Where is Barcelona headed, with you at the helm?
its destiny as a leading European city. And its heading in that direction with a
great deal of impetus.
What sort of a city is it going to be?
central one. Now that there is a lot of talk of the disappearance of cities as we know
them in Europe, with the emergence of a more regional type of city, with a less clearly
defined and more extensive structure, I think that Barcelona is demonstrating its
intention of continuing as a city in the widest sense of the word, a city with central
functions, the centre of a metropolitan reality.
A reality whose consolidation has met with considerable and deliberate obstacles.
that have been overcome. Its something quite magic, and I think it has to do with
Barcelonas vocation. The questioning of the citys central function has come to
nothing in the end, because that function has resurfaced and asserted its primacy. I think
that it can be attributed to the vitality of Barcelonas citizens and the citys
will to continue as a centre, now a metropolitan and regional one. People want Barcelona
to maintain this symbolic function, one that is not terribly precise or well-defined, but
one that is no less real for all that, since everyone recognises and accepts it. Just look
at how people come from all around to look, to use and to take advantage of this city,
which is also theirs.
As far as uses and functions are concerned, in what direction is this Barcelona, this
metropolitan-regional centre, headed?
first place, we have to consolidate this reality, and promote and project it, and do even
better. In the second place, Barcelona has to take advantage of and participate in the
changes that are occurring as a result of the technological revolution, and must transform
itself into a model for the future. We are now living in a society centred on
communication and information, and the impact of this focus on how work is organised, on
how we get along with each other and on what society is like are no longer something to be
considered when planning for the future, but rather our day-to-day reality.
In this discussion, there is a basic contradiction between day-to-day reality and
administrative or political reality. You are the mayor of Barcelona in a formal sense, but
in fact youre much more than that, since the actual Barcelona isnt just the
territory defined by the laws governing its administration, but in fact the reality that
has come about naturally. Do you also consider yourself mayor of the real Barcelona, or at
least of the one that you can get to on the underground?
of course, because in a way all of us together form a reality that has Barcelona at its
head but that reaches far beyond it. This reality transcends administrative limits and is
much greater, since more and more people now live in Barcelona and work outside the city,
or vice versa. In the past fifteen years, the city has mushroomed into the surrounding
territory, and as a result of this expansion, and also owing to a higher standard of
living and greater purchasing power, the ring roads were built, the trains belonging to
the Catalan Autonomous Government have improved their services, as have the local trains
run by RENFE, the national railway, and all of this together makes it quite obvious that
reality has prevailed over administrative laws. The facts show that while the dissolution
of the Barcelona Metropolitan Corporation (CMB) was insufficient to change the course of
history, life and government are, fortunately, two very different things.
How strong is this Barcelona in comparison with other European cities?
a reality comprising 4.2 million inhabitants, residing in different municipalities, but
when we compete, or strive, or produce, we do it on the basis of this wider ensemble. We
also form a joint market with huge potential.
And in terms of specificity?
succeeding in forming the centre of this urban and demographic reality. Were
searching for approaches that allow the city to be reconciled with the people who live
there. I can assure you that other European cities are finding this very difficult. For
example, it doesnt work like that in London. The City doesnt belong to its
residents, but to its property-owners. In the heart of London, there is no conventional
democracy, but rather a census-based one. Only property-owners can vote there. And
whats the result? Well, for example, they want to convert Trafalgar Square into a
pedestrian area, because its a traffic nightmare, and no one can take such a step,
no one knows where to begin, and no one has the power to do it. This goes to show that
London needs a mayor, and that Mrs. Thatcher, in her stubborn insistence that London does
not need a local government, was quite mistaken.
Reconciling the city with its inhabitants means banishing the automobile, and your
government has been rather timid in this area.
means following through with a line of action centred on bringing traffic under control.
