Barcelona Field Studies Centre

Barcelona: Renewal Project for the Ciutat Vella District

Country: a) Southern Europe , b) Spain

Language: Catalan
Type: Project, Policy, 1
Area: City/Town, > 1 million
Actors: Local government, Publ.-priv. partnership
Funding: Local government, Publ.-priv. partnership
Topics: Architecture and construction
Business and industry
Information and public participation
Objectives: Improve intersectoral cooperation
Improve living conditions
Improve micro-climate
Increase green areas
Increase public awareness
Instruments: Integrated planning approach
Local government structure / organisation
New management structure
Public participation



The Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona was the political, industrial and financial centre of the City of Barcelona until the mid-19th century. In the wake of urbanisation the status of this area changed dramatically as the decline in employment and housing led to social marginalisation and deterioration of physical and socio-demographic conditions. In the mid-1980s the city council decided to tackle the situation with integrated renewal management. In consequence, the Plan for Integral Action was put into practice. For the following reasons this model project can be regarded as a pioneer in Spanish rehabilitation of old city centres and an example of good practice:

  • reduction of the district density and new open spaces;

  • social improvement of living conditions;

  • increase in the number of available public facilities for social use in the district;

  • consolidation of the municipal decentralisation process;

  • institutionalizing direct inhabitant participation.

Concept and aims

Until the mid-19th century the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona was the area of urban life as all political, industrial and financial activities took place within the old town walls. In 1856 this situation changed radically when the city walls were demolished. The newly created district of Cerdà's Eixample and other neighbouring boroughs formed the present metropolitan area and the importance of the old town diminished. Nowadays the Ciutat Vella is one of ten city districts. Since this arrangement the urban, social, economic, and cultural conditions have changed dramatically:

  • at the beginning of the 1990s the population had decreased to approximately 90,000 inhabitants, whereas in 1950 some 240,000 people lived in this area of 4.3 square kilometres. Nevertheless, the population density remained extremely high;

  • building stock has a high percentage of old houses as 32% of the dwellings are more than 100 years old;

  • composition of the population changed as former inhabitants were replaced by immigrant families many of which are not on the census rolls;

  • the percentage of elderly people over 65 years went up from 14.8% in 1986 to a proportion of 17.2% in 1991;

  • lower and lowest income groups dominated the district’s population with 57.8%;

  • social, health and security problems characterised daily life in the district.

At the end of the 1970s the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona was the most deprived area in Barcelona. However, the time for new thinking in the search of a solution to the urban crisis had only come once the power of local policy making had been regained after 40 years of the Franco dictatorship. In 1979 the first democratic city council was elected. The decentralisation of urban politics prompted drawing special plans in the policy area of town planning. In the first half of the 1980s the plans for inner-city reforms (Planes Especiales de Reforma Interior or PERI) focused on several areas of the Ciutat Vella district (Raval, Casc Antic and Barceloneta). The main goals of these plans were expropriation and emptying of housing for demolition, construction of public housing for the local residents, and urbanisation of gardens, squares and new streets. PERIs are characterised by planning at neighbourhood level housing. This approach has its pros and cons. On the one hand it suits the characteristics and necessities of a particular area, but on the other hand there are a number of significant shortcomings. The activities were undertaken in isolation and did not take account of the area as a whole. The importance of road planning within the area was not properly considered, and the economic spread effects of regeneration schemes were underestimated.

All the actions and administrative resources were combined into a master plan approach. Planning for the whole district was designed as Area of Integrated Rehabilitation (Area de Rehabilitacio Integrada - ARI) in 1986. An ambitious regeneration plan, the Plan for Integral Action (PAI), was launched which was to tackle the following main issues:

  • reduction in urban congestion;

  • renewal of health and welfare infrastructures;

  • promotion and modernisation of economic regeneration;

  • stimulation of businesses around new public spaces;

  • improvement of internal mobility and support of public transport;

  • rehabilitation of historical architecture;

  • improvement in security for residents.

In order to achieve these goals new organisational structures were set up by the City Council of Barcelona:

  • municipal decentralisation took place and political-administrative responsibilities had were given to the district;

  • new forms of political and community participation were established;

  • a public-private partnership, the project company for the promotion of Ciutat Vella (PROCIVESA - Promocio Ciutat Vella S.A.), was set up in order to accelerate the process of municipal intervention.

There were two crucial reasons for the innovation of the organisational framework:

  1. the Plan for Integral Action required balanced action between contrary interests as the revitalisation policy is characterised by competing policies. A public private partnership can act as a mediation agency between actors and institutions.

  2. the PROCIVESA had overall responsibilities for the management of a complex programme. Thus it could effectively combine the administrative aspects of the programme (e.g. expropriation) and the operational tasks of the programme (e.g. execution of infrastructure projects).


Following the principles of the European Greenpaper on the Urban Environment, the need for interdisciplinary action was regarded as a key element of the renewal strategy: "In order to handle the problems of urban environment a sectional approach has to be overcome. This means to turn not only to the nearest causes of environmental degradation, but also to examine social and economic options." In consequence, the renewal strategy is based on three main pillars. In accordance with the goals of the renewal strategy the Plan for Integral Action has been implementing the following measures:

In the area of urbanisation and housing, which takes up the largest amount of resources, the actions focus on opening squares and renovation of pedestrian streets as well as the creation of social housing and the renovation of private buildings. Measures include the expropriation and emptying of blocks destined for demolition, the construction of public housing for the persons affected by the demolition, the construction of infrastructure facilities in their neighbourhood, and the urbanisation of gardens, squares and new streets. Furthermore, special attention is given to the environmental impact of transport. An EU sponsored pilot project on the restriction of car access to a designated neighbourhood has been initiated in order to reduce traffic inside the area. With the help of innovative technology (intelligent identity cards which remove bollards) the volume of traffic can be controlled from a Traffic Control Centre, and access to the area can be given during pre-set periods. The project was financed by the DRIVE2 programme.

