The remodelling of a marginal area into a cultural quarter involves a dramatic transformation of the urban spatial structure and leads to a deep change of its experiential landscape as its urban fabric and social uses are altered (Degen, 2008). Let me explain this in more detail. Regeneration strategies entail the
Figure 2.1 Ravelejar
dismembering and re-assembling of the built environment. In such processes, buildings get whitewashed or demolished, streets repaved and widened, new shops and attractions etched onto a re-signified urban landscape. The effect is the formation of a novel social geography of place as new social groups enter the area, sometimes replacing old inhabitants, yet at other times, living side by side with the old residents. An inevitable consequence is that the activity and sensory rhythms of a place change and are reorganised. Essentially, urban regeneration processes transform the sensory qualities of places which in turn shape the exclusion or inclusion of certain cultural practices and expressions in the public life of the city. A feature often ignored in the literature that assesses contemporary urban renewal processes is that these changes occur progressively, over time, for the process of regeneration is gradual, with the consequence that a locality adapts, refractures, reworks and at times even discards these regeneration processes as the example of El Raval illustrates. So, how are we to research these elusive experiential expressions and negotiations of spatial power relations? I argue that an analysis of sensory rhythms in urban public places reveals the various and contested ways in which place experience is created, controlled, consumed, or commodified. I begin with a discussion of the relationship between sensory embodied experience, urban rhythms and urban change. In the second half of the chapter I examine the transformation of El Raval’s experiential make up since its urban renewal in the 1980s. Firstly, I show how in the first instance the diverse regeneration processes were an attempt to control and sometimes erase what were considered negative and unruly urban rhythms. Secondly, I argue that as these attempts have failed, an emergent and distinct experiential geography has become a central ingredient in El Raval’s place marketing. My discussion draws on continuous ethnographic fieldwork conducted in El Raval since 1998.