portada de BMM


by Esteve Leˇn
coordinator of the culture area of barcelona provincial council

In 1998, Barcelona City Council presented its Strategic Plan for the Cultural Sector in Barcelona. In its general considerations the plan recognized explicitly that "it has the desire to be metropolitan, bearing in mind the needs for planning culture go beyond the city limits of each municipality. As a result, a large part of the cultural strategies have to be defined from a metropolitan perspective." Despite the few voices who had previously requested a more detailed approach to this necessary dimension of the territory, the relationship between the cultural policies and the metropolitan space has not been stated in detail. On the other hand, this situation can be explained on the basis of the two underlying factors that determined, in the early 1980s, the cultural priorities of the new city councils: the relative lack of importance of culture within public policy as a whole, both with respect to its central position and the funding assigned; and the need for public cultural action to give a response to the different local demands, largely the result of the local factors and the (re)construction of local identity.
Since the democratic transition, the sequence that has been followed by the city councils was first to recover their democratic dignity, to recover the street as a space for life in common through street parties, to strengthen the material and non-material signs of local identity, and to provide an immediate response to civic demands for local public cultural facilities: followed by the design and implementation of the basic network of public cultural facilities; from civic centres to theatres, museums and libraries; and thirdly, the attempt to involve the cultural dimension in public policies as a whole from a more strategic perspective, where the metropolitan dimension had only appeared occasionally in one or two proposals or in documents with a very restricted distribution.
Another factor directly influencing the lack of consideration of the metropolitan cultural space as an area capable of being planned at a general level has been the cultural policies of the Autonomous Government, the Generalitat. So far, the only two facilities considered to be Catalan in scope that have been installed in areas of the metropolitan area are the National Archive in Sant Cugat del Vallès and the National Museum of Science and Technology in Terrassa, while the delayed Public Map of Reading in Catalonia has still not been published. The increasing urban seams, the increase in mobility as a result of the substantial improvement of the communication networks, the increasing relocation of industries and services, the impact of some cultural models mainly implanted in the city of Barcelona and followed by several municipalities, etc., have been the most important factors contributing to meeting the need for solid mechanisms for planning, prospective analysis and coordination of metropolitan cultural policies.

The metropolis and culture: defining factors
It is evident that the phenomenon of the metropolitan cities, despite showing a set of easily identifiable common characteristics, does not respond to a single pattern. Metropolitan Barcelona is not simply the result of the radial spread of the city, or a result of the demographic and urban pressure on its hinterland, or as a result of the closeness of several municipalities to the main centre. Of course some of these factors have been present over the course of a process that has been taking place for more than a century; yet the main characteristic has been that (apart from the aggregation of the old municipalities in the Barcelona Plan) the Barcelona metropolis is the sum of different areas and towns and villages, and of cultural trajectories that in some cases are well-defined and consolidated, and, in others, clearly conditioned by the brutal urban growth of the 1960s. It seems more opportune to consider the metropolitan area as a complex system with variable geometry, in which integration, interdependence and distance operate simultaneously and create scenarios in function of the specific factors of each area of activity. This tendency is even clearer if we consider that the Barcelona metropolitan phenomena is in a very dynamic phase of construction.
The point is not only to create a more equal situation in terms of services or of basic indicators or citizen behaviour, but also in terms of important growth in the multidirectionality of flows and relations that form complex nets relating the municipalities to each other. That is to say, the natural tendency for the provision of services or the use of leisure time in a unidirectional relation with respect to the capital, or bidirectional, if we consider a subsystem of second-level centres, is starting to be replaced by multiple relations straddling specialization of the singular cultural offer. A recent study by the Institute of Metropolitan Studies on the forced changes in mobility in Barcelona Province between 1986 and 1996, directed by Oriol Nelolo, was convincing with respect to the journeys made for reasons of work. In the world of culture, the importance of Barcelona, and more specifically, the city's important cultural facilities, continues to have a major ability to attract people from the municipalities in the first and second rings, but other relations can be observed, especially the small growth in the number of Barcelona citizens who travel to other metropolitan municipalities and the emergence of local subsystems where the selection is determined by the quality of the structural supply - better facilities - and the programmed activities, the best option at a given moment.

