Sunday, 29 May 2011

there is beauty in the city - may visit to bilbao #2 - the insider

Part two of there is beauty in the city's visit to bilbao is a counter to that tourist view of a city. Ph'a'ke's Igor Calvo gives us an inside view of the city he has known all his life on a walk that lasted 4 hours, and took in 6 distinct areas, all close to Igor's heart for one reason or another and which, collectively, offer an overview of a city outside the realms of the traditional tourist view.


ONE - Abando Train Station

Although a coastal city with an airport, those two travel opportunities actually lie outside Bilbao in different municipalities. The airport in Loiu to the north of Bilbao, and the ferry port in Santurtzi, some 15km to the west. So Abando train station came to represent the possibility of travel for a young Igor who would visit this spot and stand and watch the trains coming and going.

TWO - Irala

Irala is an area of Bilbao which lies outside the centre - ostensibly a public square, surrounded by apartment blocks. The square was regenerated in the 1970's by the city council but is now tended and looked after by its residents. The square is characterised by the use of graffiti as a regeneration tool, open plan seating areas, and a some berlin-style public table tennis tables. For Igor, this is a place of beauty - an example of how a space can be used to its best advantage and somewhere he can come to sit and think.

Interestingly, though, he wouldn't come here at night, as the atmosphere changes - to one of foreboding and fear. He was struck recently by a tv news report of a demonstration by the square's residents about the rise in crime in the square.


The geography of Bilbao, with the sea to the north and surrounded by mountains on all other sides means that its urban planners have to be creative in the ways they set out for the physical growth of the city.  The motorways coming into Bilbao are constructed on a series of huge concrete stilts, which allows for spaces underneath which are used in a variety of ways. Sometimes for much needed car parking space, but most often for areas of urban leisure.

One such space is Recalde Plaza, an area Igor has been coming to since he was a boy - a popular but tranquil park space where the peace is only interrupted by the ethereal rumbling of the overhhead cars. This is an area of contrasts - the chaos of the transport network against the tranquility of the park space, the colourfulness of the graffiti, the playground and the grass against the grey of the concrete and, as announced by one piece of 'green' graffiti, a contrast between the concrete structuralism and the green earth.

In Bilbao, you're never more than 100 yards away from a bar serving a beer at perfect temperature and a selction of mouthwatering pintxos.


Masustegui or Mount Caramel is a suburb of Bilbao, part of the district Basurto - Zorroza (District 8). It has a population of 4,069 inhabitants and an area of ​​0.81 square kilometers. This area of Bilbao has become home to a population of immigrants from Galicia in the North-West of Spain. In the 1950's they came to work on the estuary of Bilbao, and in the coal and iron mines. The area here was privately owned mining land and is situated  on the slope of one of the hills overlooking central Bilbao. The area has an autonomous feel, with the sort of white-washed housing type which is typical of Galicia but unlike anything else in Bilbao. Since the 50's the residents who had self built their community were living life in a sort of limbo, as there was a dispute over who owned the land, however, in 2010, they were finally awarded citizenship of the city and allowed to stay.


Spain is as religious a country as you'll find and Bilbao as a city is no different. There is a competition though, in the form of Athletic of Bilbao - the football team which selects only Basques to play for them - a modern day footballing anachronism. For Igor, the devotion is total. He says he cannot walk past this place without some form of overt physical acknowledgement - either a nod or a wave. " Each time I come I feel a chill and the hairs on my body stand on end" 


Practically every major world city is built around or along, or is inspired by a major river, and for Bilbao the Nervion is a majestic presence. The river metaphorically resembles a vein running into the heart of the city - the lifeblood of a city's existence. A large part of the Nervion in Bilbao is surrounded by the degeneration of the city's post-industrialisation, but once into the centre, it becomes the focus for some stunning urban planning - a home to the boat-shaped Guggenheim and other municipal river-oriented museums and restored and preserved relics of the river's past , as well as a series of spectacular bridges.

For Igor, the river allows a space for relaxation and contemplation - it fulfills an instinctual need to find the calm of water - and many an hour is spent sat on one of the river-side benches.

Igor also chose this remnant of an old river taxi-stop as a symbol both of the river's importance and former glory.


It was a privilege to get Igor's insider's tour around Bilbao - to be shown the not-so-shiny parts of a city normally 'un-visited' by the city-break tourist - and towards the end of the walk, which lasted approximately 4 hours, we found ourselves walking out of the city centre, following the river. The street named Deustuibarra runs for miles out of the city, hugging the river, and is lined with the  run-down buildings familiar to all of us who live in post-industrial cities. This whole project was born as a response to how people who live in such cities  and  those charged with the task of regeneration  view their cities and so it was fascinating and appropriate to happen upon an artists collective's response to this area and this problem. The series of pink signs - and there were at least 50 or maybe more of them - were attached to successive buildings, and gaps and offered a series of suggestions -  possibilities of how this once thriving area, now deadened by the loss of industry, could be re-vitalised with, ok, a little bit of money but more importantly with a lot of imagination and vision. This artistic intervention was funny and inclusive in its approach but most importantly hit right at the heart of the problem faced by the post-industrial city.

this suggests the building could be turned into a flea market

this derelict building as we can see below could become a bar

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