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Barcelona, the second largest Spanish city, is proud of its lavish cultural and historical legacy, having survived the turbulent history of the Iberian Peninsula from the Roman occupation to the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Now Barcelona has yet another reason for pride. Following a 1936 coup de В’stat, long after FrancoВ’s political deposition, Barcelona citizens have a cultural and innovational revolution of their own, being underway these days. The reason for this to happen is financial investments that injected a new life into Barcelona in the 90s, with the Spanish city hosting the 1992 Olympic Games (Illas 133). The contemporary Barcelona is a newly repackaged city, since the better part of its infrastructure has been drastically changed or created anew, including the city skyline, the fa?ades of buildings, and the entire blocks, not to mention stadiums and convention centers. The city success being obvious, why not apply Barcelona city pattern to the economically floundering cities? There are many places that are in a sore need of a major economic push to get turned into tourist meccas that would converge travelers. Now that all the politically-motivated barriers have been lifted throughout the world, it is far easier to improve or give the second birth to staggering lackluster cultural hubs, following Spain, no longer tyrannized by FrancoВ’s 36 years rule.
The capital of the Mediterranean has become sufficiently successful to generate a catchphrase В“the Barcelona model,В” which is a shorthand for a new approach to urban design, revising the application of old infrastructure, juxtaposing it with the new one, as well as creating public places, such as small parks, walkways, gardens, and museums, in order to lure private development to the formerly dodgy areas (Rossi n.p.). A decade ago Barcelona set an example to follow, by resurrecting its depressed, old inner-city blocks, marked by abandoned factories (Peirce n.p.). Instead of bulldozing the area, creating industrial parks and offering companies public subsidies to move in, in a typical American fashion, Spanish Barcelona officials opted for building a modern В“knowledge economyВ” close to downtown in its old waterfront Poblenou district, a once prominent cotton mill center (Peirce n.p.). It is to the then city mayor Joan Clos that Barcelona owes its current success. The consensus finding Joan Clos got the cityВ’s capitalist right wing, socialist-oriented and other political sources to concert their efforts (Peirce n.p.). Uwe Brandes, project manager for the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative in Washington D.C., one of Barcelona-inspired urban-renewal projects, admitted that the Barcelona Model influence could hardly be overestimated (Rossi n.p.). According to Rossi, Antonio Gaudi, another Barcelona Model proponent, saw the cityВ’s special attractiveness in the soft, swirling buildings. The Spanish city is a kind of synonymous with success, being arguably the single most popular convention site, with 20 million tourists visiting it every year. The city is annually ranked number one in terms of life quality by Cushman & WakefieldВ’s international business surveys.
It is the Olympics of 1992 that brought Barcelona to touristic attention, launching a massive spending on huge infrastructure projects, such as airports expansion, upgrades of highway rings, telecommunications and sewage systems, as well as the creation of miles of sandy beaches. According to the city chief architect, Jose Antonio Acebillo, 25 yearsВ’ worth of infrastructure upgrades were crammed into 5 years (Rossi n.p.). The whole beauty about the versatility of the Barcelona Model is that following the 1992 Olympics, the city stadiums never came to a standstill, which is rare in countries other than Spain; the stadiums doubled as venues for concerts and shows. AthletesВ’ dormitories were built as legitimate apartments sold in the wake of the games closure. Rossi claims that the beachfront Olympic Village, a maze of contemporary architecture and sculpture, has been heavily used ever since the Olympic Games were held. Trendy restaurants, art galleries and hotels, to name a few, are known to be presently functioning there. Once generating only two percent of the cityВ’s annual revenue, tourism is now solely accountable for as many as 14 percent of income. According to Rossi, preparations for the Olympics boosted a wave of innovations, such as the layered multiple use of land, parks being spread out on top of new highway tunnels, to say nothing of parking lots being hidden under squares, 17-th century convents being turned into libraries and cultural centers, palaces being converted into hotels, and museums emerging from former textile factories. Hence, it is more than obvious the В“Barcelona ModelВ” is a success, proving to be efficient at home, in the first place. Still, before considering if it has any chances to get enrooted in a foreign soil, it is worth scrutinizing its traits and key constituents.
Andy Thornley, Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning, sees the В“Barcelona ModelВ” as consisting of three major elements: urban design, governance and planning. The urban design implies the usage of small-scale interventions to upgrade neighborhoods and improve an overall city image. The second element of the model is focused on city governance and the merits of a strong mayor. Given a strong leader, the city image is easily promoted. The person in such capacity can build a supportive coalition from various government levels, business circles and citizens. Strategic planning, the third chief element, helped Barcelona by its Olympic Games preparation to achieve broader public objectives and leave a vast urban legacy behind the event for years to come. Barcelona would see new urban motorways built and new areas for development opened up. Political opposition, as well as bureaucratic machine being strong, the earlier plans on city restructuring used to be shelved many times over the years (Thornley n.p.).
