Like Barcelona, Bilbao draws on its sense of history and a self-understanding of having a unique and unusual culture to give it strength and motivation. Added to which it is entrepreneurial. It fears the danger of being trampled upon. It is thus fiercely independent. Just in case we forget, it reminds us of its famous people: Elkano, who completed the first circumnavigation of the globe after Magellan was killed in the Philippines, Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, Maurice Ravel, whose mother was Basque, the cyclist Miguel Indurain, the golfer José Maria Olazabal, the tennisplayers Jean Borotra and Nathalie Tauziat, the politician Dolores Ibarruri, and many more.
The city provides three useful lessons in creativity: long-term thinking and staying strategically principled and tactically flexible; standards of design; and the need to shift values towards openness.
From strategy to implementation: A historical trajectory Bilbao has become an international focus for lessons in urban regeneration largely because of the 'Guggenheim effect'. Yet the
Guggenheim is merely one initiative in a much longer-term process of Bilbao's renewal, whose history is far longer. I highlight this trajectory to show that at its core the changes in the city are concerned with changing mindsets, developing leadership, governance and entrepreneurial capacity, aspiration, will and motivation, a consequence of which is the focus on very long-term, strategic thinking and high quality design. In turn this has enabled projects such as the Guggenheim to happen. The regeneration did not start with the Guggenheim, although a large cultural facility was always part of the game plan.
Lying somewhat forlorn at the western edge of Europe, out on the Atlantic coast when the action was happening further east in Europe and in Asia, Bilbao and the Basque region had already recognized in the early 1980s the restructuring of the world economy and its potentially damaging effects on the local economy. They predicted that this would affect its traditional port and steel-making industries, with vast areas along the river Nervion redundant and in need of renewal. Bilbao then began to scan developments of relevance to its situation, especially good practice examples, from around the world. These included Pittsburgh (which famously had reinvented itself after the decline of its coal industry), the Ruhr area in Germany, Glasgow, Newcastle and a wide variety of cities in the Ibero-American regions. In particular, Bilbao wished to learn how renewal could be effectively implemented and noted especially how a driving visioning mechanism was required to turn aspiration into reality. The public-private partnership model initiated from the 1940s onwards through the Allegheny Conference for Community Development in Pittsburgh provided key lessons. Indeed, Bilbao is twinned with Pittsburgh. Inspiration also came from the International Bauaustellung (IBA) model whose history of ten-year initiatives goes back 100 years, including Emscher Park (1990-1999), Berlin (1980-1987) and further back to Darmstadt (1901-1914).
This led in 1989 to the Perspectiva del 2005, a strategic plan for the city whose objective was to develop Bilbao as a world-class metropolitan centre and to make the city ready for the new economy. The process of developing the plan and its subsequent implementation was assisted by a series of 'critical friends' and advisers of renown, including Phillip Kotler, one of the inventors of the concept of city-marketing; Charles Handy, management scholar and social philosopher; James Baughman, the corporate director of
General Electric; Gary S. Becker, the economics Nobel Prize winner; David Bendaniel, from the Johnson Graduate School of Management; and the architects I. M. Pei and Cesar Pelli. Of special importance to the city was the work of Anderson Consulting, which highlighted the 'urbanistic chaos' of the city.
To meet its challenge Bilbao sought over time to develop 'a social architecture of innovation based on people and strengthening their capacity to identify new opportunities, and to have vision and ideals. To create an environment that attracts people who love ideas. To turn dreams into reality'.39 A guideline for Bilbao notes epigrammatically: 'We only have the chance once in a lifetime to create anew the civic fabric. At a minimum it should represent international class, at its best world-class.' Taking this seriously established a design quality benchmark.
Driving the vision: Metropoli-30
Like Barcelona, Bilbao wanted a thinking brain for the city and in 1991 Metropoli-30 was set up as a driving mechanism and vision holder as well as a means of institutionalizing the strategic conversation about the city. The figure implies thinking 30 years ahead. Five values currently lie at its heart: innovation - to move ahead of change; professionalism - to do things right and at a high quality level; identity - to answer the question of who we are; community - to share a long-term vision; and openness - to be open to difference, not only to distinctiveness.40 Principally, this association drives the Strategic Plan for the Revitalization of Metropolitan Bilbao, whose latest version is 'Bilbao 2010: The Strategy'. Its core focus concerns developing leaders and professionals, providing the infrastructure and support activities for high-value business activities and ensuring 'the city is a vital space, an inhabited space ... a liveable place'.41
It does not confuse vision-making with implementation. The latter is left to Bilbao Ría 2000, the key agency for physical renewal. Metropoli-30's remit covers municipalities in the metropolitan area. It has a membership of 128 paid-up stakeholders, ranging from public bodies, leading industry and university figures to major community bodies. Its role is to push aspiration and to think ahead, to enhance the metropolitan areas' leadership capacity and ability to think strategically, to connect the metropolitan region with the best specialists in their fields and to promote a new vision for metropolitan Bilbao. It organizes courses, on strategic manage ment of cities, for example, and its latest initiative is 'City and Values' concerned with 21st-century values of urbanity. Early on, Metropoli-30 was involved in a series of staging posts connected to the overall vision, such as setting up the 1993 Basque Council for Technology and getting the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work and the European Software Institute to base themselves in the city.
