28 vacant lots re-cycled in public space in the city of Zaragoza

After many surveys focusing on the Old Town part of Zaragoza made from 2004, different serious problems in the configuration of the public space were detected. Many of them refer to the problem of having an “urban decent standard of living”; others were about non-built sites affecting not only the aesthetics of the urban landscape but also presenting very low health and sanitary conditions. After the process of registering the non-built sites in the Old Town, it was detected that there were mainly in the districts of San Pablo and la Magdalena where could be found the majority of them, highly depressed areas with a high degree of social conflicts. These abandoned areas that were progressively deteriorating and transferring its conflicts on the public space were studied. This absurd interruption of the urban fabric producing a process of degradation in the streets was infecting in an unmistakable way the public area and therefore the citizens living there. The situation mobilised several associations of residents asking the Municipal Government for a solution. The objective was the temporary occupation of vacant plots in the Old Town, both privats or publics, offering different temporary uses in order to reach a 100% use.

Initially launched as an employment plan in the wake of the financial crisis, estonoesunsolar project sought to reintegrate the unemployed back into the labour market by recruiting citizens to recycle abandoned plots of land in the city of Zaragoza’s.The project began in 2009 with the clearing of run-down sites in the historic city centre and expanded to cover the whole city in 2010. The architects masterminds of the project soon realised that the initiative had the potential to transform disused plots of land for brand new urban uses.They also recognised that by engaging local citizens into the decision making process, it was possible to regenerate the local landscape in a way that closely reflects residents’ needs.So estonoesunsolar was born.The first phase of the project was to clear the plots.This was done by seeking out unemployed citizens and in 2009,41 staff were hired, followed by a further 61 in 2010.The proposed use for each empty plot was determined by municipal district boards comprised of groups of citizens from the local community.These boards were made up of residents from all walks of life and belonging to various organisations, such as neighbourhood associations, schools, parents’ associations and cultural centres, brought together to engage in a participatory process which would determine the future of their neighbourhood.The proposed use for each plot was decided over a series of meetings where all participants were required to meet a unanimous decision.

The objective was the temporary occupation of vacant plots,both privats or publics,offering different temporary uses in order to reach a 100% use.All these energies converged in the program estonoesunsolar that collected proposals from architects, associations of residents,and that was channelled thanks to the institutional support, managed by Sociedad Municipal Zaragoza Vivienda.The suggestion of the emptiness, the hollow place, the invisible and the silence has been valued.These temporary swellings of the fabric of the old town is a dynamic and changing (temporary) tool allowing us an alternative and flexible reading of the city and the public space. Empty spaces are trusted as a force for creating situations and events. Different agents and complex relations converge in every empty plot of land. This aspect has implied a mixing of complex and intricate agreements with owners. The program began in 2009 in 14 plots in the Old Town and then in 2010 was extended to the all city, recycling other 14 urban voids in public space.The process ensures that the transformed plots exactly meet the requirements of the local residents. Vacant plots have been transformed to create children’s playgrounds,basketball courts, urban gardens and squares.The project has the added benefit of not only turning out new urban social, educational and creative spaces,but also bringing citizens from different backgrounds together to determine the future of their neighbourhoods.

Since it was born as an employment plan it encrease the number of employments. a total of 110 new employments were generated during 13 months thanks to this programme. It was also a channel to re-cycle centric areas, instead of spreading the city.

All these ideas have finally crystallised in concrete interventions. Every non-built site contains an idea; every space is the wish of the residents before the “unreasonable silence of the world”. All the proposals have emerged from processes of citizen participation. A bet has been made on “immaterial” ethereal solutions expressing the provisional character of its presence and establishing dialectics with the already built surroundings through lightness. Every one of the 14 interventions has been a meeting point for citizen’ s requests and the landscape. An intervention has been made on the banks of a re-evaluated river serving as meeting point for children, youngsters and old people. Another intervention has been placed in a half-point between an Alzheimer centre and a centre for children. Work has been done using the concept of memories and the memory. Another action has been implemented in an edge point of the city, in its meeting point with the landscape through different urban orchards that melt with the surrounding landscape. This has been made in every non-built site strategically chosen. 42,000 m² of public (transitory) space has been added to the city.At the same time,many different cultural and educational activities have been carried out that emphasise the value of the interventions,inviting citizens to experience these spaces. Important collaboration+support to artistical intervention such as the Trayectos (dance in public space) Asalto (graffit art), Cinema..

More than 160 trees have been added in the green areas as parks or children playgrounds.
Since it’s a very low budget programme (only 24 euros x m²) it was an effort for architects trying to re-cycle materials as pallets and wood. Thanks to the collaboration with citizens, new vegetable gardens are grown. Neighbors have their own vegetables and use these areas as a place where to meet, where their children can study while they are planting. 

The city of Zaragoza has 14 districts. Each district has a councillor of a different politic group. This programme has been accepted by all political groups. It' s also a good instrument for politics since the programme gives an answer directly to the citizens wishes.
The programme offers a quick answer to the needs of each neighbourhood, analysing the socio-economic conditions, amenities and green spaces that already exist, as well as the deficiencies of each area. Social cohesion is favoured through citizen participation processes.