Democratic Transaction

Recently exhibited at Goldsmiths as part of an ongoing research project, a postcard collection illustrates the urban development of the Spanish coast during the country's transition to democracy.

Transition means going from one state to another. It is a term that can be applied both to materials (which turn from solids to liquids to gases) and spatial planning (from the urban to the hinterland to the rural). However, it can also be used for political sovereignty (from totalitarianism to parliamentarianism). Power makes decisions about inhabitable space, either in the form of housing policies, transport infrastructure or urban development in the natural environment.

This postcard collection illustrates the urban development of the Spanish coast during the country's transition to democracy. My mother received them between the summers of 1968 and 1982, from when she was a teenager to her first years as a young mother. The 1960s and 1970s were the time when mass tourism became consolidated in Spain, marking the first real building boom. The postcards show beaches crowded with holidaymakers as a souvenir. The height of the mega-towers and the tonnes of concrete, asphalt and glass were a visual scale by which you could measure the country's degree of development and civilisation. Each postcard has a corresponding picture bought in the same places in 2012, in the time of crisis following the real estate boom of the noughties, a time when pen-and-ink mail had lost all meaning and anyone could manufacture their own architectural memory, Instagram it and share it on Facebook or Flickr. The writing on the back of the postcards is banal, and could be summed up as: "I'm on holiday, I'll tell you all about it when I get back". As in their contemporary digital equivalent, the written content was less important than conveying an imaginary of modernity through the architecture of a place.
Top and above: The postcard collection, on view at the Departure Foundation, Canary Wharf through last 14 October
Top and above: The postcard collection, on view at the Departure Foundation, Canary Wharf through last 14 October
Even if the same beach is even more urbanised, degraded and less natural than it was 30 years ago, the postcards today sell us a model of paradise. They avoid showing an image framed from the sea to the land so as to hide the aberrant constructions of the past; the shots are instead directed towards the sea. They shy away from showing masses of people. Today, however, the foreground of the pictures shows fishing boats, luxury cruisers, animals or deserted settings. The buildings have been replaced by palm trees.
Alicante. Top: Postcard from summer 1968 (King Juan Carlos I stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
Alicante. Top: Postcard from summer 1968 (King Juan Carlos I stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
The Spanish Transition was a turbulent time that for some people stretches from the death of the dictator Franco (1975) to the Constitution coming into force (1978). For others, however, it went on for up to 20 years from the passing of the Organic Law of the State (1966) to Spain's accession to the European Union (1986). J. M. Naredo, in Economía, Poder y Megaproyectos , says there was no radical change during this period in Spain, but that the transition to democracy instead involved the re-establishment of neo-tyranny. The principal economic, financial and real estate oligarchs remained in power. In the words of politician Julio Anguita, what took place in Spain was not a Transition, but a Transaction to Democracy. The backs of the postcards bear stamps showing both the dictator Franco and King Juan Carlos I — two political systems superimposed even here. The stamps of Franco appear on postcards sent after his death, since they were still used even after the issuance of stamps showing the head of the new monarch.
Spain's development crimes over the past 50 years have been characterised by a lack of transparency and horizontality. Control mechanisms to govern the ethics of urban development have failed
Benicarló. Top: Postcard dated 29 May 1970 (King Juan Carlos I stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
Benicarló. Top: Postcard dated 29 May 1970 (King Juan Carlos I stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
The level of political corruption involved in urban development crimes can be seen in the contradiction of the greater autonomy granted to the municipalities after Franco's death. What was supposed to be an exercise in transparency and democratic decentralisation became a rich seam, mined by powerful local figures as they started to realise how much money urban development could generate. This reached such a point that on 7 April 2006 an entire City Council was legally dissolved for the first time, in the city of Marbella , which was a landmark in the history of Spanish democratic sovereignty. This could be said to have been the moment in which the current crisis erupted. International organised crime and urban development along Spain's Mediterranean coast have been strongly linked. Romero and Díaz have even proposed the term "Costa Nostra" to describe this phenomenon, alluding to the mafia involvement in coastal governance.
Benicassim. Top: Postcard dated 4 August 1982 (King Juan Carlos I stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
Benicassim. Top: Postcard dated 4 August 1982 (King Juan Carlos I stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
Speculative development and destruction of the land have gone hand in hand up to the present. Economist F. Aguilera Klink says the main environmental problem continues to be authoritarian decision-making by politicians. Spain's development crimes over the past 50 years have been characterised by a lack of transparency and horizontality. Control mechanisms to govern the ethics of urban development have failed.
Benidorm. Top: Postcard dated 3 June 1979 (King Juan Carlos I stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
Benidorm. Top: Postcard dated 3 June 1979 (King Juan Carlos I stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
This series of postcards is part of the ongoing research project Displaced Soils: Capital As Circulation Of Borders at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University of London — a study of the generation of speculative economic value through the demarcation of land boundaries. Daniel Fernández Pascual (@deconcrete)
Fuengirola. Top: Postcard dated 24 September 1976 (Dictator Franco stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
Fuengirola. Top: Postcard dated 24 September 1976 (Dictator Franco stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
Santander. Top: Illegible postcard Illegible (King Juan Carlos I stamp) . Below: Postcard from 2012
Santander. Top: Illegible postcard Illegible (King Juan Carlos I stamp) . Below: Postcard from 2012
Valencia. Top: Postcard dated 13 October 1968 (Dictator Franco stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012
Valencia. Top: Postcard dated 13 October 1968 (Dictator Franco stamp). Below: Postcard from 2012

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