Barcelona is a city with an intense and ample industrial tradition, which began in the mid-14th century and which was, in the beginning, focused on the textile sector. However, this focus rapidly changed, expanding to other areas of production ranging from chemistry to metallurgy. The city grew and transformed itself thanks to this economic boost which brought modernization from a social and cultural point of view to such a degree that by the beginning of the 20th century, Barcelona had its very own style of architecture, arts and craftwork: Modernism had arrived. I refer to such a creative period since the city still considers its economic development as the base for setting out to achieve other aims, creative aims related to the quality of life in the city.
Allow me to continue with this historic review for a moment. The 20th century represented Barcelona’s industrial consolidation, not only as a city, but as the engine of a larger metropolitan area, which is now home to some three million people. This industrial drive is spread within this complex city system of approximately 600 square kilometres, which developed during the 1960s and 70s and combines an interesting framework of great industries, led primarily by the automotive industry and followed by small and medium enterprises that still characterize the country’s industrial profile. This industrial development holds importance due to the fact that the last thirty years of the 20th century marked the transformation of Barcelona into a city of services, following the path of other clearly post-industrial European cities. The oil crisis and the increase of tourism are, in this case, complementary factors, since, what the former took away, the latter brought back. However, the conventional manufacturing industry kept going.
Those small or medium enterprises with more flexibility and more territorial roots were able to weather the crisis and adapt themselves to the new conditions. Hence, the conventional labour market continues to be so solid in Barcelona that the city currently has more job positions than at any other stage in its history. Figures show that there are more than one million workers, which demonstrates, among other things, the positive integration of the 15 per cent immigrant population that arrived in the city within the last five to ten years.
There is one point of great importance that needs to be stressed: I previously mentioned the modernist cultural movement when referring to the first industrialization. Well, cultural creativity is one of the greatest signs of identity in this city. It has been a key factor in the development of a very significant cultural industry.
Editing and design are in the vanguard of this creativity, but the characteristics include other areas of human activity as well. Collectively, these have provided an easier approach to the demands of the 21st century, that is to say, to the economy of knowledge in the neoindustry of added value.
In this way, Barcelona is heading toward the 21st century with a series of advantages that provide a competitive position. What we have learnt from industrial tradition, we apply to the new economy. Nevertheless, we maintain such intangible characteristics as being a Mediterranean city and a powerful capital of Southern Europe, in other words, geographic attributes that have now become key strategic attributes. In the past, our location on the map made us into a transit city, nowadays, we take advantage of our open nature to attract visitors as well as executives, investors and foreign talent. A walk through the old neighbourhood of “el Raval” shows it has been rejuvenated and regenerated back into the new urban landscape and also gives us a measure of how cosmopolitan and young the city is, with a mixture of cultures and activities and where artists and immigrants from all over the world start up their workshops or their first businesses and shops.
The challenge of innovation
The engine of the 21st century’s economy is, nevertheless, innovation, not only in the production of goods, but more importantly, innovation in knowledge and technology. Barcelona is successfully heading in this direction. Relying on its tradition, the city is profitably developing the sector of biomedical research by creating excellence centres linked to the university and the main public hospitals, often with the support of other enterprises. Oncological and genetic investigation in the area of mother cells and new medications are giving us a role for future business in this area. This is important for overcoming the Spanish tradition of “exporting brains”; not only are we recovering those scientists who completed their professional training abroad, but we are also seeking to attract young foreign researchers in order for them to complete their projects here.
The city is also advancing in the fields of science and technology. As a matter of fact, several worldwide vanguard enterprises have chosen to install laboratories for research in Barcelona and its surrounding area. The universities also further their status with milestones as fundamental as a particle accelerator (under construction) or as the supercomputer Mare Nostrum, one of the most powerful computers in the world.
What has been mentioned so far was, of course, regarding knowledge. From here we descend to more common levels, going through every niche of production, creation and use of technologies and contents. Especially in the audiovisual industry: It is no coincidence that a team of specialists in visual effects from Barcelona won an Oscar for the best make-up at the last event for these highly recognized awards.
Social cohesion as a goal
Why is all this important for a city within the global framework in which we move? Because it generates the necessary resources for following the first law of cities: to welcome, to offer services, to elaborate the complex structure of what we call “quality of life”. The cities, which were born spontaneously, with an aim of optimizing human interaction, are today’s facilitators of well-being. Furthermore, they are responsible for social cohesion. This is why it is so hard to call the endless megalopolis of the developing countries “cities”, where people reside in terrible slums. Nowadays, around one billion people in the world live in poor conditions within huge sub-urbs with a total lack of structure.
Cities of well-being are something else. They are a subtle blend of interests, opportunities, exchanges, cultures and human experiences, in one word, “coexistence”. For this framework to be effective, it is necessary to guarantee social cohesion through three elements: opportunities (that is to say, a safe and stimulating horizon), services for the people and quality public spaces that can be shared by everybody, without discrimination or violence. A city is a system of life in which everybody should feel a part of a collective project, and this is possible only if the city covers the basic needs of its inhabitants and helps them to envision their future dreams.
This quality of life, which has been recognized in Barcelona through many different European surveys, is the main reason for making an effort and putting our imagination to work with the goal of maintaining the economic dynamism. In other words, give back wealth to the citizens in the form of services, equipment, spaces and help to those in need. When a city becomes more humane, its people become better and therefore, the world in which we live will also be a better place.
Jordi Hereu i Boher has been mayor of Barcelona since 2006. Mr Hereu i Boher holds college and masters degrees in Business Administration and Management from the ESADE Business School. Regarding his path to Barcelona’s City Hall, Jordi Hereu has been linked to this institution since 1997, when he fulfilled the responsibilities of district director of Les Corts.