Memory Screen: Sants
Okay so long story short Barcelona’s iconic train station spot is about to get torn down and the locals are in talks with the council to restore the upper section of the spot to it’s original state when it gets rebuilt (think Enrique in Rodney vs Daewon 2 when it still had the 6 pink granite tables and the wooden benches). Sneep was kind enough to put together a Memory Screen compiling our favourite clips from that incarnation of the plaza and below we’ve got an interview with Marcos Lozano about where exactly the SNT4EVER association is at with all this, but before you get stuck in PLEASE just take a second to sign their petition.
Special thanks to Roger Ferrero for digging through his archive to supply these photos and to Enrique Mayor, Pablo Lorenzo, Enrique Lorenzo, Anthony Claravall and all the filmers and skaters that contributed to this gorgeous spot’s history.
When did you guys realise that the spot as we know it might be under threat?
So the Plaça dels Paisos Catalans, better known as Sants, has been under threat for almost 15 years. I actually remember the first sign that the council stuck in the middle of the plaza where it said that the high-speed train was going to come to the train station, right next to the plaza, and would connect Barcelona with the rest of Europe. That’s when all the locals first started to think that they might demolish the plaza. But then the 2008 crisis destroyed the whole Spanish economy and quickly we realised that things would drag on quite some years since. We knew there wasn’t much money to continue with with constructions they’d planned, plus everybody kind of knows that in Spain what is said by politicians doesn’t always get done.
The main problem with Sants is that, since the plaza is next to the train station, the ownership of the space is shared between the city of Barcelona and the national train company, ADIF. So nobody is taking care of the plaza because neither of the two entities wants to assume the responsibility of maintaining it. Neither of them want to waste budget on a space that they know sooner or later will have to be remodelled due to the high speed railway track construction. The whole situation between the two entities became extra apparent when we realised that nobody was investing a dime to replace any of the original architecture, (so around the time the last wooden bench in the plaza became the classic wooden hubba), which was weird for us because for years before that every time something was used/moved to skate, it would replaced within a few months. So predictably, little by little the plaza has became more and more damaged to the point where almost none of the original benches were even skatable anymore, with cracks on the ledges and massive cracks on the tiles. Moreover, on top of the plaza being damaged, eight years ago ADIF decided to build these emergency exits for the train station right in the middle of the plaza (the crazy metal containers that make no sense and are still there today). But to build them, ADIF drilled parts of the ground using heavy machines and trucks, which completely ruined the granite tiles and made a part of the plaza completely unskatable, like the old fountains that were used as a manny pad.
Everybody thought that was the end of Sants… And to make matters worse when the work was done and the fences removed, they decided to just chuck concrete that was not even smoothed across half of the plaza in order to fix the cracked tiles. So the whole plaza now literally looks like the result of systematic bombing.
At that point it became pretty clear that Sants was never going to be the same, but we could not just give up the spot like that, so we started to build little ledges here and there with the OGs from the plaza. Marcos Gomez in particular had a lot to do with keeping the spot alive then…
So anyway that situation lasted until about four years ago, when one afternoon all the ledges, including the new ones built and the original remaining ones were fenced up and the next day all gone, which made it clear that Sants was no longer a plaza that was taken into consideration for the city’s needs and its urban planning, but a junkyard for the train company. The metal roof structure was the only thing left to show that the space was once Sants.
But the worst was not even that… The worst came a few years ago. One afternoon we arrived at the plaza and they were fencing the few original benches that were still standing. That day was undoubtedly the worst day in the history of Sants, it was official: no one was taking care of that place and it was now officially a junkyard …. Just a giant concrete esplanade in front of the station, with only the roof, the low to high and the wooden bench Raúl cab flips remaining from the original plan.
Despite all that though, it was still our spot. The place we could go every day of the week without hitting anyone up and we’d know our friends would be there. You can skate in peace and do whatever you want… We even barbecue there in San Juan (mid-summer party in Spain)! Ha ha.
What’s interesting is that now that we are involved in the redesign process and doing interviews with the council, they themselves have told us that they have let us use the space because we make it safer. You know what train stations can be like… If it hadn’t been for us, that place right now would be like a screenshot from Resident Evil. It would just be full of junkies and thieves and no one would want to go at night as there’s hardly any lighting.
