Urban Ethics

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Tomás S. Criado

Concrete values. Sociomaterial explorations of urban accessibility in Barcelona
Tomás S. Criado (Munich Center for Technology in Society & Department of Architecture, TU Münich)

Disability rights advocates have for a long time advocated for a peculiar take of the ‘good’ city: one hospitable to bodily difference, enabling rather than disabling, and supportive of their autonomy. Since the 1970s protests many cities of the Global North have developed processes to sensitize architects, engineers, civil servants so that such environments could be made to exist, creating the conditions for later architectural developments embodying such values. However, despite the universal claims to create barrier-free and hospitable environments, in this paper I would like to show how the particular processes seeking to carve those values in stone have required tedious sociomaterial explorations around their ‘concretization.’ Grounding on an STS perspective interested in the production of the ‘good’ in practice, and drawing from archival, interview and observational work, I would like to show different versions of the ‘good’ city that have been explored since the early 1990s in Barcelona: from the instalment of ‘free-barrier’ policies and architectural standards to more contemporary problematizations around ‘cultural’ and ‘multisensory’ approaches. My main concern is to show that the implementation of this kind of ‘good’ entails sorting out fundamental tensions in the social and material process of ‘concretizing’ accessibility values, helping us to reflect on the practical meaning of such forms of urban ‘goodness.’ To exemplify this, I would like to reflect on the processes of design, implementation, use and rethinking of the standard regulating the shape of the city’s crossings (called Gual 120), paying special attention to: (a) the process of concretizing its metrics, embodying the ‘good’ of the institutional and building processes through which it was developed; but also (b) the more recent legal and political tensions that have arisen because of the effects of this very same concreteness in light of new norms and accessibility philosophies.