On March 15, Spain began its lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been one of the most strict confinements in the world (subsequently made more restrictive with the temporary closure of non-essential activities). The lockdown has been applied homogeneously throughout all of Spain and has limited the access to public space for all age groups, even to the point of fining homeless people. This unprecedented situation has not only caused the foundation of our society to succumb from a health, social, and economical perspective, but it has also threatened the social agreements under which we have designed our cities.
A city like Barcelona, similarly to other European cities, is built upon the idea that the public realm needs to provide what the individual is not capable of affording. We build big libraries to have a desk to study, large squares as an extension to our houses to host friends, playground areas for people without a yard, and so on. Specifically, public space has addressed the deficiencies of the domestic space as a strategy to build contexts of equality through socialization. Although this approach has been useful in designing a city resilient to a pandemic (thanks to a medium density and a relative proximity that encourages mobility on foot and accessibility to basic services), it has also reduced the common living spaces (balconies, roofs, patios, hallways, et cetera) to the minimum expression throughout the years.
With the confinement of the more than 1.5 million inhabitants of Barcelona to their homes and the control of the streets by the police, public space has been canceled. Now, the house is the only environmental condition experienced by the citizens and, therefore, urban planning must consider housing so that public space continues to exist.
The current crisis has highlighted the housing deficiencies and the inequality of the different dwellings in which the population must remain. For example, the median area of a standard house in the city is 65 m2 (700 sf) with an average building stock of inferior construction quality and, in some cases, at risk of suffering from energy poverty (there are 19 households without a heating system for every 100 young people). The pandemic has also made evident the difficulties of many families to pay their rent, in many cases being 70% or more of their personal income. As a result of the constant increases in recent years, the median price of a dwelling today stands at around 15 euros/m2/month ($1.53 sf/month), while the average annual income of a citizen is 14,000 euros ($15,387). In addition, within this complex reality of more than 800,000 homes, there are more vulnerable groups such as the elderly and children under the age of 16 (38% of the total population) whose presence in public space has been dramatically reduced for a period of time yet undetermined.
Housing, which should protect us, now harms us: it exposes us to the cold, it harms our health, it isolates us from the world, and it constrains us to a minimal space that makes it impossible to live and develop as a person.
Paradoxically, despite that in the last forty years of democracy, the urban model of Barcelona has opted to provide good public space (through a mixed-use and dense model that was capable of fulfilling individual deficiencies), nowadays the most predatory forms of housing, equipped with gardens and private spaces, have fared better during the crisis. They do so despite the over-consumption of land, being less sustainable from an urban and ecological point of view, and having rejected the public towards an individualistic approach. This is a cruel turn for a way of approaching urban planning based on the public, which now reveals itself without a proper foundation due to the lack of our right to the city itself.
To continue with the decades-long urban work, we must consolidate the rights of citizens to the city itself while, at the same time, we must allow the urban to enter into the house, dissolving the limits between the individual and the collective.
The following thirteen maps aim to describe the housing conditions and their inhabitants in Barcelona during the lockdown. This is a necessary first step towards a better understanding of the inhabited housing market thanks to a data infrastructure that is partly public as well as private. It is time to reconsider the role that housing should play in urban planning and social integration.