Having been in residence at Jiwar for three weeks now, for the Making Neighborhood project about urban mobility, I designed a survey and initiated a participatory process with “conversations” about Barcelona life. With help from translators, the participation can be in Catalan, Spanish and English. An online archive is being created to hold collections of material from this process including my field recordings that add a layer a layer of impressions beyond language. More than a study of the physical environment, this work is about perceptions of life quality and choice at a complicated time in history. With its strong cultural identity and enviably livable design, Barcelona is nonetheless in a nexus between extreme urbanization and democratic fragility. So far, the richest work is discovering symbolic impressions such as colors, shapes and sounds as well as emotions conveyed through conversations, all of which mesh into a language of the city. I take inspiration from the Pakistani born British poet Imtiaz Dharker, whose poetry takes people on intimate journeys (through the clatter of trains to the light over the River Thames) finding source material in the world around her.
My research, including a literature review in progress, is indicating that mobility (or my preferred term “life quality”) is a function of: (i) choice, access and removal of barriers; (ii) respectful co-existence of differences including diverse manners of speaking, moving, behaving, relating, working, etc; (iii) systems that support security and well-being beginning in the closest circles of home and neighborhood radiating out to a global political level; and (iv) favorable social relationships including intimacy and sense of belonging.
Called back to the poetic perspective, it is the fourth mysterious unquantifiable element of mobility — relationships and belonging — that hits a chord and then leads me to more questions and a new line. Are there common threads to a sense of belonging in Barcelona (a refrain)? I am not sure we can ever truly define why one feels home here in comparison with other places. A sense of connection can feel sublime, but maybe there are formulaic pieces (like a haiku) that can be composed to create belonging. Thinking about how cultural roots influence one’s experience, I wonder if transplants who relocate alone or in small units ever have the same social networks. The lines of inquiry continue to grow, it is not about finding particular answers. With our process in place now, we will continue to collect impressions and I am enjoying a breath while considering possibilities for creative translations of the language of the city. The color of belonging. The shape of change. The sound of history. The spaces where there is greater and lesser access.