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BARCELONA'S METROPOLITAN REGION IN THE ECONOMICS OF KNOWLEDGE
by Joan Trullčn
City Council Commissionner in charge of Territorial and Economic Diagnosic and Evaluation within the "BCN City of Knowledge" project

At the turn of the century, economy is undergoing radical changes everywhere around the world. The sudden arrival of the new information and communications technologies, the intensification of the processes of internationalization and the spread of a new kind of technological development based on productive flexibility, are transforming some of the central premises on which our model of economic growth was structured.
Where the relationship between such economic processes and territorial distribution is concerned, the fundamental development lies in the gain in economic leadership recently experienced by certain metropolises in different parts of the world. We could say that, whereas, in the nineteen seventies and eighties, medium-size cities were the true leading forces in economic processes of an endogenous nature, the metropolises have now become the main economic centres of attention in that new globalized economy. (...)
In this article, I shall refer to how those processes are affecting Barcelona's metropolis and what is being done in response to such weighty new challenges.
Since the middle of the year 1994, the city of Barcelona and its metropolitan area are experiencing an intense process of economic growth and territorial expansion of what we should consider a significant space for economic relations, the Metropolitan Region. (...)
Barcelona is facing up to the challenges posed by globalized economy and the increase in competitiveness among urban spaces on a world scale - further intensified by the presence of the Internet - with middling technological backing, but having the benefit of significant support as regards urban dimensions, personal creation and social cohesion. (...)
In effect, over the last years, Barcelona has experienced a spectacular increase in urban dimensions, not so much in terms of an increase in the population of its central municipality, as in terms of an expansion of its labour market towards neighouring towns and cities. Metropo-litan Barcelona currently boasts a population of 4,3 million inhabitants and a labour market that provides employment for more than 2 million people, practically half a million more than six years ago.
Barcelona ought to find ways to build the infrastructural and infostructural means required for the development of new economic activities. These are necessary but not sufficient conditions for setting up that new project. It will also be necessary to clearly identify the conditions that would allow knowledge to stand as an essential factor within our new economy. (...)
It is important that the city be provided with appropriate infrastructures. Which means that we ought to enlarge the scope of its communications and transport infrastructures up to a level that would make it possible to increase its production rate and therefore facilitate competitiveness among all production agents; as I already mentioned, an intercontinental airport is likely to put Barcelona's companies and workers in a more advantageous position, independently of the sector they operate in, just as the development of communications networks is bound to increase the productivity rate of the whole of its working agents.
However, an urban strategy should also take into account the specialization of the central space of the metropolis as well as that of the central areas of the other cities that make up the metropolitan network (i.e. Mataró, Sabadell, Terrassa, among others) in knowledge-based activities which presuppose that the proportion of specialized work to non-specialized work is increasingly large and that such work is no longer necessarily concentrated in a given sector.
This is precisely the orientation of the proposal that aims at replacing the old strategy that fostered the presence of industrial activities with a low level of employment (and an even lower level of qualified work) with a new strategy that would encourage the presence of activities with higher levels of employment and specialized work.
To that effect, a highly significant move has been the recent proposal to modify the planning approach to the industrial layout of one of the metropolitan areas - Poble Nou - which was subject to regulations that, in practice, made it easier to develop manufacturing industries in which production processes did not require a very high level of knowledge, such as, generally speaking, the activities classified under the 22nd section in the "Pla General Metropolità" (General Metropolitan Plan).
The plan for the modification of Poble Nou's industrial areas affects some 115 blocks within the Eixample district and it is based on a novel principle: the will to encourage the presence not of some given industrial sectors defined by the nature of the goods they produce, but rather of certain productive activities - whether industrial or of another kind - defined by their specific way of producing those goods, in harmony with the recently established diagnostic. What is important is that such activities be based on a high level of knowledge and a high level of employment, as well as an intensive use of the newest information and communications technologies.
The proposed objective is that, within approximately ten years, Barcelona would concentrate about one hundred thousand jobs linked to specialized knowledge. Poble Nou would thus become the new "activity district" in which companies would be defined not so much according to the sector they operate in, as according to the way they operate, no matter whether the activities they are involved in are industrial or tertiary. (...)
The instruments which are being put at the disposal of that operation are both strictly urbanistic and managerial. The goal is not only to facilitate the development of the above mentioned activities following an endogeneous pattern, but also to attract outside bodies and, more particularly, to encourage the implantation of the technological centres of the leading Spanish companies in Barcelona, within a well equipped new urban setting perfectly connected not only with the network of Catalan cities but also with the urban systems in Spain and Europe thanks to the new airport and railway transport infrastructures. The companies whose activities require a particularly high level of specialized knowledge will be granted more building space than those involved in more general activities.
Additionally, the "Projecte Ciutat del Coneixe-ment" (City of Knowledge Project) recently set up in Barcelona is making good progress with the definition of a new urban strategy that is meant to foster the generation, transmission and constant updating of the knowledge which is to be made available to the largest possible proportion of the population. The establishment of a new scientific/technical polarity between that industrial complex and the already consolidated university campus located on the opposite western edge of the city (comprised of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and the University of Barcelona) should serve to create a large-scale scientific and technical area under the leadership of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Eastern Campus) and the UPF (biomedical Campus) in the eastern section of the city, close to the seafront and side by side with the 2004 "Forum de les Cultures" (Forum of Cultures).
Other cities such as Mataró, Terrassa and Sabadell are also starting to institute specific policies aimed at encouraging activities based on highly specialized knowledge, including activities centred on training, research and development.
The same as, over the last years, the development projects carried out on the periphery of Barcelona and the subsequent construction of connecting ring roads have promoted the extension of similar living standards to the whole of the city, the new public university campuses - thanks to the above mentioned geographical polarity - are meant to extend training and research standards to the largest possible proportion of urban spaces within the metropolis. (...)