Catalonia - Barcelona City Council) of financing for rehabilitation Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona: 12.9.94 - 23.12.96
"Raphael" Program of European Union: Ciutat Vella Sgraffitto: 25.11.96


Ciutat Vella found itself immersed in a steadily worsening situation: loss of economic importance, failure to renew the urban fabric and housing. Over the years, other problems also emerged, such as social marginalisation and the appearance of sectors of the population with highly specific problems.

Barcelona City Council, having decided that it was necessary to intervene in the historic centre of the city, also realised, to a great extent thanks to the new policy of descentralisation which made it more aware of social realities, that if a partial segmented policy were implemented it would be doomed to certain failure. For this reason, in 1986 it was decided to designate Ciutat Vella an Area de rehabilitacio integrada (ARI), a mesure which allowed all the administrations capable of taking action in the district to combine their projects and efforts.

The urban, economic and social regeneration of Ciutat Vella is an unprecedented process in the modern history of Barcelona, one which responds to the duty of attending to the basic rights of people, remedying structural shortcomings in the district. The results reveal a strong commitment to a model of city centre fully integrated and offering quality of life, guaranteeing the maintaining of residential activity.


1. Situation before the initiative

Background to the year 1986
The Ciutat Vella district, created as part of the political and administrative reforms of the 1979-82 period, though it had pertained to the city of Barcelona since the mid 19th century, contains such widely differing areas and neighbourhoods as El Raval, Santa Caterina, La Ribera, La Barceloneta, La Mercè, etc. It is, therefore, a vastly heterogeneous district, a two thousand year old centre of population which has, over the centuries, witnessed the passing of different cultures, styles and movements. The last century industrial development led to the ignoring, rather than the destruction, of the centre of this city.

The size of the city centre grew from the 12 hectares of the time of the Roman walls to 131 hectares with the construction of the medieval walls and, finally, to 218 hectares with the third and last walls, rising to 386 (431 if we include the Ciudadella Park) with the incorporatio of the seafaring quarter of La Barceloneta in 1753. This represents 4% of the entire municipal area, its 118,940 inhabitants making up 7% of the total population of the city. Average population density is 300 inhabitants per hectare, though with large sectors where density reaches 700 inhabitants per hectare (average for Barcelona: 180 inhabitants per hectare).

The degradation of housing (state of conservation and level of domestic services) is, however, at the core of the problems of this district. To the age of buildings must be added, in the case of El Raval, Santa Caterina and Sant Pere, the hundred year old effects of the opening up of thoroughfares (Garcia Morato, Méndez Núñez and Francesc Cambó) which have effectively frozen any private initiative for improving and renovating buildings, and which was considered under the General Metropolitan Plan (PGM).

Its degraded, but not demolished architectural heritage, led to the creation of a "surgical model" (in contrast to the plans drawn up from the turn of the century until 1976, in which the common denominator was the proposal for large thoroughfares to clean up the district) which optes for the removal of elements which cannot be recovered, centring its action on rehabilitating dwellings which have been able to withstand the years of degradation.

Ciutat Vella presents very problematic physical and socio-demographic conditions, in that, the historical residential centre is generally old with few facilities. On the other hand, the population density is extremely high (26,000 inhabitants/km2), the population is older and the dwellings are very old (70% are more than a hundred years old).

In the last few years Ciutat Vella has undergone a profound deterioration from a physical point of view as well as social, existing as one of the most acute islands of social exclusion in Barcelona. The delinquency problems and drug trafficking contributed to the area being less and less frequented by the people of the city, resulting in a decline among the commercial establishments in the area. At the same time an exodus of the social groups on middle income occurred, with emigration to districts with better conditions.

Ciutat Vella had been converted into a city problem, and as such it was taken on by the municipal administration, which acted as a catalyst for the multiple agents which have intervened in the area in the last few years.

Progressively a citizens consensus was arrived at, that urgent actions, prolonged and convincing were needed.

A methodological element exists at management level which has allowed the correct realization of the project; in summary, the process of political descentralization and administration carried out by the Barcelona Council in the eighties, with the structuring of urban districts. It has been the Ciutat Vella district which has acted as a central element in the project management, thanks to its proximity to the immediate reality and the daily problems through the level of communication which it has established with the residents.

A second element, of a functional character, defines the method used in the project. It was decided to act intensively in a short space of time, the object being to change the evolutive tendency of Ciutat Vella. It was believed that, owing to the level of existent degradation, regular non-intensive action would mean that in a short space of time the actions taken would degrade, making it impossible to generate the change in tendency previously mentioned.
Thirdly, resulting from the plan for intensive action, is was proposed to combine the urban renovation with economic promotion and social welfare. It was proposed to favour all the processes that would improve the quality of life, confronting with priority the underprivileged and poor areas.

Finally, a fourth element for defining the project is the participation given to the residents' associations in the decisive organizations of the project.

Rehabilitation of the Old City Centre: the Ciutat Vella - Barcelona 1988-1998
Ciutat Vella is the historical centre of the City of Barcelona (1,643,542 inhabitants). Nowadays Ciutat Vella constitutes one of the ten districts into which the city is divided. An area of over 3 Km2 (386 ha.) and over 100,000 inhabitants.

