Urban DNA and the birth of Urban Acupuncture Therapy: Story from Murcia, Spain

Rebeca Pérez López

By Rebeca Pérez López, on November 17th, 2017

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A decade of citizen engagement in Murcia (Spain)

Murcia, a city in southeast Spain, was awarded the URBACT Good Practice label for an urban regeneration and revitalisation project carried out in its Espiritu Santo neighbourhood, a peripheral and run-down area of Murcia.

Murcia City Hall and all the people that were involved in this project, from citizens to civil servants, are delighted to see URBACT deems it worthy to highlight the Espiritu Santo process and intervention and to share our story with our European neighbours.

More than the actual outcomes, what makes our project truly innovative and different is the way it has been conceived and implemented, i.e. through a truly integrated urban development strategy and thanks to a very active citizens’ engagement process.

This methodology gave birth to the idea of working around the concept of Urban DNA and ‘Urban Acupuncture’: the transformation towards sustainable urban development through a gentle and non-invasive methodology, best described as a thousand mini-interventions, fruit of the citizen participation process.

First successes in Espiritu Santo district

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In the area of Espiritu Santo, a “very low-income area”, this innovative strategy for economic and social regeneration and sustainable development was implemented with the help of EU funding through the URBAN programme.

In this area rates of illiterate residents exceeded the number of people with higher education and people had low educational levels.  This was no exception in younger generations, where it was combined with soaring absenteeism and school failure (drop-out). The area was known for its high rates of criminality and delinquency, drug-trafficking and conflicts. All factors contributed to continuous urban deterioration.

The project ‘Integrated and participative urban regeneration’ offered clear and tangible solutions that are relatively easy to adapt and implement. It is a sustainable and affordable practice which cities can easily adapt to their local context.

Integrated approach to sustainable development was developed through road-mapping realistic solutions to complex problems, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the community of the district.

It was necessary to establish a close inter-correlation between environmental efficiency, technological innovation, knowledge and know-how. It was also important to create and consolidate stable mechanisms for social and citizen participation in the whole process of designing, developing and evaluating the project.

Nothing can happen without the residents

The citizen and stakeholder engagement programme incentivised residents to take part in the creation of a customised plan to first identify problems and then address them. Residents were supported, technically and technologically, by the participating municipality services (housing, culture, social services, education, health, information society, youth and employment).

Discussions also involved the Local Municipal Board, NGOs, Neighbourhood Associations; Cultural-, Youth-, Mothers and Fathers- Associations, Pastoral Council, representatives of minorities and groups at risk of social exclusion (in this case a big collective were the Roma citizens of the district), representatives of the two schools, etc. as well as individual citizens.

 Culture, arts and training as the key to changes in Espiritu Santo

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The intervention, which physically took place between 2008 and 2012, executed the agreed upon plan. Examples include demolitions, the adaptation of vacant lots for culture, sports and leisure, and the widening of public open space. Physical changes included remodelling squares and streets and urban art. It also involved the remodelling of some cultural, sports, educational and social facilities to transform the area into an attractive area of the city, with a special focus on ICT, performing arts, music and cultural dynamics.

A centre for artistic and cultural production was opened. Classrooms were remodelled and adapted to better fit artistic teaching. A Family support service was created and self-help groups, which promote the coexistence between different communities aroused. Educational training was proposed: on the environment, on recycling and reuse and disposal of waste as well as awareness training activities on equal opportunities and non-discrimination for instance.

Children were given access to after-school support, didactic exhibitions, excursions, as well as to specific training to improve their access to employment in dance, music, theatre and video. Training included ICT for all ages, audio-visual production, soundtrack creation, photography direction, video art, sound and lighting for shows, fashion design, hairdressing and make-up art.

Urban Acupuncture therapy for Santa Eulalia

03_Santa_EulaliaIn 2016 Murcia City Hall started working on a new project called “ADN Urbano” (Urban DNA), which was first launched in the Santa Eulalia neighbourhood. It focuses on neighbourhoods in the city centre and was developed through a broad process of citizen participation. Building on our past experience in Espiritu Santo, we managed to gain a broader citizen participation. Creating and developing citizen engagement proved to be a key element, decisive in the process of generating change, and determining the success of the intervention. Currently, Murcia City Hall is choosing two districts where we will replicate the model.

That’s where the idea of “urban acupuncture” comes from! When the City Hall engages in meaningful conversation through mixed discussion groups supported by municipal experts, problems are mapped easily and efficient solutions are proposed.

This process provides Murcia’s municipality with the possibility to better assess problems. It generates direct and creative input from local stakeholders and residents. It creates a sense of involvement and belonging, strengthens the identity and builds community feeling. It also generates a stronger sense of ownership: citizens care more about the process and its outcomes when they have been involved directly.

The transformation of Santa Eulalia

According to the proposed actions and to tackle the problems highlighted by citizens, over 300 municipal employees started working intensively on Santa Eulalia, cleaning, installing underground containers for trash, removing graffiti, urban landscaping, planting new trees, repainting and redecorating the streets of the neighbourhood, etc.

The Santa Quitera mansion, former convent of San Antonio was turned into an open-air museum in a district where famous and renowned Spanish artists have lived, turning it into the ‘district of the artists’, featuring commemorative plaques, illustrated with the portraits of these great “maestros”.

Special care was placed on abandoned plots in the area. One plot was converted into a cultural and leisure space with an urban orchard, trees, an area to play traditional games and a space for open air exhibitions. Open to everyone in the neighbourhood, it will be managed by local people, and the garden will evolve according to the needs of Santa Eulalia’s neighbours.

Murcia City Hall continues to learn from past experiences. A second edition of Urban DNA, focussing on another area of the city, is in preparation. Special attention will be set on improving the methods applied, notably when it comes to involving the citizens in the construction and rehabilitation of their surroundings, empowering them and solving the area’s problems.

The description of the Espiritu Santo Good Practice “integrated and participative urban regeneration: An integrated approach to urban regeneration of a disadvantaged district” can be found on the URBACT website.

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