There are two types of people in Poblenou: Parents and Programmers. The parents stream down the Rambla de Poblenou, knocking bystanders out of the way with their strollers weighed down by an unimpressed toddler puffing on his dummy. A few blocks along in the “@22” area, deep in the heart of the vast coworking spaces and innovative start-ups, the apples of a thousand macbook pros light up the cavernous warehouses like fireflies in the desert. Occasionally one sees a hybrid, the lesser-spotted Programmer Parent cycling off to work on an eco-bike made from recycled materials, with a toddler in the front and a computer bag attached to the seat.
Bar the sprinkle of exaggeration, Poblenou is indeed both an incredibly family friendly neighbourhood and tech capital. Pueblo Nuevo in Castilian, Poblenou in Catalan, “New Town” is no longer so new. The Poblenou Cemetry is rich in history and the neighbourhood is studded with occasional ornamental facades. The old Casino de Poblenou, on the corner of the Rambla de Poblenou and Carrer de Llull has a grand entrance with wide steps framed by two huge columns. I was hoping to peek in at tobacco scented carpets and a peeling gilded staircase for a seedy game of blackjack, but it has now (sadly for my curiosity but fortunately for the neighbourhood) been converted into a type of theatre or concert hall. The latest production is the (palindromic) pantomime “Rolf y Flor”.
Poblenou is known for being an area of creative institutions and laid-back living, right next to some of the best Barcelona beaches. The Rambla de Poblenou is a beautiful tree-lined boulevard that runs from Diagonal Avenue right down to Marbella Beach. A tranquil pedestrian oasis of restaurants, bustling bakeries and boutique shops. It makes Las Ramblas look like one long and tacky souvenir stand (which it is!). Between this heart of Poblenou and its adjacent neighbourhoods (Arc de Triomf to one side, Glories above and Besos on the other) is the more industrial terrain. Here in the long and quiet streets of Pujades, Pere IV and Ramon Turro, are the warehouses and factories where the inhabitants once toiled with machinery and now hunch over laptops.
A concrete jungle of abandoned warehouses and edgy renovations: breweries, recording studios and bars. It is also the creative beating heart of Barcelona, with architecture institutes, design schools and the FX Animation 3D Filming School. Students cycle to and from their classes, and men of African origin (mostly Senegal) roam the streets collecting metal to sell to the to scrap yards, dragging their haul in supermarket trolleys which rattle along the deserted streets.
The phenomenon of gentrification is ripping through the neighbourhood like a forest fire out of control, leaving co-working spaces, vegan restaurants and cafes with bearded baristas in its wake. Villa Olimpica, Poblenou and Glories are now collectively known as @22, the barrio of tech start-ups and innovation taking place deep in the trendy offices in renovated factories. Elsewhere in the more residential side of Poblenou in the streets flanking the bustling Rambla, rental prices are soaring (to the justified ire of local residents) and hotels sprouting up in abandoned lots.
Poblenou is one of the neighbourhoods making up the district of Sant Marti, alongside Glories, El Clot and Besos. In recent years, the Catalan government has been pouring money into the centrally located district, in an effort to direct traffic from the centre. Barcelona is bursting at certain seams, and the level of tourists flooding through areas such as Placa Catalonia, el Barrio Gótico and el Born is unsustainable and doing damage to the beautiful medieval old town. For this reason, Glories and its surrounding area are going to be the “new capital” of Barcelona, and millions of euros are being poured into renovating the busy junction, creating Barcelona´s biggest park and putting the @22 neighbourhood at the centre of the map.
Poblenou may lose its gritty and at times strangely eery edge. Streets of soviet architecture blossoming with graffiti, empty buildings, the peaceful desert at the heart of an overcrowded city, are soon to be a thing of the past. I would urge you to go and visit while you can but let´s not accelerate the inevitable.
Peace out Poblenou, enjoy the quiet before the tourist storm!