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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  1. Great idea! It would be interesting to study the processes through which the program was funded and how they might be self-sustaining. I would think it must be expensive for the city to pay people to work on these sites, and also maintain the sites. How do you balance providing long-term funding and keeping the lots from becoming too commercial or focused on people with a lot of money?

  2. You'll find more information about this experimental programme of Zaragoza city council. Thanks to this programme we recycled 28 plots, transforming 42.000 m² of abandoned plots in public space, through citizen participation in the official website:

    Thanks, Patrizia Di Monte, architect.

  3. good job I admire it.

  4. Thank you all for your comments and congratulations for such a nice initiative Patrizia!

  5. I find that "Esto no es un solar" is a great initiative tackling a huge challenge in our cities. How to recover for civil life those plots and empty spaces tranforming them in convivial, accessible and friendly public spaces. I'm involved in USER project (changes, dysfunctions and conflicts in using public space) a thematic network belonging to European Urbact Program. USER aims to share, exchange and produce new knowledge regarding the construction of "good public spaces" in European cities. You can find USER in facebook.

  6. To follow USER in facebook.!/pages/USER/300683116698785

  7. This is a great example of the government taking the proper steps to better a community, and how Urbanism is helping a community become more of a family, and not by displacing people or inconveniencing anyone in the mean time. But taking something that was not working and creating a garden, art, playground, places where people in the community can enjoy the new spots, and not have to pay any money to be able to use it. All while creating more jobs for folks who really truly need it.
    And although its not working for the up keep and maintenance of the areas, if they keep working on it, it should turn out very successful. Since to my it also is an Urbanization type of event that because this is such a big deal, more tourists will come, allowing for the city to grow and change some more. To me this is the start of a good ripple effect if they can control it properly; along with keep the program running to it keeps benefiting them as much as it is at this moment.

  8. I feel like this project is a really helpful idea and a great example of urbanism. There may be all kinds of places around the city like this and by helping to build these community areas, residents will now have places to socialize, spend time and feel safe. This reminds me of the community projects going on in Brooklyn, striving to better the community. A concern might be that these places might become forgotten or fall into disuse but if the government works to pump up public approval that might not happen. I think it is a clever way to help the community feel a sense of pride and ownership because they are the ones who get to work and do the hands are part of the projects and it is something they can be proud of. This particular example of urbanism is a domino affect because if people get together to work on these projects, the tighter the community will become and the more inclined people will be to use these public spaces.


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