Turf War

In Valencia, plans to extend a road towards the sea would mean the end of a historic distric.
A walk through an area slated for destruction.

This is a story about intertwined endings. And about stubbornness. On the one hand, there’s a street in Valencia, Spain. Called Avenida Blasco Ibáñez, it occupies a sizable area in the Northeast of the city. Since the late 1990s, the city’s conservative government had wanted to extend it, so that the road would end at the Mediterranean.

Unfortuantely, the seaside isn’t empty: Squarely in the street’s planned trajectory stands El Cabanyal, a historic and mostly poor district that had formerly housed the city’s fishermen. Extending the street would mean the end of the district, much of which was to be unceremoniously bulldozed.

And this is where the stubbornness comes in. Residents did not want to leave their homes to make room for a street. They organized, protested, managed to halt the destruction by court order. That came too late for some buildings, however, that had been bought up by the city and destroyed.

After 24 years, Valencia chose a new government earlier this year. And while El Cabanyal has remained standing, it remains in a state of permanent limbo. Its beautiful art-deco buildings are in dire need of reparations that nobody has been willing to undertake for many years — too big was the risk of imminent destruction. Facades are crumbling, paint is peeling off the walls, trash is everywhere. Some housing blocks have gaping holes, through which you can see modern Valencia looming in the distance. The population has remained marginalized, with drug problems often surfacing in the area.

I visited El Cabanyal in October 2015 and spent several hours strolling through the streets and documenting what is left — before it goes away.

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