Are Barcelona and Bilbao creative Barcelona

Spanish cities like Barcelona, Bilbao, Malaga, Seville and Valencia have perhaps more to teach us about creative physical urban reinvention than cities in any other country in Europe or elsewhere. The pent-up energy contained during the Franco dictatorship period burst forth from the 1980s onwards as cities and regions sought to reassert their identity and presence and become part of the heart of Europe again rather than pariahs at the edge. Barcelona and Bilbao have inspired each other. For these two in particular, a distinctive approach that was culturally their own was a matter of pride. Being port cities helped - traditionally the necessary openness of ports fosters ideas exchange and mutual influence, although often ports can be open to the world and closed to their hinterland. As part of Catalonia or the Basque country, its major cities can bring together diverging interests in the wider area and unite them for larger, regional goals. Yet it does not guarantee a strategic, imaginative response. History helps understand creativity potential and can help provide the backbone, energy and motivation. But history can hold a city back if it rests on its laurels and focuses on the past. The break from the Franco era, under which Spanish society had been extremely conservative, in 1975 led to a transition period, the completion of which was marked with the victory of the socialist Partido Socialista Obrero Español in October 1982. The liberation from Franco and transition to democracy began a liberalization of values, of ideas and of potential. Significantly, being regions that wanted to assert their identity against the domi-nace of Castilia was key. Being unique and distinctive was a survival issue.

In the context of re-found freedoms, the recognition of globalization's power and the need to restructure their economies, reshaping the city to 21st-century needs became urgent. There was much to catch up on. Franco had despised Barcelona and Catalonia, so there was a massive backlog of required investments. In both cases this was done with strategic verve and long-term thinking. Both Barcelona and Bilbao had history to fall back on. Most obviously in terms of city-making, design was significant.

Why is Barcelona considered part of the creative pantheon? Let's remember that to discuss Barcelona globally in terms of style 30 years ago would have seemed very odd. The city landscape for foreigners was more dominated by images such as those from Jean Genet's A Thief's Journal, which describes how he scraped a living as a rent boy and thief in the streets of Barrio Chino in the 1920s and 1930s, living side by side with prostitutes, transvestites, pimps, drug dealers, gypsies and thieves. Few tourists would have considered visiting this once rather run-down industrial centre. A seismic change indeed.

In Barcelona I want to highlight three elements: design, public space and its link to place-making and cultural management.

It has been to Barcelona's advantage that the aesthetic experience of daily life is now wanted by everyone in every sphere of life, and that capitalism needs this design experience to sell its ongoing dreams of a better life. Some say we live in the age of design and style. Few places are design centres and even fewer exude a sense of difference and therefore the seemingly authentic. Barcelona is one. In Barcelona and Catalonia design is not a recent fad. Design has deeply etched roots growing from the needs of the industrial revolution applied to products and services and the cultural influences stemming from Barcelona's port status. From that it is a short step to architectural design. Antoni Gaudi, who invented an original architectural palette, stands as the best known example. Others include Domenech i Montaner and Josep Puig. The important fact is that the city has been able to reassert its design standing today to the extent that the city itself is synonymous with design, as in 'Barcelona design' (Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona chair being the most well known). All this reinforces Barcelona's resonance. Catalan distinctiveness is key. As an instance, the 1992 Olympics mascot symbol was a sheepdog called Cobi, whose design aesthetic was far removed from Mickey Mouse imagery. Equally, the opening ceremony set a different benchmark for the public spectacle, beginning with the lighting of the Olympic Flame with a flaming arrow fired by paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo. The spectacle included a staging of the mythical birth of Barcelona from the sea, complete with ocean battles between sea monsters and humans. These approaches have since been copied by other major openings.

The difference between Barcelona as a design capital and others such as Milan and Montreal is that the former more strongly seeks to create its identity as a designed work of art, from its architec ture, street furniture and interior design to shops, bars and restaurants. Barcelona has become a cultural icon in itself - one of the few places where the city is a living work of art as distinct from a dead one. This is what many feel about cities such as Venice and Florence, in spite of their beauty. An essentially 'dead city' is one where the past overwhelms the present, and the present merely serves to maintain the past for groups like tourists. They may bask in their beauty and inspire, but not much more. In the 'living city' current creativity is the dominant feature.

The convergence of the design ecosystem, starting from the presence of designers across the disciplines of environmental, product, interior, graphic, digital and fashion design, strengthens the city's echo. It includes public and private research centres, design in schools and tertiary institutions, events and festivals, awards, museums and associations. It stretches across transport design - Volvo and Volkswagen have a strong design presence - to household goods and urban design. Yet worries are on the horizon. Some say the city is too concerned with design: 'Everything has to be specially designed, even the notepaper or the invites to an event. They can't leave anything un-designed and ordinary - perhaps Valencia is the place to watch.'30

Barcelona's urban design standing nevertheless has strong historical roots to draw on. The Eixample by Cerda, an example of 'ideal urban planning', although not universally liked by everyone because of its rigour and monotony, still provides a frame for Barcelona's urban life on which its diversity can play itself out.

