Palm trees swaying in the afternoon breeze and people sprinkled along the boardwalks filled my sights as I took a walk down the streets of Barcelona. The image of people on mopeds leisurely rolling around in the salty beach air seemed almost like a scene straight out of a futuristic movie. In every direction there were beautiful displays of progressive environmental sustainability efforts: trash bins with three bags one for plastic, one for paper and another for trash. There were bicycles for rent that were readily available sidewalks complemented by bicycles lanes that made them a convenient choice. Also the presence bus lanes seemed to encourage the use of mass public transportation. Barcelona clearly had all the marks of an advanced technological European nation.
Yet, despite all these clearly modern and advanced systems, many of the buildings we encountered in various Spanish cities reflected Gothic and Medieval architectural styles. In Granada, Madrid, Serville, Girona as well as Barcelona, there were the new technological advances of the European Union meshed with the classical and aged facades that reflected this idea of coupling the old with the new. The large and imposing structures were beautifully constructed and fascinating. I, especially as a tourist, was intrigued and in awe of their beauty. But, I couldn’t help but notice that the people native to these cities seemed accustomed to the beauty of the structure. To many of them it seem that they were commonplace and unremarkable.
Over the course of the trip I continued to explore the ways in which, I thought, residents interact with imposing structures, especially in public spaces. And the more I looked I started to notice reoccurring pattern of graffiti, strategically paired with these seemingly aged edifices. The graffiti created this interesting contrast of the antiquity of an old Spanish city coupled with the modernity of modern and hip generation springing up. As an Urban Studies major, I became interested in the ways in which people, in this case Spanish youth, negotiate these spaces that were obviously not made with them in mind. The common displays of graffiti on old structures and the positivity of many of the messages, seemed to me, to be, their way to claim to these cities as their own.
Being an outsider looking and being able look in and watch the way that people interacted with their environment has in so many ways made me reflect on how I interact with the spaces that I frequent, especially here at Vassar College. How differently do I interact with older buildings in comparison to newer buildings? What impact if any do they have on me? And am I claiming this space as my own?
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