The second area is the plan for social action which is designed to prevent and fight against social exclusion. The programmes include initiatives for underprivileged children, action against truancy, assistance and labour rehabilitation for persons without occupational training, measures to combat prostitution and drug abuse, health measures, help for adolescents at the risk from delinquency, visits to elderly people in the district etc. The following health and medical programmes have been set up:

  • a programme against tuberculosis;

  • a programme for AIDS prevention;

  • a programme to facilitate breaking drugs habit;

  • a programme to help prostitutes in their health risks;

  • a programme for mother and child care;

  • a programme for syringe collection.

Further special programmes are designed to reduce school absence and to support elderly people. In addition, recreational activities are to be promoted with the help of civic centres and sport infrastructure. As all programmes rely on the support of community associations an organisational network of coordinators was set up.

The third area of action is the security and prevention plan which was designed to guarantee maintenance of the results of the renewal projects. Improving in policing is obtained by more police presence on the streets. The topic of security is regularly revised by a Council working commission which deals with themes like the situation of elderly people, immigration problems, prostitution in the district, security of tourists etc. Furthermore, the use of public establishments is permanently registered in order to reduce the rate of illegal boarding houses and bars.

Actors and structures

Management of the Plan for Integral Action was provided by PROCIVESA ( Promocio Ciutat Vella S.A.). 54% of this public-private company is owned by Barcelona City Council. Other public, financial and service entities participate in the company on a regional or national scale. The company is not only funded by public money but also receives capital from a collective of trades and businesses in Ciutat Vella itself. PROCIVESA is also the manager of land for public use as the City of Barcelona ceded the benefits from expropriation to the public-private partnership.

Nevertheless, the regional government, the Generalitat de Catalunya, is also directly participating in the renewal projects as it has taken on an important building campaign through INCASOL (Institut Catala del Sol) which is entrusted with the task of constructing houses.

The regional government and PROCIVESA manage the architectural, cultural, environmental, and social interests of private rehabilitation via co-operation in the newly established Ciutat Vella rehabilitation office.


So far 90% of the planned facilities have been built which is equal to the acquisition of 70% of building land in the district. The implemented measures include the following results:

  • Ten hectares of new public space have been created;

  • opening two new parks and 26 further squares;

  • planting more than 4,000 trees;

  • building 1,700 new homes (including 400 modernised dwellings and 1,300 newly designed ones);

  • installation of 439 street-lights;

  • paving 308 streets;

  • six new civic centres have been opened;

  • three new old people’s homes have been built;

  • five additional sport complexes have been constructed.

The project of traffic control has been used as a model in planning nine new housing blocks in the Ciutat Vella district which will have a computerised car access control system.

Social and Economic Impact

Peripheral areas received most of the investment in the 1979-1999 period and gained at the expense of a deprived core. The results have been totally unexpected. The most degraded areas with barely measureable numbers of immigrants in 1979, have seen their numbers reach 36% of the population in 2002. These areas lie adjacent to streets where significant gentrification has occurred, with evidence of considerable wealth. The reforms have contributed to the creation of a polarised community.

Financing and resources used

Between 1988 and 1996 revitalisation costs of the Ciutat Vella district amounted to a total investment of approximately 800 million US dollars. This includes 37,000,000 ECUs from the EU´s Cohesion Fund for the Environmental Regeneration of Ciutat Vella (El Raval and Casc Antic Central Plans).

Source of Information

Generalitat de Catalunya / Department de Medi Ambient 1993: Repensar la ciutat / Rethinking the City. Medi Ambient. Technologia i Cultura No.5, Barcelona

European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, (ed.) 1993: Innovations for the Improvement of the Urban Environment. A European Overview, Dublin

Personal correspondence with the Environmental Department in November 1996


Name : Cabrera Massanes
Firstname : Pere
Telefon : +34 / 3 / 301 66 16
Telefax : +34 / 3 / 318 74 41
Address : Executive Director of the Area
de Rehabilitacio Integrada de
la Ciutat Vella
La Rambla 77
E - 08002 Barcelona



Barcelona is the capital of the Spanish region of Catalonia and has approximately 1,500,000 inhabitants. It is the capital of Barcelona province and of the autonomous region of Catalonia. It is the second largest Spanish city and the principal industrial and commercial centre of the country. The main manufactured products are textiles, precision instruments, machinery, railroad equipment, paper, glass and plastics. Barcelona is one of the major Mediterranean ports and a financial and publishing centre in Spain. Among the cultural institutions are the University of Barcelona, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the Royal Archives of Aragon, the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Ancient Art, and the Museum of Modern Art. The city was host to the Summer Olympic Games in 1992, and the site of the Games and other districts of the city were modernised by a massive municipal redevelopment programme.




Project was added at 24.11.1998
Project was changed at 17.08.2001

Extract from the database 'SURBAN - Good practice in urban development', sponsored by: European Commission, DG XI and Land of Berlin
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