Tell us about the SNT4EVER association you’ve formed, who’s involved, what’s its purpose, etc.
SNT4EVER is a non-profit organization currently formed of over 250 members, to whom we will always be eternally grateful. Our objective is saving the plaza by opening up a dialogue between the city council, the neighbours and the skaters of the plaza. The board of directors is made up of Marcos Lozano, Marcos Alvarez and Juan Gaminde (President, secretary and treasurer respectively) but in general it is open to anyone who wants to collaborate. In fact, on our website there is a section of thanks to all the people who have helped us in the short time that we have been operating: photographers, designers, shops, people who have made renders with proposals for a new space, graffiti artists and other collaborators who at one point or another have lent a hand.
The association was formed just before Christmas when the wall with the iconic window into the plaza was torn down. It was something like action-reaction… Without thinking much about it, we created the association and set the two key objectives: save the plaza and start teaching the Sants neighbourhood locals that skateboarding is much more than kids with speakers and beers.
Regarding the first objective: we are now in contact with the council and fully included in the process of remodelling the surroundings of the station. This process involves many other entities and neighbourhood associations and it’s very good that many there are young people and that they skate in the area (something we did not really expect). And in theory the idea is that the council will collect all of the suggestions of the neighbours and make a proposal to the ADIF train company, which is the one that has the power to decide what will happen to the plaza. This week, on April 22nd, we have a meeting with architects to explain our point of view on how the possibility of creating a multipurpose space is possible and beneficial for everyone, as we’ve already seen in many other cities such as Malmö, Lyon, Paris, CPH, London, etc. In short, you have to make them understand that we do not want a single-use space like a skatepark in the middle of the city, which is what they have been doing in Barcelona recently… They’ve been shutting down spots and just building ramp skateparks on the outskirts to appease us. In all these meetings we present loads of documents based on the theories of multipurpose space in which neighbours, boys, girls, young people and elderly people can live together in the same space without fear. But this point is still very difficult for some people to understand. We are currently building on the chasing the spot webbinar: cities for people and tactical urbanism… These guys are the future! Most of the ideas that we put to the council come from there. Gustav Eden and all these guys know what’s up!
And the people we’ve been in contact with at the council have told us that it is something that Barcelona wants to do as well, reduce the volume of cars in the city, and make the city for the people… And more now than ever with the Covid thing! It can’t be that sad that suddenly now everyone wants to flee from Barcelona.
As for the second objective of the association, to make skateboarding’s potential known to people in neighbourhood: I’m actually PE teacher and I recently caught wind of something the Sants schools have been trying to implement… Every other Friday they’ve been blocking the streets in front of the schools to create safe spaces for children; because of course here you leave the school and you have a street that a thousand cars drive through. That is something that the schools wanted to change and a group of mothers began to go down with their daughters who skated at the plaza and Lozano spoke to them about potentially organising an event with the school, during that time when the street would be closed. It seemed like a good idea to them so a few of us from the plaza went: Pepe, Marina, Guiri, Roger, Michele, Susko, Pol, Popi and Irene… And we found ourselves rolling out a skate/music event, with a 100 boys and girls skating, painting templates with SNT’s cat with stencils… We also carried over the ramps that we’d built with the association that have made recent Fridays in Sants crazy fun! And thanks to all this there are now thousands of new young rippers at the plaza! Since this started many more schools have contacted us and the relationship with the neighbourhood is better than ever. So we think we are on the right track.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your meetings with the council? Are there any specific arguments to help them appreciate where you were coming from? I’m thinking things that other groups fighting for similar causes might be able to use…
As I have said before, as soon as we organised into an official association they contacted us, which is something we all are very happy about… Because if we were not in all those meetings they would have been talking about skateboarding without the skaters, which would have been pretty sad. They know that we have been there since 1984 and they understand that they cannot just erase us from the map. But they also know that the square has to be for the entire neighbourhood. It is a hot spot that everyone wants to enjoy: schools, seniors, etc. And the plaza has never been very popular with people from the neighbourhood because it was just a slab of granite in front of the station. The original idea of this type of space comes from the United States and it wants people to use it as they want. And it was the locals of the old Turó Park (the skatepark where most of the OG’s from Sants) gave it a use.