Many people agree that Barcelona has one of the best street lives of any larger city. This is not a coincidence. Catalonian (and Mediterranean) culture and the climate all play a part. Yet although a city is rarely made by individuals on their own, two personalities also shaped our current view of the city strongly. The first was Pasqual Maragall, mayor from 1982 to 1997, who helped kickstart Barcelona's international re-emergence. The Olympics came in 1992 (to Madrid's great annoyance), putting Barcelona on the international map. The preparation for the games from 1984 onwards and the resources they brought to bear became a tool to reshape his city. The strategy was in essence urban physical transformation driven by big events. The city was reconnected with its waterfront by submerging a highway; new beaches and neighbourhoods were created, as were a series of pocket parks. Oriol Bohigas was a second important figure. From 1980 to 1984 he was responsible for urban services and was a leading spirit in caring for and reconquering the city for its citizens. As he noted, 'I had my first meeting with Barcelona's first democratic mayor. We decided that we had to invent the democratic urbanity in Barcelona.' They agreed: 'The public space, whether open or built-up, is really the city' and is based on the conviction that 'citizenship is closely related to participation in the public space and the rhythms of the city.' They felt quality of life depends on attaining four conditions: density, collective life, identity and communication.31

The priority was therefore to reconstruct the city starting from public space rather than, say, housing, roads or office projects. Thus Bohigas launched a phased programme of new pocket parks and small plazas, concentrating on derelict spaces and the hidden historic areas of the city. Artists were seen as an essential component of the new design teams charged with assessing and developing the city's public spaces in consultation with residents. These new spaces used modern art in day-to-day neighbourhood contexts as well as the old core quarters such as Raval, where the Museum of Modern Art of Barcelona (MACBA) is based. The latter was contentious. It partly 'cleansed' the area of its more shady drug peddling and criminal fringe and some called this 'sanitizing', an equivalent perhaps of what happened to 42nd Street in New York, where the corporates moved in and 'low life' moved out. Yet always expect the unexpected. In front of MACBA, within the dense surrounds of Raval, there has been a new takeover of the public space by skateboarders. This day-long daily show, watched by many, is perhaps one of the best urban sport spectacles of its type.

The Spanish tradition of placas provided an important cultural context for a long-term plan, which developed organically into a master plan for the whole city, rather than there being a master plan in advance:

From the point of view of planning this was important, because we were absolutely against the idea of master plans. The master plan is a way of factoring in the globalization of the city but without considering the individual identities of each quarter. For that reason we decided not to do a master plan for Barcelona but to complete small architectural projects and to understand that the master plan was just the culmination of all of these small solutions.32

This is principled, strategic incrementalism, in other words incre-mentalism with a clear goal.

Creating spaces of communication and gathering in order to foster conviviality and to stage performances was key, as was attempting to find an equilibrium between the natural and built environment. The goal, said Bohigas, was to create the conditions for an 'element of randomness: the capacity to find something without searching for it'. 'Such random information is not possible in a technological system where everything is logically defined.' 'With information technology we search but in the city we find.' Note here the comparison with Dubai or Singapore. 'To be a citizen of Barcelona is to walk its streets, to be part of the ebb and flow of public life.'33

Not only has public space been reinvented, but so have public events such as La Merce, whose origins date back to 1218 and is based on a vision of the virgin Mary dressed in white, surrounded by brilliant lights and celestial spirits. Yet as Jordi Pablo noted in 1984:

At the end of the 70s, as a consequence of the substantial changes in public life, a profound renovation of the Festa Major of Barcelona was initiated. The city tried to construct a different model of festival, one that maintained an equilibrium between tradition and a strong sense of modernity, between activities available to only a few and a modern sense of the use of the public spaces of the city, between a high quality programme of spectacles and the possibility of free participation in nearly all the activities.34

La Merce became a celebration of living afresh, with citizens of Barcelona pouring into the streets for a mass of participatory events. La Merce is a new conception of what a festa is, how it can become part of the urban fabric as well as retain traditional Catalan elements:

The parade and dance of giant papier mâché figures from within Barcelona and the surrounds, a competition of castellers, groups of people building human castles, a parade of stilt walkers, and the correfoc (literally 'running fire'), a mass gathering in which groups of young people dressed as devils parade through the streets carrying various papier maché beasts and firing off fireworks over the heads of the massed crowd.35

To make these conditions work themselves through, another element is required: recognition of the primacy of culture and deep pride in one's own locality, with the cultural thinking and management skills to match. The Institute of Culture, the city's cultural division, is more influential than equivalent departments in other cities where, in the hierarchy of power, the finance and engineering divisions tend to have the highest status. It is a public-private partnership which provides more flexibility. Its goal is to increase the influence of culture on development strategies in the city and to make culture a key element for social cohesion. This means that any major development will tend to be assessed through a cultural prism. Mirroring this interest, Barcelona has, unusually, over a dozen cultural planning courses, such as that started in 1989 by the University of Barcelona or that of the Pompeu Fabra University.

