Sant Martí, which includes the area called Poblenou, is the backdrop to most of Barcelona’s best beaches. For most of the past century this area was neglected and few affluent locals, other than the community already residing there, would have chosen to live there.
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The street layout is based on the model used to develop the Eixample though the stock of property is completely different. The area originally emerged as one of Barcelona’s key industrial zones with factories and warehouses in abundance. This industrial development engulfed but did not overrun the village of Poblenou, which has managed to keep its village charm as can be seen from a stroll down the Rambla De Poblenou. Poblenou was a humble district where local tradesmen, factory workers and fishermen lived. This gave the area a strong sense of community that can still be felt today.
In the present day Sant Martí is home to many small business and is also starting to attract larger national and international business. The contrast between daytime and night in Sant Martí is starling. During the day it is difficult to find parking and the area is heaving with business activity. At night parking is abundant the most streets are quiet, with the exception of the streets around the Rambla De Poblenou.
As a district Sant Martí has some of the most exciting potential in Barcelona. It has a good location running along most of Barcelona’s best beaches yet it is well communicated and close to the centre of town. For the ’92 Olympics the local government developed the Vila Olímpica to house athletes and staff and as a consequence Sant Martí is now home to facilities such as the new Olympic port, the Icaria shopping / cinema complex, and the Hotel Arts – one of the best hotels in the world. More recently the Diagonal Mar residential complex has been built and the Forum hosted – both on the far side of Sant Martí as you move out of town. These are huge developments whose impact on the district will take time to be felt. However there is no doubt that they leave Sant Martí closer to the centre of town than before and will bring in money, interest and property buyers.
Given the beachside location and number of old industrial buildings in Sant Martí this is a perfect district for redevelopment along the lines of Docklands in London, Manchester and Lower Manhattan in New York. Some of Barcelona’s most stylish lofts and hip architecture are already to be found here, and recently the ultra-chic restaurant / nightclub ‘Oven’ opened up as the first glamour destination in the area. Then of course there is the out-of-this-world ‘Els Pescadors’ restaurants in the Plaza Del Prim, surrounded by abandoned redbrick factory buildings and serving up the best seafood in town. We believe that the district has the potential to become one of the funkiest centre-of-town, Mediterranean-beachfront residential districts in all of Europe but it does depend upon the decisions of the municipal government. At present much of Sant Martí is given over to the @22 project in the hope that it will become one of Europe’s hottest new technology parks. The result is that much of the property in the area is classified as commercial and cannot be developed for residential purposes. Some developers have ignored this and gone ahead with residential redevelopments on commercial property but there are risks inherent in this course of action (not least of which is the difficulty that buyers have getting mortgages for this type of property). @22 has not been a great success due to the dotcom meltdown at the time it was launched but it might yet bring in tech companies and do wonders for the district. On the other hand it might starve the district of sufficient residential property and prevent it from taking off.
Diagonal Mar deservers a mention of its own. Situated on the far side of Sant Martí, where Avenida Diagonal ends near the beach, Diagonal Mar is a luxurious modern residential development of high-rise apartment blocks that has sold extremely well to investors. The development offers beachside modernity, luxury, gardens, pools, tennis, parking and sea views, all within 15 minutes from the centre of the city. It is a type of Pedralbes on the beach but without the awful architecture. No doubt this will have a positive influence on property in Sant Martí but for the time being Diagonal Mar has a somewhat desolate feel to it. It lacks life and character and its proportions are impersonal. Furthermore it will have difficulty attracting affluent local families whilst all the good schools are on the opposite side of town. Nevertheless its advantages outweigh these disadvantages and given that it is still in parts a building site we expect the development to take on more charisma with time.