It’s great that we are now being taken into account, but we will have to see how they include other things that the neighbours want such as green areas, which it seems cannot be installed because underneath the plaza are the train tracks and the tree roots and the weight of dirt for planting would make the infrastructure not stand up. So in that respect we have a certain advantage. There basically are two opposing views: those that want to recreate the original plaza because it has an architecture award and then of the some people in the neighbourhood who want to change it and make a more inclusive space. At the moment we are in the middle of the process and as I said before, nothing is certain and ADIF has the last word and will be the ones accepting (or not) proposals from the council, which should include skateboarding in one way or another. We just don’t know that exactly what that will be… Will they make the original plaza and let us it skate (what we’re obviously pushing for)? Or will they mix the original design with some new elements? The work is planned to finish in 2024.
On our website you can find design proposals of all kinds, from the most psychedelic to some made with the video game that is so popular these days! Hahaha. There is also a plan where our idea is clearly exposed. That of a new shared square where the everyone from the neighbourhood’s needs are taken into account. It would be about keeping the upper part where most of us have been skating our whole life but also sharing the spaces where there is no skating so that everyone has room. It is clear that they are not going to just give the us the whole plaza … But we would like to be included in its redesign.
At this stage what do you need from the skate community for your plans to go through, and why is it so crucial to act now?
Because although they’ve agreed to consider us as part of the community nothing is set in stone yet, so it is very important to make as much noise as possible as that’s what helped save iconic spots like South Bank and Hotel De Ville in Lyon.
We believe that if they saved SNT and rebuilt it it would be a dream not only for the locals, but for everyone who has been in that square during the 2000s. It was paradise for skateboarding and recovering a spot like this would represent a very important event worldwide. Like as soon as they’d restored the square in Lyon, the first thing we did was look at flights to go skate it! Same thing with South Bank… But in general we are at the key moment in these discussions and we need the question of skateboarding to have as much backing as it possibly can if we want to get them to rebuild the original plaza again. We have to apply as much pressure on the council as possible for that to happen, they must know how important that plaza is. We do already have a foot in the door but time is running out. Let’s make Sants great again. There is a change.org collecting signatures, we believe it is important for the support to be global, since we will all be able to enjoy the spot if we save it.
We have also just launched a crowfunding page to raise money in hope of making more ramps, putting on more events, more photo or video exhibitions etc. which you can reach HERE.
Beyond it being a great skate spot, what are some of the things that contribute to the value of spaces like these, and why do you think it’s so important to protect them?
Mate Barcelona has always been the capital of skate tourism, good weather, good spots … But if you are a local you realise that there are no spaces for young people in the city; this is something that has been repeated to us in meetings with the city council. In Barcelona there are many pipicans (these sand places for the dogs to pee), petancas (this old game with metal balls for old people) and playgrounds, but young people have no places to meet and hang out. Sants represents a home for many kids in the neighbourhood and a space where they can do physical activity for free and share it with many more people of different ethnicities, cultures and genders. You should see the plaza on Fridays when all the kids who come to skate the ramps of the association, they are crazy jumping from one side to the other with the kickers, ripping, and super stoked! These kids come from all types of neighbourhoods in Barcelona, from the poshest to the poorest, they mix, they know each other, it is a meeting point for more than 20 people every day.
Imagine if the square was not a crappy DIY in the middle of the city with the ground looking like it’s just been bombed as it does now… It would be crazy. The whole community and the whole neighbourhood would win. And that is what the association wants to promote. A space for the neighbourhood, where people can grow up calm as we have grown up in the plaza. I’ve been spending all my time there since I was a kid and my parents knew where I was, that it was a safe place,where I could be with my friends without worrying about anything. That place help make us the grown ups we are today.
I think that Barcelona’s council still does not know the full potential that skateboarding has for the whole community, young people, boys and girls, mothers and fathers, the elderly… Everyone!