Barcelona Going Public?

by Martí Peran

Barcelona appeared on the global map at the end of the 80s and sealed its official presentation with the Olympic Games in 1992. The city’s capital most applauded at that time, was its town-planning renovation supervised by the so called “Model Barcelona”. At the time in which other cities were mainly growing following the North-American model of dim and liquid town-planning; Barcelona was offering an alternative on a great scale based on the conservation of a compact, reconstructed and united city by means of careful interventions in the specific necessities of the different districts and with special interest in the generation of public spaces. At least those were the happy coordinates that deserved a generalised credibility. Since then, a collection of urban and social harmful effects have grown in Barcelona in the shade of that happy decalogue as if this was an indefinite rent. The metropolitan area of the city suffers from an stoppable sub-urban developing. Different processes of gentrification have shaken the old areas of the city, the industrial memory has been decapitated in favour of a promised “never never land” which never arrives, and the public spaces suffer from a galloping privatisation, as well as from a choking regulation of the individual and collective liberties. In fairness, nothing new. Barcelona cannot be distinguished any longer from the dynamics that organised the progress in the great developed cities.

The last link in this true transformation of Barcelona – the step from Model Barcelona to Trade Barcelona – is the huge transformation of the city into the first world-wide tourist square. The figures from 2005 are sufficiently eloquent: with a population of 1.593.000 inhabitants, Barcelona received during that year 5.061.000 tourists (50% European origin) which caused 10.941.579 overnight stays. Amongst the city’s diverse tourist offer, in the last few years, the number of cruise stopovers has increased up to practically 800 per year with 1.300.000 passengers which have changed Barcelona into the last and most shining pearl of the Mediterranean. Last September 25th of 2006, the port of Barcelona reached the record of receiving 10 large cruisers in only one day. Liners such as the Carnival Liberty or the Grand Princess allowed the disembarkation of 3.300 people in only one day, ready to walk the “shopping line” of the city, even if it only meant to be for a few hours and to do some compulsive shopping of souvenirs.

Tourism has sealed for Barcelona a supposedly cosmopolitan, happy and colourful profile; but the city is also shaken by another type of status of foreigner. By January 2006, the immigrant population had risen up to 260.000 inhabitants without taking into account the ones “without papers” (illegal immigrants). The situation of this collective – absolutely heterogeneous – is very different from the scenery drawn by the tourist of masses. The ones that access the work market, occupy the least payable jobs; and in most cases, with an irregular contractual situation. On the other hand, and despite that on many occasions the immigrants compete in small premises which survive thanks to the least exquisite tourist, they settle in the most degraded areas of the city (Ciutat Vella, Sant Martí, Nou Barris) beyond the glamour of the nearby commercial areas.

Amongst the immigrant population of Barcelona, the collective of African origin is of around 22.000. A certainly lower figure in contrast to the non-EEC European immigrants and Americans; nut mainly baffling in relation to the magnitude of illegal migration flow which daily shakes the southern coasts of Spain and the Canaries Islands, which is an authentic Mediterranean doorway from which the African Continent tries to access into the European dream. The only explanation to be able to understand the meagre dimension of the African immigration into Barcelona and other Spanish cities in relation to the magnitude of migration movements lies in the ulterior dispersion of those that manage to enter Europe and, mainly to the really high figures of expatriation or confinement in “centres of reception”. Only in the first three weeks of September 2006, 7.500 “illegals” arrived on the Canaries coasts and from January up to this moment 13.055 South-Saharans have been repatriated. Barcelona is an important tourist enclave of the Mediterranean and, as it is argued, the most important arch in the South. In this perspective, however, it is forgotten that the authentic Mediterranean doorway, where liners do not land but many dugout canoes drift offshore, is more to the South; where Europe debates how to rise an impassable wall. The projects developed in Barcelona for Going Public 06, try to bring all of these issues into play, overlapping the critical exam of the city’s condition as a happy tourist port and the evocation of the truly south of the Mediterranean which in Barcelona only appears in a marginal way.