Barcelona civic group aims to clean-up La Rambla
La Rambla may be a must-see for tourists, but local residents are avoiding the boulevard due to crime and litter.
BARCELONA - Centuries ago La Rambla, as its Arabic-derived name indicates, was a sandy watercourse that sloped down to the sea just outside the southern wall of the old city of Barcelona.
As the city expanded, it became what it is now - a wide tree-lined boulevard that extends from the Plaza de Catalunya down to the sea front.
La Rambla is the great focus of street life in Barcelona, filled with moving crowds of pedestrians, all day and far into the night.
But too much of a good thing is producing disgruntled feelings among local residents, who want to clean up some abuses and ease the mass pressure on their urban environment.
"I just want it to be viable to go for a walk on La Rambla," says Iziar González, head of the neighbourhood association Ciutat Vella ("old city," the old urban nucleus of Barcelona).
Ciutat Vella has announced a proposal to upgrade the boulevard, which has lost much of its attraction for local residents due to changes it has undergone in recent years.
La Rambla has suffered a massive invasion of tourists, who in turn attract pickpockets and purse snatchers. In the day, the pavement is filled with street performers, human statues, souvenir stands and outdoor café tables encroaching on the pedestrian way, while street vendors and prostitutes take over when night approaches.
And because of that, residents from Barcelona, even those from Ciutat Vella, are disenchanted with La Rambla and no longer go there.
The district association wants to change this and has announced it will unveil its plans by April. The idea is to bring together representatives of pertinent departments of the municipal and regional governments, as well as other agencies and organisations.
The objectives will be to ensure there is a fair balance at La Rambla as an outdoor shopping mall and pedestrian boulevard, improve security and effectiveness of administrative fines, and help ease pedestrian movement.
This means a variety of measures, which include fencing in the outdoor café areas, a crackdown on street performers and nocturnal vendors of litter-producing canned drinks, and a graffiti cleanup programme. The committee will also look at matters such as the condition of the pavement, stands for flower vendors and the impact of tourist crowds when cruise ships arrive in the harbour.
"I have been living in the Ciutat Vella for 20 years. I'm an architect and could draw the plan for you now. But that isn't the point. The point is that Barcelona people, who say they love La Rambla, have to participate," says González, announcing a new webpage where people can post their opinions.
"Lots of things can be done, and it isn't a matter of money," she adds.