The process of rehabilitation carried out in Ciutat Vella constitutes a large operation, with an integral quality, in which multiple agents intervene and various thematic sections are acted upon. The operation has been a pioneering one in Spain due to the management form adopted and the decisive way in which the realization of the project has been carried out.

2. Objectives, strategies and mobilization of resources
The integrating action in Ciutat Vella proposed in the programme the following priorities and general objectives:

3. Process
Organizational structure
The stimulating institution for the project has been the City Council of Barcelona. The municipal decentralization in districts realized in Barcelona in the eighties has favoured the achievement of the action as it has allowed the Ciutat Vella District to act as an impulse and coordinator of the operation.

To carry out the infrastructural content of the operation, the pertinent urban plans were approved and Ciutat Vella was named as "Area de Rehabilitación Integral" (ARI): Area for Integral Rehabilitation.

To adopt decisions on the application of urban reforms the Managing Commission ARI was constituted. This Commission functions as a decision-making and coordination entity, political-administrative, of the various public institutions which collaborate in co-responsability in the project together with the Neighbour Community Associations.

To manage an important part of the urban content of the project the company Promoció Ciutat Vella SA. (PROCIVESA) was created by the Barcelona Council. In the company other public, financial and service entities participate on a regional and national scale. Barcelona City Council ceded the benefit of the expropriations to PROCIVESA (managed of land, for any public use).

The project also depends on the participation of the Generalitat of Catalonia (regional government) which, amongst others, has taken on an important building campaign through Instituto Catalan del Suelo INCASOL. The land expropriate by PROCIVESA is ceded to INCASOL for construction of housing.

Due to the project size, many public and private agents have intervened in its realization and have taken on actions for improvement in various aspects of Ciutat Vella.

Amongst the organizational structures formed in the project the creation of the Security and prevention Council for Ciutat Vella is outstanding. It is a council with a non-police character, which coordinates various actions in the area.

Area for integral rehabilitation (ARI)
The ambitious regeneration plan for the entire municipal district presented here is known by the initials PAI (Plan for Integral Action) and was created when Barcelona City Council decided to harmonise the various plans for inner city transformation approved since the entry into effect of the 1976 General Metropolitan Plan. The Special Plans for Interior Reform (PERI) were joined together in a single document entitled the ARI (Area of Integrated Rehabilitation).

The PAI is a model of intervention wich entails the coordination of all administrations with powers in such varied areas as:

An independent model of management was opted for on the part of the different administrations involved, maintaining the ARI Management Commission, on which the different neighbourhood residents' associations are represented (7.5.87) to deal with coordination and corresponsibility in the regeneration of Ciutat Vella and the ARI as an instrument to:
The rehabilitation in Ciutat Vella is an extremely active and complex process. It is impossible to detail in this report all the actions carried out. For this reason the four basic lines of action developed are explained below:

4. Results Achieved

Continuity, future plans and results
As a whole, the realization of the project is positively valued, even though these types of complex, large scale operation, like Ciutat Vella, have to aspire mainly to changing the existent negative tendencies and to stimulating an effect of diffusion of the improvements achieved. At the moment it appears that the objective has been practically obtained, because as described beforehand, the reality of Ciutat Vella has started to change.

Some results of the projects are already visible. It can be confirmed that in Ciutat Vella the degradation tendency has been modified and that today the area has a quality of life definitely superior of years ago.

Amongst the elements of improvement are:

Mainly and transferability of the innovative elements:
In the Spanish area the rehabilitation process in Ciutat Vella has been pioneering and exemplary.

Without doubt, one of the most innovative elements applied to Ciutat Vella is the adopted urban outlook, which can be qualified as genuine.

The actions as a whole have respected the character of the area, the permanence of the inhabitants and made preparations for expansion and reconstruction, which, although not always visible, are fundamental for the improvement of living conditions in the district.

The level of cooperation of a large number of public, social and economic agents which has been achieved in the process is also fundamental. This fact is attributable to the collective acceptance (on a city and regional level) that Ciutat Vella was an acute problem and that action was required to overcome it.

The method of action, which has depended on the District and the company Procivesa as essential aids, also specific, as already mentioned: to cause an intensive impact in order to avoid loss or rapid degradation of the improvements introduced.

This model is clearly transferable to other cities with similar problems of degradation and density in the historical centre. On a Spanish level, the project Ciutat Vella as a pioneer, has been used as an example to be followed in many cities. The project has also been widely publicized on a European level.

5. The experience in numbers
Financial Profile
1993/1997 Total Operating Budget: 59.323,5 Millions of Pts.

Este documento se ha editado a partir de una versión inglesa.
Revisado por Nerea Morán Alonso.

1998 Spanish Best Practices selected by the International Jury >
Ciudades para un Futuro más Sostenible
Búsqueda | Buenas Prácticas | Documentos | Boletín CF+S | Novedades | Convocatorias | Sobre la Biblioteca | Buzón/Mailbox
Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid Universidad Politécnica de Madrid
Grupo de Investigación en Arquitectura, Urbanismo y Sostenibilidad
Departamento de Estructuras y Física de la EdificaciónDepartamento de Urbanística y Ordenación del Territorio