Independent Media Centre Ireland

"The half a rood of rock" - how we value public space.

category international | environment | news report author Thursday October 05, 2006 20:45author by iosaf .:. ipsiphi

Paddy Kavanagh's sonnet "epic" is familiar to most Irish readers, it's wonderful description of an argument of land ownership in the late 1930's in Ireland as 2 farmers (one stripped to the waist) argue over a "half a rood of rock". These days throughout Europe neither men nor women seem to bother stripping to the waist to lay their claims on barren soil anymore - but the issue of public space & how to reclaim it has in recent years taken on a great collective importance. Thus in Ireland we've seen the initiatives of the Dolphins Barn garden & more recently the Darmouth Square project. This evening I'm going to tell you all about the Forat de Vergonya" : A site of just over a hectare (quite a few roods) which many years ago was designated by Barcelona 's council, Catalonia's government & the EU as a future site for a rubber tyre pre-recycling storage plant complete with hotel. (creative urban use no?)
the half rood of rock belongs to one of the most diverse communities in europe. just like dolphins barn. just like any space reclaimed in dublin
the half rood of rock belongs to one of the most diverse communities in europe. just like dolphins barn. just like any space reclaimed in dublin

For the last 3 days the community of Casc Antic in the central "old city" of Barcelona have faced an invasion of riot police, helicopters, national TV, Spanish state TV & private security guards. ("fingers are being broken"). This happens to be my local community & I like almost every other citizen regularised or not, indiginous or migrant from "far far away land" am proud of the Forat de Vergonya" . The area was abandoned by the municipal authority as a brown soil site & the neighbours built with their own hands, (many stripped to the waist) not only a garden but a playground. This was an achievement because though our "barri" ( neighbourhood) after waiting 11 years now boasts an award winning market & has seen property prices quintiple in 4 years, & boasts some of the most sophisticated restaurants & artisan boutiques in southern Europe...... we never had a playground........................ & no-one has built us one since.

I'll admit I've gone way past enjoying playgrounds personally. I'm not the type to hang out salivating on an improvised bench observing the young of a "multi-ethnic" community where more than 80 languages are spoken & more than 6 religious groups freely & peacfully worship side by side. But I want that playground to stay. The name of the space "forat de vergonya" means "the hole of shame". Yes, it was and still is a shame that a council which speculated publically owned space to capitalise on a switch to a tourist based economy could not provide one of its most diverse & civil neighbourhoods a playground.

We are all very proud of the hole of shame. & we're holding onto it. & if it comes down to it that someone who never came to our Barri pays a Bulldozer to destroy it - it will be opened again. & that happens everywhere.

& that is the essential & universal truth of our class conscience, our neighbourhoods, our culture, our generation - whether we find ourselves building a playground & garden with our own hands in Barcelona, Dublin, Oaxaca, Netherlands or wherever it is they fancy building a hotel.

I remember when & how this fight occured a few years ago as well. the council attempted to set up a "negotiation table" (just like the Federal government of Mexico is doing for Oaxaca). The police and choppers & TV came & the building contractors put a big wall around the "forat" & within a night each & every brick had been taken down & the good people of Casc Antic had to start all over again - planting their trees & flowers & building their playground. inch by inch - kilogram by kilogram - rood by hald damned rood..... uprooted tree by uprooted tree.

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