Thursday, 18 February 2010

Problems in the Casco Vello

Vigo’s Casco Vello, like the old quarters of most Spanish towns, is made up mostly of narrow winding streets, barely wide enough for modern traffic. Unlike the old quarters of places like Santiago de Compostela or Pontevedra, Vigo’s old town is not really its best asset at the moment. The tunnel through from Plaza de la Princesa to the biblioteca pública is still rather unpleasant and often smelly. The Plaza de la Constitución is a delightful square but it still looks like a work in progress at the moment. Calle de los Cesteros (Basket Makers street) is, it has to be admitted, a very pretty sight but if you progress further into the old quarter you can see that it needs work.

This week the decision has been taken to restrict motorised access. As from Monday of this week only residents and public services can drive through the barrio histórico and can’t go any faster than 20 kilometres per hour. The idea, according to Xulio Calviño, conjecal de Tráfico, is to give priority to pedestrian access, no doubt as part of the improvement and eventual inevitable gentrification of the old quarter. Bollards have been installed to restrict access and parking is strictly limited. Deliveries can be made between 8 and 11 in the morning but otherwise the streets should be seriously pedestrian-friendly.

This was a timely move. On Monday and Tuesday the merdeiros from the Carnaval were able to run unhindered through the streets whacking away at passersby at will and in no danger of being run over in the process. It featured in television reports on Tuesday evening.

Other people, however, seem less pleased with the idea and there have been protests, also reported on television. Despite assurances that alternative parking has been provided at a reasonable price some people are saying that many residents are going to have problems. Very few houses in the old quarter have garages – understandable as they were built at a time when the people living there would not have had cars – and the general improvement plan does not permit converting the bajos, ground floor sections of the building, into garages.

The cynic in me is not surprised. I can visualise a future time when those
bajos are all twee boutiques and souvenir shops (aka tat shops), cafés, bistros and fancy restaurants. The old quarter is a place where people still live. The casco vello is also potentially a huge tourist attraction but it should not be a Disneyworld tourist attraction. The problem is going to be finding a middle road.

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