The Eixample is marked by the plan laid out by architect Idelfons Cerdà in the mid-1800s, one that’s changed over time since Cerdà imagined most of the inner courtyards of apartment blocks as large parks to be used and enjoyed by the residents. These days the Eixample is at risk of becoming a neighbourhood losing its identity, with an increased focus on tourist flats and the death of local businesses. But within the enormous expanse there’s a small oasis that resists and perseveres: it’s the Espai Germanetes–Jardins d’Emma in the Esquerre de l’Eixample, and it’s a unique case study in success in Barcelona that’s based on the self-management of spaces by the neighbourhood’s residents. The star of the show is an urban garden. The supporting cast is made up of a hundred neighbours who look after the spot where the Germanetes dels Pobres (which means ‘Little Sisters of the Poor’) convent once stood. One of these cast members is Joan Marc (who goes by ‘Jota’), who we find to be brimming with energy and passion for this project he knows so well and has been a part of from its outset, as he opens the doors for us to an orchard that cultivates not just tomato plants, but also an important feeling of community.
The swarm of buildings and streets built into a grid that make up the Eixample make it recognisable from a bird’s-eye view. Separated on the right (‘Dreta’) and left (‘Esquerre’) by Passeig de Gràcia, the sprawling Barcelona district is characterised by chamfers, Modernista buildings of great artistic value, and streets designed according to rule and rationale. Perhaps this is a superficial portrait of what’s really going on in this part of the city, which, although one of the most populated, has a distinct lack of public squares and green spaces, and rental prices are escalating.