Its admirable how the people of Barcelona accept this process, how these changes are
being carried out with no problems, even when theyre very expensive. For example,
the granite kerbs that were installing are by no means cheap, and the people accept
this without complaining, because, besides understanding the budget, they appreciate the
quality of the work being carried out, the value added by the high-quality urban fittings
that we are putting in place. And because of the sense of ownership that Barcelonas
citizens have with regard to their city, seeing it as an extension of their own home, as
In discussing the centre, we automatically think of Plaša Catalunya.
but this is not really the case. Barcelona has a number of central areas. At the moment
were putting the finishing touches to the boulevards in Nou Barris, on Passeig
Valldaura, and in Sant Andreu, on Passeig Torres i Bages, and in this way, were
extending the symbolic quality of the centre to the city as a whole. During the 20 years
of democratically elected local government, the mayors of all of the surrounding
municipalities have done more or less the same thing: dignify their downtown areas. For
example, the mayor of LHospitalet has just presented 21 projects for the 21st
century, all based on this concept. Everyone wants to do what they can to prosper and
If Pasqual Maragall is elected as president of the Catalan Autonomous Government, will you
ask him to revive the Metropolitan Corporation?
because this sort of organisation is still necessary. And I say this with all due respect
for the Association of Municipalities, which was formed to fill the void left by the CMB.
This voluntary association has been very useful and it has shown the mayors the benefits
of joining together and co-operating. In fact, all that we need are a couple of areas of
competence, such as town planning or infrastructure, and that will be sufficient. We
wont need anything else. Theres no need to plan more overarching institutions.
The time for that sort of approach is past. The Metropolitan Area works quite well with
100 people, we dont need any more than that. Nor do we need large governments. Or so
much planning, particularly town planning. The times when planners demanded to know
everything, right down to the width of the pavement in specific place, have passed. The
city should not be an expression of the governments wishes, but rather of the
citizens. It should be more malleable, more expressive, in short, more civic.
Barcelonas citizens, particularly the builders among them, have made it clear that
their economic sense far outweighs their aesthetic sense. What should the government be
doing about this?
should be intensifying the flow of information and awareness. Things dont need
old-fashioned power structures in order to work properly.
And what is the role of politics in all this?
have just said is highly political.
Very well, what we mean is politics in the traditional sense of the term. You have said:
"The people of Barcelona are delighted to have granite kerbs."
and what is more, theyre paying for them quite happily.
But you cannot know what the people as a whole think; you will only know that on election
dont agree. I dont think that this is the case any longer. As the distance
closes between politics and public administration, on the one hand, and the people, on the
other, citizens can participate in more ways than just voting. This is the benefit of
subsidiarity. Just look out the window, and youll see Plaša Sant Jaume converted
into a veritable Roman forum. Over there is a group of trade unionists holding a sit-in to
demand a 35-hour working week, over there a group protesting I dont know what, and
before long, others will be arriving.... The reality of city is right here, right now.
But this is just a part, not the whole.
Ill give you a broader example. There are 124 sports centres in Barcelona, and 119
of them are run by non-profit organisations or clubs. This is an exceptional pattern, and
one that we are very proud of. Is it a model for political participation? Whatever label
you put on it, its an example of citizen participation.
A participation that has nothing to do with political parties.
thats just it, its a type of participation that transcends political parties.
You can work in politics through the parties, but thats not the only way, or even
the most important. We learned a long time ago not to take the same road as the Social
Democrat parties, managing companies, schools, savings co-operatives, and so on. Now, and
I say this in a relative sense, we are truly post-modern.
Thats all very well for participation from the bottom up, but it doesnt work
going in the other direction, from the top down, because the only way to be elected mayor
is by running with a political party. And our parties have serious deficiencies in terms
of democracy, and they are organised as a hierarchy. By the way, have you had to bow to
the partys will on many occasions?
our relations are good. The party isnt monolithic. Im a member of the
Executive Committee and the Standing Committee, and we get things done.
In the past, political parties depended on intellectuals within the party; rank and file
members debated the citys future and decided on what approaches to take. Now, for
example, who decides on what is to be done with Poblenou? The party? The councillors
chosen by mayor? Who is in charge now, who has the task of thinking globally? You say:
"Barcelona will be the city of knowledge," as Maragall said: "We will be
the cultural capital in 2001". Very well, our question is this: Whose idea was it?
Who took the decision? And the person who did this, what is his capacity and who does he
emerge from a lot of different sources, and then they are fleshed out. This is how it has
always been done. The leading cities in the U.S. are heading in this direction, they no
longer depend on financial capital, but rather on capital in the form of knowledge.
Financial capital is all around, theres no end of it. In contrast, the cities that
are showing the way to success are those that are able to attract intellectual capital.