Barcelona's 20-year trajectory from the early 1980s was paced and purposeful. It was focused on a combination of urban design and big events, such as the Olympics or the Universal Forum of Cultures in 2004. The Forum was perhaps one step too far. The new logic of driving urban development the world over through the private sector that emerged in the early 1990s had exclusionary effects with few social benefits apart from the parks and open space. The Forum's goal was to launch a new kind of Olympics of Culture, sponsored by UNESCO and based on discussions and intercultural exchange, and at the same time enhance the quality of life of La Catalana and La Mina, two of the most marginalized areas of Barcelona's metropolitan core. However, the Forum's aims lacked clarity and resonance and as a consequence the visitor numbers were widely overestimated. More importantly, the redevelopment of the city east towards the Besós river became a property speculator's dream. How the initial local communities benefited is less clear. This leaves the two main buildings of the Forum's legacy - the jagged, unforgiving Forum Building designed by Herzog de Meuron is not the city's best and the Barcelona International Congress Centre by Josep Lluis Mateo is, well, just a congress centre. Time will tell how the reclaimed land and new beaches will play themselves out. Yet now the thought that lingers is a sense of gentrification.

Barcelona has 'a thinking brain' on the future of the city called the Metropolitan Strategic Plan of Barcelona, founded in 1988, which is important in seeking to highlight future priorities. Barcelona monitors itself in five so-called 'strategic blocks'. These are a knowledge block; an innovation and creativity block; a territorial and mobility block; a sustainability and quality-of-life block; and a social cohesion block. In scanning the city's comparative prospects, a report by Xavier Vives36 pointed out that by traditional innovation criteria Barcelona is not in the top league in Europe, which is led by Helsinki, Stockholm, Munich and Stuttgart. These criteria include patents per 100,000 citizens and levels of R&D expenditure. This was a shock to a city which has a self-understanding that it is innovative and creative. In fact, though, traditional innovation indicators may be bad for creativity, because patenting can foreclose creative possibilities which open-source applications encourage.

The innovation and creativity block includes assessing the dynamics of company creation in strategic sectors; what is happening to different classes of business; technology transfer between universities, society and companies; the amount of European hightech patents applied for; and levels of use of information and communication technologies. In keeping abreast of strategic urban development, Barcelona has now focused on the quinary sector. (See below for a description of primary to quinary sectors based on distance from natural resources.) Quinary activities emphasize the creation, rearrangement and interpretation of new and old ideas and information, innovation of methods in knowledge gathering and data interpretation, as well as the reconceptualization of thinking at different levels. At its core lies creativity. Some regard it as encompassing research, culture, health and education.

The overall effect of Barcelona's transformation speaks in surveys and statistics. Since 1990, Cushman & Wakefield's European City Monitor has annually assessed the most desirable and highly rated European cities for basing a business in through interviews with 500 top companies.37 Barcelona is the most improved city in their rating, moving from 11th in 1990 to 5th in 2005 it is closing the gap on the leaders. Given that London, Paris, Brussels and Frankfurt are the top four, the competition is clear. It is ahead of cities such as Berlin, Madrid and Amsterdam.38 It comes out on top in the 'overall quality of life for employees' category, even though it is the leader in 'access to markets', which is the top priority for business. It is the most improved city for the third year running; business leaders expect Barcelona to be in third position in five years' time; and it is the third most familiar city, though still some way behind London and Paris. Barcelona has solidified its position as a major regional economic power, strategically close to the French border and the European heartlands. The economy of Barcelona, with only 4 per cent of the Spanish population, contributes 14.29 per cent of the country's GDP. Its key industries include manufacture, textiles, electronics and tourism. In 2003 Catalonia received 14,540,000 visitors from a total of over 50 million throughout Spain and since the Olympics there has been an almost 100 per cent increase in hotel capacity, number of tourists and number of overnight stays. Cheap air travel has made Barcelona one of Europe's most popular short break destinations, popular as it is for romantic weekends and hen and stag parties. Whether these add anything to the city's creativity potential, however, is an open question. Indeed growing tourist numbers are seen by many as the greatest threat to the city's quality of life and future prospects, as any person who goes to the iconic Gaudi sites or new public beaches can see for themselves. What do they give back apart from a bit of money? What do they take from the city? The city's challenge is to reduce tourists - imaginatively.

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