On a trip to Valencia in May, it struck me how many contrasts I saw there, right in the middle of the old city. It was the starting point of a reflection and this blog post, illustrated by contrasting pictures of urban decay and regeneration, where there is potential for greening the city by making use of abandoned lots and decaying houses. In case you couldn’t decipher it, the picture above reads:
“DECAY RUIN. ARE YOU DEAD? REAL ESTATE”
Simple, concise, straight-to-the point. You don’t need to be fluent in English (or Spanish for that matter) to get it. Some Spaniards may miss it, but certainly not most tourists. Although tourists may display an extraordinary ability to blank out what might be unpleasant to look at (vacation time is vacation time, granted).
This is what you (or at least I) experience when you walk around El Carmen, the older part of the city, which used to be the living place of addicts and junkees of all kinds, where my host in Valencia would never go as a child and teenager in the 1980s-1990s. It still carries the legacy with it, although nice cafes are sprouting everywhere and houses are being elegantly refurbished by people with (at least some) capital. On every street corner, on every street, you are constantly reminded of decay and abandonment, standing side-by-side with decent-looking accommodation and small businesses. It would be interesting to perform a spatial analysis of empty lots in El Carmen to get some statistics, although empty lots can also be found in many other parts of the city.
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, after Madrid and Barcelona. It has about 800k inhabitants, with a metropolitan region of 1.7 to 2.5 million inhabitants. The city is really worth a visit, it has great architecture from many different time periods, plenty of nice city squares where you can enjoy beer or horchata in the shade of tall beautiful trees as well as orange trees, a fantastic park that runs through the whole city where the river used to flow until the 1960s, and plenty of museums to visit. A great place to learn Spanish too, although the authorities are trying to get something of a “Valencian” revival going, so told me my host who is a native of Valencia.
Why bother about Valencia here? You can zoom in and out of Valencia in 3D on the Google Earth view of Google Maps. Here is a screenshot of the main cathedral (La Catedral de Valencia), which is the entry point to El Carmen for many tourists.
Not many cities are in 3D in Google Maps, but Valencia is one of them. Go to Google Maps for Valencia and move around the city.
This blog post doesn’t intend to assess how bad poverty and inequalities are in Valencia. Still, here are some indications: The English-Speaking online paper Alicante Today indicated in June 2014 that a quarter of the population of the Valencia region lived below the poverty line, which was higher than the national average at 22.3%. Social kitchens have been especially active since the crisis began in 2008, and have continued to do so despite slow economic recovery. Likewise, energy poverty seems to be an important issue. An article from 1993 by Arias et al. already investigated the distribution of health inequalities within the cities of Valencia and Barcelona, showing reason for concern.
As it happens, the old city of Valencia is also a fascinating open-air exhibition for street art. Wherever there are empty lots and decaying/boarded up/buttressed/crumbling houses, this is street art. And in El Carmen, that means a lot of street art. Here is just a teaser.
If this is not art, then I don’t know what art is…
Arguably, street art thrives on what is ugly, transmutes it, and can make it disturbingly beautiful, appealing, or at the very least startling, provoking, and invite viewers to reflect about the politics of art and urban life. But that’s just my understanding.
Here is how some art experts view street art, among others. Read the excellent thread by Wide Walls. To be more academic about it, The Urban Dictionary definition points to its often illicit nature. AND there are many myths and health issues to living out the life of a street artists.
Another take on art is the one by Edgar Degas, who once said “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”
Here is some more pix
So in closing, keep up to date with street art in Valencia with the dedicated Facebook page, Street Art Valencia. Or here on this equally beautiful Facebook page Valencia en Graffitis. Even more fun to visit a city than with geocaching...