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“City Unfinished”, a social cooperative initiative exploring memory and identity in the self-built city


 

On June 15, 2021, the Academia Europaea – Barcelona Knowledge Hub (AE-BKH) held a screening of the documentary, Ciudad Infinita – Voces de El Ermitaño (Lima, 2018), in the auditorium of the Goethe-Institut Barcelona, followed by a debate on the main topics of the film: public space, community building, housing, memory and identity.

The debate, moderated by journalist and author Bettina Bremme (Goethe-Institut), with the participation of architect and urban planner Zaida Muxi (ETSAB-UPC) and urban researcher and “City Unfinished” film director Kathrin Golda-Pongratz (UIC School of Architecture, ETSAV-UPC, AE-BKH), provided thought-provoking insight into the role of public space and housing in the construction of identity in different cultures, including our own. This event was featured as part of +Biennial, a programme of complementary activities held at different venues throughout Barcelona, following the conclusion of the second “City and Science” Biennial (June 8-13, 2021), organised by the Barcelona City Council.

First, the film, Ciudad Infinita – Voces de El Ermitaño, lasting just under a half an hour, was screened, which is based on an investigation of the urbanisation and place-making processes in the neighbourhood of El Ermitaño (Independencia/Lima) conducted by British architect John F C Turner in Peru in the 1960s. A rediscovery made in Turner’s files of an historic documentary filmed in El Ermitaño in 1964 -and its later return in 2016 to and screening in the place where it had originally been filmed- helped to activate collective memory and trigger work on the present documentary. Ciudad Infinita – Voces de El Ermitaño, directed by Kathrin Golda-Pongratz, seeks to portray the current challenges facing the El Ermitaño neighbourhood as told by its residents. The film reactivates memories of its migratory roots and reflects the concerns, mixed identities and efforts of its people, who formed their neighbourhood on their own, without any guidance from architects or urban planners.

Next, a lively discussion took place between the film’s director, Kathrin Golda-Pongratz, and architect and urban planner Zaida Muxi, both of whom responded to questions relayed by moderator and journalist Bettina Bremme. These questions focused on how to view self-built cities and neighbourhoods not as a problem per se, but as a potential solution enabling individuals to free themselves from oppressive environments offering little or no opportunities, with the role of youth and women receiving special attention. The importance of integrating self-built neighbourhoods into the broader context of a complex system was highlighted by both speakers, with the goal of tackling issues such as social inequality, poverty, pollution and poor sanitation and safety. Finally, contrasting perspectives were also provided comparing self-built neighbourhoods in Europe and Latin America, where discontinuous public policies have further hampered efforts. In this sense, El Ermitaño provides ideas for incentivising similar initiatives aimed at improving and consolidating neighbourhoods.

The AE-BKH and its collaborating institutions were pleased by the success of the event, with the auditorium of the Goethe-Institut Barcelona at full capacity and numerous additional participants following the event live via streaming.

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