D’on venim, on som i on anem

D’on venim, on som i on anem


Where we come from, where we are and where are we going

The social housing for young people in Caldes de Montbui represents a commitment to the right to housing in the context of an exclusionary real estate market and, due to its centrality, in the context of an overly dispersed urban planning

«The people, where will they go?»

Ebenezer Howard 1898. 


It is now over one hundred and twenty years since the publication of Garden Cities of To-Morrow, the foundational text of the garden city. Extensive suburban sprawl has become the most prevalent projected urban form on the planet and has grown along with an industry, the automobile industry, that spends the most on advertising in the world.


Few people remember that in the original spirit of the New Towns, there were cooperative initiatives and that Ebenezer Howard's gardens were not decorative gardens, but vegetable gardens. Instead of this idea, the conviction has been culturally installed that happiness, perfection and excellence can only be found in the single-family house of the advertisements.


Also in Hollywood movies and Netflix series the good guys reside in houses with gardens, dogs, sons and daughters in affluent neighborhoods. The villains crawl through dark, dank alleys in crowded, smoky, smelly cities. However, we begin to understand that if we all lived in mansions with four facades plus the roof, emitting thermal radiation in winter and consuming air conditioning in summer, with a ribbon of asphalt to reach each estate, burning fossil fuels with each of the four 4 x 4 vehicles of each family member, with lawns irrigated with drinking water and a private swimming pool, the suburban dream would have its days counted. The size of the Howardian plot had to be large enough to contain a vegetable crop sufficient to feed a family. Self-sufficiency lightens the dependency on the car, among other virtues. In Caldes de Montbui, the recovery of the town's vegetable gardens, a proposal that won the European Prize for Urban Public Space, offered us four years ago an answer to these contemporary urbanistic disputes.


«There are three things that matter in property: location, location, location.» 

atribuït a Harold Samuel, 1926.


Another answer can be found in the Caldes Youth Housing Project. The quasi-apocryphal aphorism that heads this paragraph and that appeared for the first time in a classified  advertisement in the real estate section of the Chicago Tribune in the happy twenties can serve to venture a first condition of the right to housing and the right to the city. The urban position is relevant, and more so at the edge of a depression as great as that of '29. Ignoring that it leads to the extreme cases of the non-city: the shantytown, the speculative housing estate, the wasteful sprawl of extensive urbanization, and the socioeconomic ghetto. The location matters. A ten-minute walk from City Hall, the housing project is located on a plot that seemed to be waiting for another chalet, another neighbor of those who drive out in the morning, return at night, take refuge behind fences, hedges, blinds, curtains and shutters. Maybe a barbecue on a happy Saturday. Nothing against it. But there is something unusual about this proposal for affordable apartments in the middle of the garden city, an exercise with courage and generosity from the people of Caldes.


The project is located in a strategic position, on the Josep Fontcuberta Avenue, between Manolo Huguet and Granollers streets, in front of a small open park. In A Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), Jane Jacobs introduces the concept of eyes on the street. The idea is that a public space is not safer because it is more regulated or has more police patrols, but when its users make use of it and observe it: the man who washes the dishes while watching the children playing outside, the lady reading on the balcony, the grocer who takes a basket of apples out to the sidewalk. These actors of the urban scene are the true guarantors of coexistence. In the case of public gardens, if one does not want to confine them, eyes on the park become essential.


«Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.»

James Baldwin, 1957.


Defending the right to own a home in a voracious housing market deserves a few minutes of attention. Even the most recalcitrant neoliberal economists admit that the age of emancipation and indices of research, development and innovation are strictly parallel. Societies in which young people leave home early are advanced societies. The opposite of independence is dependence, but how can young Catalans emancipate themselves at current prices? The proportion of affordable housing in Vienna is 60%. In Copenhagen, 30%. In Berlin, Paris and London around 20%. And in our cities? 1.6% on average. This derisory amount explains why since the beginning of the economic crisis, 2008, evictions in the state are close to one million families. A million removals, relocations, furniture on the street and despair. And you will say "Ah, of course, they are rich countries". Montevideo, in Uruguay, has 4% housing in the cooperative regime. Almost three times more than us. In Caldes a bet is made to rectify this inequity. Social housing generates social cohesion, especially if it is woven into the urban market fabric. It strengthens collective networks and small economies that allow us to grow, advance and live. It offers conditions of rootedness and belonging, it builds identity. It favors exchange and casual encounters, local commerce and food, learning, shared awareness and respect for the environment. The project opens windows for employment, self-management, self-construction and training. It is accompanied by another initiative for the creation of a housing cooperative in the heart of the city, with absolute centrality. Both mean new opportunities for a productive fabric, that of the small developer, the village locksmith, the carpenter or the electrician who have been punished by a ten-year economic crisis and who see another one coming. The COVID-19 experience has taught us that it is better together. We have seen the world's most compact cities, Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, responding to the pandemic much more efficiently than the sprawling countries like England or the United States. Together we optimize health services, together we share knowledge, together we are stronger in the face of contingency. Eight apartments will be just eight apartments, all right. Look: In a world prostrated before global capitalism, the responses from local specificity may seem insignificant, but they contain the potential for change.



Álex Giménez Imirizaldu | Urbanist and member of ATRI team