“Walking is to thinking what seeing is to Reading. Walk Barcelona, walk it with no sense of destination, let your imagination be tempted by the urban stroll” (Mauricio Tenorio, 2015)
Thinking about the city is also a form of culture, especially if we incorporate the knowledge of history, cultural imaginaries or narratives and the experience of its inhabitants. The city is the space where forms of communication and action, difference, cultural diversity and social heterogeneity converge. Barcelona is not a labyrinthine city, rather the opposite, the different historical phases take place in the city in mosaic form where the different historical stages have left their mark. As Robert Hughes said (1992)“Barcelona is really three cities, sharply distinct in carácter, the newest enclosing the older, in which the oldest is set”. A city therefore proud of its past that preserves elements of its history in, for example, the Gothic, Born or Raval neighbourhoods, but also scattered in other corners of the city. A city that preserves its traditions and its own identity with important monuments that recall the key moments in the history of Catalonia, such as the Fossar de les Moreres, or the remains in the Born Cultural Centre.
It is also a city with a great international vocation, as evidenced by medieval buildings such as the “llotja de mar” or the “drassanes”, but which has kept up this momentum in contemporary times with international exhibitions, or Olympic games, which have left emblematic spaces in today’s current city such as Montjuich mountain, Ciudadela park, the Forum building or the Olympic Village. It is also a city that has always tried to be at the forefront of urban planning and architecture to improve its position among the world’s cities, and it continues to do this now as the headquarters of new technology for “Smart Cities”. This was also the case with the design of Cerda’s widening in the 19th century and it was done at the end of the 20th century with one of the most internationally celebrated urban renovations. Past and Future, Local and Global, that is undoubtedly Barcelona, a labyrinth of opportunities to understand its multiple layers and realities from a perspective that unites the cultural and spatial in what has come to be known as geohumanities.
In 1999, the city of Barcelona received the “Royal Gold Medal” from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). It was the first time that this prestigious award was presented to a city instead of an architect. The announcement of the award highlighted the fundamental role that the coordination of the different branches of government, citizens, and urban technicians and designers had played in the creation of a civic space for the 21st century.
In his acceptance speech for this award, Oriol Bohigas, the architect who had been in charge of the city’s transformation project prior to the Olympics in 1992, presented an idea of the city basing it on 10 points, which put forward integration and Respect for the past and projection towards the future. Almost twenty years after this speech, some elements that Bohigas (1999) was then advancing have been fulfilled, while others have fallen into disuse or have been forgotten and perhaps should be rethought. I will group these ten points into five major axes to briefly explain the recent transformations in the city of Barcelona.
Thinking the city. According to Bohigas’ text, the city is a political phenomenon and is full of ideology and political practice. And second, the city should be thought of as the community’s space, and therefore the city planner should design the city as the container of this collectivity in all its diversity. In the last thirty years, Barcelona has become a much more diverse city, and as such it has continued to fulfil this role as a container, but perhaps it lacks political vision regarding where it wants to go in the future. In recent years, many interesting projects have appeared in the field of urban transport (super-illes project, bike lanes), or in the creation of new infrastructures (La Sagrera station, Plaza de las Glorias), or projects in the field of new technologies, or in the creation of technological or scientific clusters. Projects have not been lacking in all these years but perhaps it has lacked a story, which brings this together and is exciting, that could maintain some of these projects beyond the electoral cycle.
Feeling the city. In the field of emotional geographies, feelings emerge spontaneously in the city, in its public spaces, in its streets, in its constructed and non-constructed environments. The public space is the city, the place where singularities and differences overlap and where conflicts appear, but it is also the place where solutions are created and where social cohesion is facilitated. Barcelona is full of these spaces of cohesion, (the beach of the Barceloneta or the parks of Montjuich, and the Rambla del Raval), in the last thirty years much progress has been made regarding the quality of our public spaces that have attracted people from all over the world due to the quality of these meeting spaces. Perhaps in recent years, in some cases, the needs of some visitors and the benefits of a few have prevailed and what has been forgotten have been the needs of those people who live in the city, which creates conflicts and seeks solutions.
Looking at the city. Another element of Bohigas’ text is the theme of legibility and identity. The city has to be read, and therefore it must be readable and globally comprehensible. The linkage of the local discourse of constructed space must allow the emergent social realities and the new hybrid and changing identities to be read between the lines. In a global city like Barcelona, spaces have appeared that recognise new identities, such as the so-called Gay-eixample, while we still do not recognise the realities of neighbourhoods and spaces in the city with new emerging identities of Barcelona’s new residents.
Narrating the city. The language of the city are its buildings. Architecture has played a fundamental role in Barcelona’s urban narrative. For Bohigas, urban planning must be replaced by architecture, and architecture must be used as a unifying element that connects up all neighbourhoods to try to overcome the social differences between neighbourhoods by creating new centralities. Here, great efforts have been made creating new centres such as the new Plaza de las Glorias, with the TNC, the Auditori, or los nuevos encantes, but also new centralities such as the Parc Central de Nou Barris or the Ramblas del Poblenou or the Rambla de Prim . This narrative of the city creates a diverse and integrating story and one should avoid falling into the temptation of simplistic and/or excluding urban narratives.
Creating the city. Finally, the city has always been a space of creation, of creating new realities, of pursuing utopias, of proposing prophecies. Some of these proposals have been put forward by architecture and the new social agents. The ideas of a new city proposed by Cerdà in the nineteenth century or Runió i Tudurí at the beginning of the 20th century, following the most advanced currents of thought at the time have continued with the city’s new approaches to its new functions, a city which aspires to what is global, events such as the Olympic Games or the Forum, or more recently the role in the world of information technology and the so-called Smart Cities, pose new challenges but also new creative opportunities for this city that continues to be a labyrinth of opportunities.
Bohigas, Oriol 1999 Ten Points of an Urban methdology. Architecture Review , v.206, no.1231, Sept, p.88(4)
Hughes, Robert 1992 Barcelona The Harvill Press: London
Tenorio, Mauricio 2015. Walking Barcelona. An invitation in Estanislau Roca, Inés Aquilué, Renata Gomes (eds) Walking the City. Barcelona as an urban experience. Barcelona: Publicacions Universitat Barcelona pp.19-24
Professor of Geography at the UPF and director of the Laberint Festival routes