Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City

Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City

Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City

Thinking Barcelona: Ideologies of a Global City

Excerpt

Woody Allen’s 2008 film Vicky Cristina Barcelona depicts Barcelona as a charming and cosmopolitan city. Foreigners find its fusion of European sophistication and Mediterranean lifestyle irresistible. The city is so appealing that it seems to have engendered the series of sexual encounters, romantic scenes, and artistic impulses experienced by the characters. It is true that, given the empty aestheticism and lack of social significance of his recent films, Allen could have set the movie in, say, Bagdad, and still manage to portray a group of affluent individuals only worried about their sexual dissatisfaction and their cultural taste. However, Barcelona seemed to serve especially well as a delightful and nonconflictive setting.

The enchanting powers of Barcelona that attract Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall, together with millions of visitors every year, are the result of a specific historical process. During the 1980s, and in preparation for the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona’s city hall launched an extensive transformation of the city at all levels. Under the leadership of socialist mayor Pasqual Maragall, the municipal government undertook a process of “city-building” that profoundly altered the social, urbanistic, economic, cultural, and political spheres of the city. The transformation of Barcelona did not consist in a mere renewal of its waterfront, the gentrification of an old neighborhood, or the promotion of its cultural assets, even though these elements were also a central part of it. The transformation consisted rather in the articulation of a municipal political project that aimed to have an effect on each social sphere of the city while implementing a comprehensive urban renovation.

This transformation was motivated by the emergence of a new economy based on tourism, real estate investment, and the culture industry. When in the 1970s and 1980s most Western industrial cities began to see manufacturing relocated in Third World countries, and the globalization of production started to be a reality, Barcelona adjusted to this new situation rather quickly and became specialized in the industries of tourism, real estate and culture. While Barcelona’s economy remained quite diversified, these three industries . . .

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