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New Life for Empty Lots in Zaragoza

by Teresa García Alcaraz

"Esto no es un solar" (this is not a lot) is a participatory design project reanimating abandoned lots in Zaragoza, Spain. The municipal government started the project in 2009 to clean up the historic center and reduce unemployment. Lead architects Patrizia di Monte and Ignacio Grávalos Lacambra have focused on collaboration with neighborhood residents in generating and realizing ideas for each space.

The project has since expanded beyond the historic center to 28 sites throughout the city. Each repurposed lot has a number and is plotted on a map, linking it with the others. In all, they make up 42,000 square meters of space transformed into many different kinds of community gathering places.

Plot 1, an urban garden that includes benches and parking for bikes. Source: todo por la praxis

The lots have become playgrounds, parchís boards, gardens, small woods, volleyball pitches, pingpong sites, pétanque courts and resting places for the elderly. They are all free of charge and freely accessible to all.

Plot 5, a playground with a giant parchís board painted on the ground. Source: esto no es un solar

The name "this is not a lot" encourages people to imagine what can happen in each space, proposing new projects and creating places that they care about. Anyone can post comments and ideas on the program blog to communicate with others in the community. Over 50 organizations — including schools, neighborhood groups and cultural centers — have participated in the program.

Workers with T-shirts that create playful sentences. Source: esto no es un solar

While building and painting the sites, workers wear T-shirts that display a single word from the program name. Together the shirts form random sentences like "un solar no es un solar" (a lot is not a lot), "esto es" (this is) or "un solar no es esto" (a lot is not this). The work becomes a community event that encourages people to meet their neighbors and feel a sense of ownership over the site.

At the same time, the program has run into problems with longterm maintenance and doesn't appear to be providing substantial employment. But if the municipal government is able to sustain adequate support, "this is not a lot" should continue to improve in aligning urban development with the wishes of local residents.

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