Other roles include improving the external and internal image of the region and carrying out research related to both metropolitan Bilbao and other metropolises that are cutting-edge and from which Bilbao can learn. This requires an intense networking strategy. It is, for example, a founding member of the Benchmarking Clearinghouse Association and an active participant of the World Future Society. Overriding everything, the association fosters cooperation between the public and private sectors with the aim of finding joint solutions to problems of mutual interest that affect metropolitan Bilbao.
From civic infrastructure to a change in cultural values The strategic plans can be seen as having had three primary foci. The first is concerned with physical infrastructure development, so creating the physical preconditions to move forward; the second more on issues of attractiveness and broad quality of life concerns; and the third - the current phase - on changing cultural values of the metropolitan area. Within the initial plan, key aspects of the civic infrastructure were addressed: a metro system, designed by Norman Foster, opened in 1995; a new airport, designed by Santiago Calatrava, in 1999; the Abando passenger interchange, designed by James Stirling and being carried out by Michael Wilford; a major internationally oriented cultural facility that turned out to be the Guggenheim Frank Gehry, opened in 1997; a new tram system; the enlargement of the port; the Zubi Zuri pedestrian bridge by Calatrava; the Euskalduna Music and Congress Centre by Federico Soriano and Dolores Palacios; the extension to the Fine Arts Museum; the Alhondiga building refurbishment into cultural and sports facilities to create a new social space for the city; and the Bilbao International Exhibition Centre.
Implementation involved attracting world-renowned architectural stars who could help create 'a new centrality' for Bilbao, which was initially seen as establishing Bilbao as El Nuevo Porto Atlantico de Europa. However, the emergence of the East and
European enlargement now figures strongly in their thinking in attempting to redefine what Bilbao's new centrality in a future Europe could be.
The levers to create this centrality include high quality design standards, iconic architecture, cultural facilities, advanced eco-friendly design and sustainability, attracting the headquarters of European-level organizations and developing global events.
In parallel there is a focus on projects that help mature the soft infrastructure of the metropolitan region, and key terms used include enhancing the capacity for 'multiple creativity'; developing the spirit of entrepreneurship, with post-graduate studies in entre-preneurship focused on the needs of the region 30 years hence, for example; developing leadership cadres in the region; increasing aspiration and desire, as with the idea of having a Nobel Prize winner from Bilbao; and, appropriately, renewing the region's cultural values in tune with what a future metropolis requires, such as the need for a cosmopolitan outlook, flexibility but also an ethos that marries wealth creation and social equality.
The focus on cultural values of openness embraces the broader notion of culture as an expression and combination of shared values, shared ambition and shared vision based on common assumptions, norms and habits of mind - 'the way we do things around here'. The aim of these combined hard and soft initiatives is to involve an ever-widening circle in seeing the development of the metropolis as a 'common social project' and to increase the dynamism of the region within a recognition of the new rules of urban competition, focusing on cultural richness, network dynamics and reinvigorated concepts of the idea of leadership.
The mission for the coming decade is to identify and attract people who are willing to lead and to help their ideas get expressed and transformed into projects and real innovative experiences, so spinning off into Bilbao's social and economic wealth while respecting the city's 'values, history and idiosyncrasy'.42 Seemingly trite slogans, such as 'Bring your dreams to Bilbao. We can make them come true', seek to reinforce this message. The World Forum on Values and City Development, held in May 2006 and to be regularly held henceforth, is a vehicle to project these aims.
Some commentators feel that Metropoli-30's highpoint was in the early stages of its existence, when it framed the conversation about Bilbao's future, and that now those lessons have been absorbed. However, the issues Metropoli-30 is now dealing with, concerned with the software of the city, such as changing the values of citizens and leaders, are far more subtle. It's less easy to get excited about having to change yourself and to get overall momentum behind such ideas than about building interesting physical projects. This leaves aside the question of whether Metropoli-30 is being effective or not. The fact is that not many urban regeneration mechanisms are focused on value change.
Metropoli-30 thinks and Bilbao Ria 2000 acts. The latter is an entrepreneurial public-spirited public-private partnership created with an endowment of port land it was given cheaply. Since then it has required hardly any public funds as it has traded land and generated sales to developers in the gentrifying Abandoibarra area near the Guggenheim. These capital gains have been invested in extensive city projects where social needs are greatest, such as the Southern Connection, Bilbao La Vieja and the Barakaldo Urban project. Its work has included the Abandoibarra renewal, the former industrial city and port, now the symbol and centre of new Bilbao; Ametzola, formerly three goods railway stations, which is now a residential area with a modern park; the renewal of Bilbao La Vieja, the old town; and Urban-Galindo in Barakaldo, an ambitious urban plan to recover the waterfront for use by local people and psychologically linking it to the heart of Bilbao.