According to Thornley, the Barcelona Model garnered plenty of criticism, owing to social needs being neglected, with money put into infrastructural development, rather than directed at battling social issues. Cities gentrification in Spain faced a serious opposition in local citizens. There was strong opposition to the re-application of the Barcelona Model, when UNESCO backed Universal Forum of Cultures in support of Poblenou quarter resurrection, held back in 2004. Speaking of Spain signature urban innovations up for taking, there are a number of worthy novelties, regardless of the mentioned criticism. Architect Lord Richard Rogers, calling Barcelona В“the jewel in the crown of urban regenerationВ”, recommended that England adopt more than 100 measures first practised in Spanish Barcelona (Rossi n.p.). If so, there are plenty of tips to put to a good use in the countries other than Spain, with Brent Toderian having elaborated various approaches on city improvements, based on Spanish experience.
According to Toderian, though being in the doldrums, Barcelona still brags its city-building, remaining the finest in the known world. It is first suggested not to think like a city planner, architect or an engineer. Thinking like a citizen may be the clue to BarcelonaВ’s architectural uniqueness. City-building, in accordance with Barcelona architectsВ’ vision, is as much about В“the public realmВ”, as it is about buildings. Ildefons Cerd?, an architectural standards-setter and a holistic city builder, is usually revered for by Spanish urban architects.
Secondly, it is highly recommended for architects to stop adhering to the rules or else to quit. Toderian mentions North American architects to complain about requirements and rules constraining their architectural creativity, instead of reduplicating the unconventional and unique BarcelonaВ’s Passeig de Gracia Boulevard, allowing for powerful architectural patterns, much similar to Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris, taking into consideration the aspects of streetsВ’ height and width, and making them the most haunted and frequented places in the respective countries. To quote another example of Spanish urban design brilliance, GaudiВ’s La Pedrera, acts as a typical В“chamferedВ” corner building, with its 45 degree oblique cuts, marvelously making every intersection a versatile, open, and breathable plaza within Cerd?В’s ingenious block plan. Not a single building has been ever built to match this complex of beauty, creativity and contribution to the city pattern (Toderian n.p.). Every architect rises over the rules, whatever the constraints.
Thirdly, it is recommended that walking and biking would be irresistible. Created by Cerd?, the wide avenues and boulevards give spacious room for the so-called multi-modal infrastructure. The Spanish habit of rambling is thought to have become customary, at least five centuries ago after La Rambla, one of the finest people streets in the known world, being constructed. It is worth noting that 50 percent of street space is dedicated to walking, the other 50 percent being used for transport purposes, according to Cerd?В’s lВ’Eixample (expansion plan). Spurred by locals-only, bikes-hare system and separated bike-lanes incorporation, make urban biking grow rapidly in Barcelona. The city makes walking, biking and transportation, all viable options in terms of В“the power of nearness,В” when all things are compact and up for the taking (Toderian n.p.).
Fourthly, small streets work properly, so do wide streets, if designed right (Toderian n.p.). Building tight Gothic style streets and alleys with high, enclosing building heights that create a superb urban room and inimitable coziness combined with streets widths, are sure to be regarded illegal in the USA, where streets are planned for cars and trucks. CityВ’s main streets can be wide, since beautiful В“street-scapingВ” and mature trees define sub-areas of the street, creating the sense of scale. The fifth point suggests that there is no evil in tall buildings; however, what should be borne in mind is that putting them anywhere is not a good thing for a city skyline, if only. Cerd?В’s original plan was a consistent scale of seven to eight stories throughout the model; still, skyscrapers are springing up at present, one of them being Jean NouvelВ’s Torre Agbar. Height restrictions are being debated currently in European cities; however, the Shard in London seems to be an exception. Erecting skyscrapers not damaging the city pattern and an overall image, placing them properly without their intercepting the view, are the two most essential pieces of strategy for locating tall buildings. Toderian admits that Barcelona tends to forget its own fine lessons of logical and rational construction, having built a series of actually desolated buildings and even residential blocks, only to be featured on front pages of reputable magazines in the aftermath, being anything but crowded with residents. Thus, Barcelona had better learnt from Barcelona at times (Toderian n.p.).
Montaner highly recommends that local authorities pay close attention to preserving a unique cultural and historical heritage of the cities being reconstructed. Though Barcelona is an exemplary city, where its model holds true, it still shows the signs of its cultural legacy being eliminated or ignored by the city hall. To put an example, Olympic Stadium preservation costs quite a lot, while Poblenou district industrial architecture underwent a complete destruction (Montaner n.p.). With that in mind, every effort must be taken to support and retain what has remained from the preceding centuries.
To conclude, the В“Barcelona ModelВ” is the fine example of what architectural look a city may assume, following the reconstruction after the Spanish city example, granted it is done properly and without governmental obstruction. Urban design, governance and planning should remain the focal points of a city that is about to adopt the renowned Barcelona Model. The cityВ’s revival started back in 1992 with Barcelona playing host to the Olympic Games, which brought opulent investments to the region, turning it into one of the most lucrative financial and touristic destinations. Plenty of European and world countries are aspiring to pattern the cities upon Barcelona sample these days, with Catalonia capital still remaining the sheer example of how unique, innovational and creative human genius can be.
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