What do you mean by knowledge?
not a question of co-operation between universities and companies, but instead takes in
everything from the smallest details to research and development projects. Knowledge is
the invisible component that provides Barcelona, in its urban fittings, with the value
added by design, the awareness of the factors that surround the product, and so on. It
marks the difference between a functional urban design and one that is created
deliberately. It is what marks the difference between an ordinary bridge and the bridge
crossing the port, which was created with an infusion of knowledge and intent, because,
besides being useful, it also has a message.
Very well, its an artistic creation.
give you another example. Take our transport companies. Then, you add an in-depth data
processing approach and you have logistics. Logistics are the society of knowledge applied
to the transport sector.
Would you say so?
have this large area where we can apply this concept of the city of knowledge, i.e.
Poblenou, where we have the opportunity to harmonise public use with the uses that require
us to move towards this objective, so that the application of a strategy determines how
land is to be used. Its the same as what happened in New York, in Soho.
You and Maragall seem rather obsessed with New York.
New York was a decaying city, one with severe safety problems, and every other kind of
problem, as well. But, by chance, the multimedia and publishing industries moved in, and
it has been on the road to recovery ever since, because these industries have been
accompanied by a series of complementary initiatives, creating an extremely positive
interplay. We want the same sort of thing to happen here. Exactly the same. By the way,
have you seen The Full Monty.
there you have an example of city that was unable to make the leap from a successful
manufacturing city of the industrial age, to a successful city of the post-industrial age.
Would you say that Bilbao has made that leap?
Bilbao has made an attempt. In contrast, Barcelona is like Sheffield, the city where The
Full Monty is set. Barcelona had La Maquinista, Espanya Industrial, Pegaso, and so on.
If you look around, you will see that Barcelonas best parks were formerly factories.
But Barcelona hasnt suffered the same sort of crisis as Sheffield. Barcelona has
gradually left its industrial past behind, to become ... for example, the leading
Mediterranean port of call for cruise ships. And its the city that invented the
concept of urban tourism, or cultural tourism. A city that displays its Gothic art, its
Romanesque art, with Roman ruins under its streets, and just a stones throw away, a
post-modern neighbourhood that is one of the legacies of the Olympic Games.
JosÚ M. Gˇmez
One night, around
midnight, the telephone rang, and through the receiver I heard the voice of a good friend
of mine from London. The thought struck me that maybe his cat had died, or perhaps that
his mother was on her deathbed in one of those British hospitals that had at one time been
an example to the world but have since fallen on hard times. The English are not in the
habit of ringing up at midnight to make small talk.
'What's wrong?' I
'I've just seen your
mayor on television.'
'Pretty bad, isn't
he?' I mumbled embarrassedly, understanding that Michael had called up to offer his
'You don't know how
lucky you are! If only London had a mayor like yours...' said Michael, sounding as if he
was about to begin sobbing.
'Are you quite sure
you're talking about the mayor of Barcelona?" I asked suspiciously.
'Joan Clos,' he
answered without hesitating.
He then added:
'A very, very
And before I could get
over my surprise, he went on to detail enthusiastically all of the many ideas that Joan
Clos had expressed on the television programme in which he had taken part as mayor of
Barcelona, a city that, according to well-travelled Londoners, London ought to look to as
an example for the renewal of its urban fabric, which, after a decade under Margaret
Thatcher's government, had been left in almost as bad a condition as the country's
As an enthusiastic
reader of Lytton Strachey and his eminent Victorians, I am convinced that only England can
produce people so able to combine strength and weakness with mundanity and romanticisim,
and eccentricity with conventionality. The mixture of such qualities in the genetic
cocktail shaker has given rise to the so-called 'confusing and contradictory English
character', making it possible for someone like Michael to squander ten pounds on a
telephone conversation -a waste of money for any self-respecting Englishman- to inform me
of the virtues of mayor Joan Clos, which had passed me by unnoticed.
I must admit that,
ever since that late-night call from Michael, I have a higher opinion of Joan Clos. The
English tend to be perspicacious and swim against the ideological tide, making Britain a
breeding ground for political ideas worth taking into account.
That night, I called
London. I spent two thousand pesetas on the conversation with my friend Michael, telling
him about what Joan Clos thinks Barcelona should be like. Before ringing off, I said:
"Michael, I have to admit that you were right. I take back what I said and I confess
that Clos is a good mayor."
Michael told me that
two cousins of his are now living in Barcelona.