Has this investment in structure, iconics and big events paid off? The overall investment over the last 15 years has been in the order of 4.2 billion euros. Its effectiveness is measured in a variety of ways. Metropoli-30 annually assesses a series of benchmarks, such as the quality of human resources, including education, training and labour market dynamics, the internationalization of the economy in terms of commerce, transport connections, tourism, trade fairs, levels of internet usage, economic growth indicators, environmental quality (there are now fish in the river Nervion), personal quality of life, the sense of safety, cultural facilities, energy consumption, and so on.
Foreign direct inward investment data has been hard to come by. Anecdotally this increased, especially in the ETA ceasefire period (the ETA issue was key in terms of business relocation). The level of new business start-ups increased substantially in the decade from 1991 onwards, from roughly 1700 to 2850 per annum. The largest percentage increases were in services (20.4 per cent) followed by construction (15.4 per cent). Property price levels have increased a great deal - indeed Bilbao is the city with the most expensive prices per square metre in Spain, followed by Barcelona and Madrid. This is a double-edged sword. The most expensive areas, Ensanche and Abandoibarra, are close to the Guggenheim Museum. Yet the price of new housing in the periphery is rising even faster than in Bilbao, especially in Getxo on the coast. The prices on the outskirts are also rising sharply with the extension of the metro system there.
While Bilbao is not in the top 30 European cities for business location, it hovers around 35, in the company of Turin, Valencia, Rotterdam and Birmingham. This is an achievement in itself when you consider the central location of the others.
Many urban specialists now say they are bored of hearing about Bilbao, but the reality is that getting the Guggenheim was Bilbao's master stroke, added to which a special building added lustre. Many cities, such as Valencia, have tried to follow Bilbao's pattern of development, but very few have succeeded in sustaining the levels of quality and bending the gentrification process triggered by public investments to the city's advantage.
A brief reminder. Salzburg had previously been in discussion for the Guggenheim but the bold design by Hans Hollein for a subterranean museum carved directly into the rock of the Monchsberg was too much for the city fathers. Once Spain was identified as the location for the European hub there was a competition between Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Badajoz, Bilbao and the northern coastal resort of Santander, which was an early favourite until the well-funded Basque redevelopment consortium won out. Since then, the Guggenheim effect has become an urban renovator's cliché, but in truth it can rarely be repeated, in spite of the icon-building mania that has subsequently ensued. While the Guggenheim sheen might be fading as it becomes positively promiscuous, pursuing relationships with governments, cities and corporations around the world, there is only one Bilbao.
Metropoli-30 claimed that it was able to attract the museum because the preconditions - open-mindedness, ambition and willingness to take financial risks - had been set in the decade before the actual decision was made. As they noted, 'Luck goes to those who make it.'43 An international design competition was held with a three-strong shortlist of architects - Izozaki, Buro Himmelblau and Frank Gehry - which Gehry won in 1991. The Guggenheim opened in 1997 and is owned by Bilbao. It cost approximately US$100 million, with an additional US$20 million paid to the Guggenheim for the use of the name for a 20-year period. Within this contract, Guggenheim makes its exhibitions and stock of art available to Bilbao. This direct investment by the Basque authorities repaid itself via increased tax revenues after three years and the current contributions by the region to the museum are covered by the yearly increases in tax revenue averaging, around 28 million euros per annum. By 2005 the Basque treasury had benefited from the Guggenheim by over 200 million euros and 4500 jobs in the hospitality industries. Estimates of visitor numbers were originally 500,000, but in the first year visitors numbered 1.2 million. This began to decline after 11 September 2001 and is currently running at 900,000 per annum, with the proportion of foreigners increasingly annually (59 per cent in 2003). The impact on other cultural facilities has been substantial -for example, the Museum of Fine Art has doubled its attendance.44
The arrival of the Guggenheim effectively developed the local tourism industry, although business tourism was already well developed given the economic strength of the region. Eighty-two per cent of visitors state that they specifically visited Bilbao only because of the museum. There is an estimated additional bed occupancy of approaching 1 million, with global hotel and shop brands clustering into the city.
The building of the Guggenheim was not uncontentious, however. The idea to build an icon structure in the face of the high unemployment levels of the early 1990s caused alarm in a number of quarters, with some feeling it would be better to build new factories rather than pursue an internationalization strategy involving city-marketing and cultural facilities. The artistic community were initially the most vociferous opponents, as they believed the Guggenheim offered little to the local artistic community. Indeed a number of arts programmes were initially cut and there was a fear of its impact on existing facilities. Local sculptor Jorge Oteiza, who had nurtured the project of an arts centre in another site in the heart of Bilbao, became the leader of a lobby opposing this museum, which was seen by many local artists and intellectuals as 'an instrument of cultural colonialism'.45
While some segments remain suspicious, a larger section has become more enthusiastic, given the now increased investment in traditional cultural facilities, such as the extension of the Museum of Fine Arts as well as other amenities, such as the auditorium and conference centre. As a consequence it appears there has also been a burgeoning of artist-run and grass-roots movements, with outlets such as the alternative theatre and dance centre, La Fundici, the Mediaz association and the Urazurrutia centre.
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