“Barcelona: Such a beautiful horizon; Barcelona: like a jewel in the sun” (Freddie Mercury).
Dynamic, youthful, vibrant, eccentric: the largest non-capital city in Europe; a density of 16 thousand people per square kilometre; its own language – Catalan – which is the most spoken nonnational language in Europe. Barcelona is in a constant state of transformation. Filled with galleries, shops, museums and cultural events, forever emblematic of the Spanish party time ideal.
“I love the creative whirlwind that Barcelona has become, I found out about it living in the United Kingdom. When I said I was Spanish, everyone asked me if I was from Barcelona” (Ricardo Cavolo, illustrator).
There is a super cool Latino/cosmopolitan mix: modern architecture and design in perfect harmony in the great tradition of historic tradecraft. “It is a city for all those who love effort, hard work, creation and, unobtrusively, the good life” (Valentí Gómez i Oliver, poet).
An example of this city that is always to be found on the crest of the wave in urban terms is its management of traffic and pedestrian zones. Vehicles have ceased to be a dominant feature in Barcelona, while the city features extensive public spaces for both cyclists and pedestrians as it seeks to become a large city with streets that are not encumbered by cars, with the majority of residents not even owning one. Identified as one of the most bike friendly cities in Europe, there are some 118 km of cycle lanes and an innovative bike sharing system. Parks and public green spaces comprise some 10% of its geographical area (and this is on the increase at around 10 hectares per year). A city at the forefront from both a civil and an ethical perspective, bullfights have been banned in Barcelona, and Catalonia at large, since 2010, while the city is among the leading metropolises worldwide for the legal consumption of cannabis (regulated by the “Asociaciones Cannabicas”, clubs where residents can buy and use hashish and marijuana).
Although it is a coastal city, until 1992, the year of the Olympics, its coasts were flooded with factories and industrial warehousing. This trend has been bucked in just a few years, with industry moving to other areas and the seafront transformed into a pedestrian area and rehabilitated with tourist and commercial infrastructure.
In addition to the economic growth of recent years and under such conditions and in the company of all its artistic and natural beauty, it is easy to understand why tourists arrive in ever greater numbers: Barcelona had 1.6 million inhabitants while playing host to 32 million tourists in 2016. Too many for the inhabitants there, who have complained to such an extent that they have forced the city council to pass a plan to try to reduce the numbers progressively (the “PEUAT”: Special Urban Plan for Tourist Lodgings which, among other matters, impedes the opening of new hotels in the city centre). It is clear that the incommensurate rise in tourism in recent years has brought economic advantages, but it has also led to real estate speculation, particularly through rental platforms such as Airbnb. According to the Financial Times, it is ranked “fifth among European cities for overnight stays, behind London, Paris, Berlin and Rome, albeit these latter have much higher populations. Airbnb data shows that a room for two people in Barcelona generates an average of 289 Euros per week or 1,156 Euros per month. The average salary for the under 25s is some 986 Euros gross per month”.
Thus, as with many other European cities, the challenge over the coming years is to maintain far more sustainable growth, so that is does not distort secular traditions, rather that this growth will reposition the city as a welcoming place with its cultural aspects perfectly integrated into the habits and high quality of life of its inhabitants.
Alessandro Di Giacomo
Photo Elisa Imperi (www.itm.srl)