Civil society unites to call for a competition of ideas for the Plaça Major.

Civil society unites to call for a competition of ideas for the Plaça Major.

23-01-2020Jaume Morey

I imagine that most of you will know the Costa des Teatre in Palma. For those of you who don’t, these are the steps that lead to the area beneath Plaça Major. The bottom of the steps are close to the CaixaForum on what is confusingly referred to as Plaça Weyler, an extension of Unió and then Plaça Mercat which, as it bends past the Teatre Principal, becomes Riera before, a little further along, being renamed La Rambla.

Confusing street names are perhaps a subject for another time. For now, it is the Costa des Teatre and the Plaça Major underground which are of concern. They have much in common in that they have both been totally neglected for years but, all of a sudden, became matters of importance. This was the case not so long ago with the Costa des Teatre. The Theatre Slope is a set of dodgy steps which are not the safest one can encounter. The shops, such as they are, are in a right state. Because of the condition of these units, there was a good deal of fuss three years or so ago, since when absolutely nothing appears to have happened.

Emblematic. This is the word frequently used. It can seem to apply to anything, especially when there is a fuss. Granted a status of emblematic, something must be done in order to guarantee that the status is retained in the future. In this regard, the Costa des Teatre, at one time known as Costa de la Inquisició (you can perhaps understand why the name was changed), can’t hold a candle to what lies below Palma’s Main Square.

I took the Costa steps the other day in order to check on what it is now like beneath Plaça Major. The shop with t-shirts and so on, which is the first you come across, is still there and still open. Why, is anyone’s guess. I didn’t linger underground.

Never the most inviting space, all the other units I passed before escaping up an escalator were closed. There were no lights. The three local police officers standing by a police car in the centre of the square, who I saw when I got off the escalator, might more usefully have been deployed below ground; security-wise, it leaves much to be desired.

Something has to be done, and something will eventually be done. But it has to be asked why the situation wasn’t resolved ages ago. The expiry of the rental contracts would have been known about well before the former mayor, Antoni Noguera, was saying just before the end of his term of office in May that he hoped it would all be sorted out before Christmas. When Noguera brought the matter up, it was the first time that it had really entered the public’s consciousness.

Since then, there have been numerous suggestions, most of them pleas to maintain this emblematic space, which until recently had been that emblematic that no one had paid it a blind bit of notice. The reality is that it is the square which is emblematic and not what is beneath it, unless one takes account of the old railway tunnel. This closed more than fifty years ago. The trains were for transporting goods from the port to Plaça Espanya. The heritage association Arca and the Amics del Ferrocarril (Friends of the Railway) have made the case for reopening the tunnel as a feature for the revitalisation of what lies below Plaça Major.

Arca wants the underground space to accommodate an interpretation centre, which basically means an information centre with knobs on - interactive technology and so on. This would be an interpretation centre for Palma’s history and heritage, and the suggestion does at least benefit from being one that has a defined objective, as the only other one which does is the idea for car parking.

There are many nebulous ideas being floated. To those making the proposals they may seem concrete, but to everyone else they are not.

The “manifesto” of fifty-three entities that was read out in the square last week is a case in point. Innovative and forward-looking “citizens’ projects” were being demanded. And these are? What did this manifesto have to do with the likes of the environmentalists GOB? Maybe GOB and many of the 53 are those which want space below the square. But if so, why?

The other day, a fellow from Més, Miquel Àngel Contreras Ramis, set out a Més view of Plaça Major - above and below ground - as somewhere which would be participative, sustainable, green, take account of the circular economy, have local small businesses. Which was all very fine, but what did it mean?

Neglected for years, then suddenly it was a focus of attention. Lack of foresight has resulted in an array of vague suggestions which stubbornly insist that this space is emblematic. It is, as the outcomemay well be emblematic of a pig’s ear.

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