return to nē45

by Joan Clos
Mayor of Barcelona

Spring is a synonym of vitality: the moment to turn our back on the cold and visit places that seemed hidden to us. Barcelona, like its people, is pulsing with life and friendship, and this year it is specially beautiful.

Barcelona is a dense and built-up city, but it now has more natural spaces than it used to. Barcelona has not given up on the idea of green spaces, and is in fact seeking to create more and more green spaces in every part of the city. The drab and colourless Barcelona of only a few years ago is now a mixture of shades and colours, a mosaic in which the blue of the sea contrasts with the new green spaces. The figures speak for themselves: in just four years, we have increased the area of green space by eighty hectares (equivalent to eighty city blocks in the Eixample district), 28% of the area of Barcelona is green space, and the amount of green space per inhabitant has increased from 15 to 18 square metres. And this is confirmed by the growing use the people of Barcelona are making of the city's parks and gardens.

Barcelona wants to have more and better green spaces, and is getting them. Quality is an essential condition for the future of the cities, as was clearly shown at the Metropolis congress and the congresses of the IULA and the CIDEU, which have made Barcelona the world capital of the cities for two intense weeks in March.

The turn of the century is being characterized by a reexamination of the city's structural and material role, which is more and more apparent. The cities are increasingly the point of reference for the world's people (two thirds of whom will live in urban areas by 2010), and are being redefined and strengthened. We live in a global village, but people's problems and needs occur at the local level, and this is where they have to be solved; the local approach is essential to have a global effect.

Barcelona is affected by this change, and favours a model in which the city takes the initiative and acts as a motor. And this means a quality, balanced, city that is coherent and competitive but sustainable.

This is the horizon facing us twenty years after the first democratic city council elections in Spain following the death of Franco. These elections were in April 1979, and the councillors were elected by universal suffrage to represent a wide range of aspirations, demands and longings, something that changed the direction of politics, our way of understanding politics, and especially, the way politics was practised.

Two decades later, we can say that we have got out of a tricky situation, and that the town councils and citizens, by protecting and providing each other with support and opportunities, have successfully fulfilled their basic aims. This is, however, not the right place to list the positive results - which are clear enough - but it is correct to recognize the work that has been done and to say that we are legitimately proud of ourselves for having been able to work and progress while contributing to recover the ethical approach, motivation and individual and collective values that the Franco dictatorship had eroded.

Looking back over these twenty years we can say the ability to stimulate and promote, to create enthusiasm and stimulate initiatives and to extend them has been as relevant as the work performed. This is how we have to understand, among other things, the process of revitalization of the Ciutat Vella (Old City) district of Barcelona, now tangible and almost irreversible and which in this issue is subjected to analysis, revision and commentary by qualified authors.

Rigour and an entertaining style are the defining features of the new sections that B. MM. is starting.

One section deals with the questions raised by the "Day without Cars" on April 29, a day when we are inviting everyone to think about the effects of the car. Slogans apart, on April 29 we can show that reducing private transport and increasing public transport improves mobility in Barcelona, and this form of mobility is more sustainable and favours activity, growth and speed but ensures respect for the environment, life in common and efficiency.

This number sees the start of our decade-by-decade review of the twentieth century, which also seeks to be thorough but interesting. The first decade of this century was marked, as the authors explain, by the riots of the "Semana Trágica" in Barcelona, and the transformation of the political organizations, but it also saw the birth of Art Nouveau in Catalonia. At the beginning of the century, Barcelona shook to the blast of bombs, but also resonated to the sound of music from the newly built Palau de la Música Catalana. And ninety years on, at the very end of the century, we have opened the Auditori (the Auditorium), a scenario for creative activities and for musical and cultural training.