The metropolitan cultural reality
The metropolitan area as a whole, apart from a few isolated and well-known exceptions in the upper band, tends to be closer to the mean than for the metropolitan area or the metropolitan region, and in most cases above the average for Catalonia. If we select some particularly sensitive indicators - the rate of unemployment, the number of people under the age of 14, family income or the percentage of people with university studies -, this situation is easily detected. The (few) data on cultural consumption also reveal a worrying situation with respect to the incorporation of new members of the public. In the metropolitan region as a whole, 48.8% of the population never goes to the cinema (43.7% in Barcelona city), 70.9% never goes to the theatre (62.6% in Barcelona city), and 59.9% never goes to museums or exhibitions (48.8% in Barcelona city). This situation is in keeping with some of the survey's conclusions: a higher educational level does not always accompany qualitatively or quantitatively higher consumption of culture, the overall increase in leisure time available is not balanced by sex or segment of the population, so that those who theoretically should be more favourably biased towards consuming or practising culture are those who make least use of it, and, to the contrary, cultural associations hang on, though those that are strictly cultural do so with great difficulty or are declining slightly.
With all the exceptions that can be made in each case, some factors have a negative effect on cultural progress in the metropolitan region; among others, these include the conditions of the facilities available, the private sector's and the cultural industries' difficulty in covering the entire area, the limitations of the different specializations, the lack of a good fit between some local strategies and the overall strategies, etc.
The necessary network of metropolitan cultural infrastructures is still in the development phase. This obvious statement is applicable to both what we might call "coverage facilities" - the facilities that might be established for a given population or on the basis of a reasonable access distance - and to certain specific exceptional facilities or spaces. The municipalities, which vary in their degrees of sensitivity and the funding available, are taking responsibility for its completion though there is no defined framework for funding and responsibility, and using very limited planning instruments.
One of the major problems is the great difficulty in spreading the private cultural sector to cover the metropolitan region and area as a whole, in any of its material aspects or segments, such as the industrial aspects, distribution or services. While dissemination is effective in the subsidiary aspects - mechanical jobs, storage - there is no sign of the emergence of a strategically located high density productive dynamic.
If we consider that the role of the culture in the metropolitan society ought to give a harmonious response to three objectives with different degrees of compatibility, namely the balanced improvement of the quality of life of all the citizens, the increase of the differentiated creative capacity in the market of ideas, and the meaningful contribution of the cultural industry and services, then we need a new framework for a metropolitan and regional cultural policy.

A step forward
Formulating and resolving three key aspects should shape this new stage: a defined vision of the territories, an organizational platform drawn up by the local authorities and an assessable working agenda.

Determining a territorial cultural strategy
First, some contingent initial premises. The metropolitan cultural space is shaping up on the basis of different territories - real and symbolic - that will have to be dealt with in different ways. The highly biased axes of urban development also have to be considered as starting points, as do the urban systems and subsystems of the first and second ring. Furthermore, in addition to general guidelines, they require non-homogeneous treatments that respect the variety of local strategies and respect pre-existing accumulations of potential. The process for establishing a shared overall strategy requires (on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity - which is much talked about but rarely put into practice) assuming plurality in a double direction: knowledge and respect of the local capacities of each of the areas and municipalities, and reaching agreements with all the agents from all the sectors and segments of cultural activity.

The development of organizational platforms
It is essential for there to be suitable organizational instruments. These instruments have to reflect both the needs and requirements of the cultural sectors and the reality of the different territorial developments that are now shaping the city and the metropolitan region.The 1998 Strategic Plan for the Cultural Sector of Barcelona considers the metropolitan dimension one of the basic pivots of its development. The Strategic Plan formulated a precise proposal: the creation of the Metropolitan Arts and Culture Council. This future body, intended to be the space of coordination, debate, design and monitoring of the local cultural policies of the metropolitan municipalities, is an ideal forum for the first of the defined territories - the metropolitan area.

Constructing a working agenda
Without wishing to thoroughly explore them or systematically list them, some questions should attract the priority attention and commitment of the local cultural managers. The following list contains some of the more important ones: advancing in the greater role of the cultural dimension in the establishment of the general strategies of territorial development; to extend the technique of strategic planning of the cultural sector to all the municipalities and areas and to establish mechanisms of second level re-elaboration and connection, so that local options are strengthened with global guidelines: there should be real-time mechanisms of analysis and indicators of cultural reality in order to assess permanently the impact of the policies and actions and to take the relevant corrective measures; and to determine the number and type of the basic cultural facilities, particularly those to which we can apply criteria of degree of coverage as a guide for the corresponding investment plans and the establishment of quality standards for service provision.
It is also necessary to determine the cultural areas and resources that can be managed as networks in order to strengthen the operative coordination of the metropolitan cultural services and projects; and to detect the cultural potential of each area and sector in order to establish the leading ones and the degree of productive competition; to establish a plan for the systematic introduction of information technology and telecommunications technology and multimedia production in all the territories, sectors, systems and facilities; to provide preferential attention to the development of artistic training and awareness progress to simultaneously raise the general level of cultural creativity, practise and consumption and prevent processes of anomy and exclusion; to face up to the conflicts and dysfunctions that are accompanying the emergence of the multicultural society whose impact is particularly significant in the areas of high urban density.
Constructing the real city starting from culture, structuring a system that is just and balanced regional towards its members and potent and competitive towards outside interests, is not only an opportunity to optimize resources or to establish a technical mechanism of coordinated planning, it is an option for a constitutive model of cultural development that prefers to operate from the complexity of the reality rather than from rickety schematic ideas and clamorous omissions.