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Wednesday, August 26, 2020
The Secret of Barcelona's Vitality: Sustainability of Public Space
ANBOUND

In 2018, Barcelona became one of the world's first-tier cities. In 2019, it ranked 11thamong the world's top 20 cities for sustainable competitiveness; in December of the same year, it ranked 43rdin the Global Top 500 Cities. Barcelona has never been short of glory in the urban competition. Renewal and regeneration seem to have been the city's features, keeping it young and vibrant for more than 2,000 years. The city's economy, labor force, and everything else are constantly growing, and the quality of the city remains the same. Barcelona's secret to staying young is desirable. The main ingredient that keeps Barcelona this way is public space.

Barcelona's current vigor dates back to 1976. Until then, restricted by the authoritarian rule of Francisco Franco, Barcelona went all out to develop industry, and the urban construction was almost completely halted. This not only led to a gradual aggravation of environmental pollution, but also a decline in the quality of life, a rapid population loss, and the gradual loss of vitality in the central city. With Franco's death in 1975, the city regained its freedom and entered the era of democracy.

Barcelona's current vigor dates back to 1976. Until then, restricted by the authoritarian rule of Francisco Franco, Barcelona went all out to develop industry, and the urban construction was almost completely halted. This not only led to a gradual aggravation of environmental pollution, but also a decline in the quality of life, a rapid population loss, and the gradual loss of vitality in the central city. With Franco's death in 1975, the city regained its freedom and entered the era of democracy.

For example, a poorly designed square constitutes a negative living environment for groups. It is difficult to cater to the citizens' demands for public facilities, entertainment, work, and comfortable quality, and it is arduous to retain the citizens. However, if some improvements and renovations can be made around the square to make the whole area more comfortable, livable, and people-oriented, more and more people may be willing to stay. If people stay, regional productivity can be improved and the whole area will gradually become wealthy.

Since then, "taking care of the quality of urban public space" has been an important issue for the sustainable development of Barcelona. Moreover, in the following time, to cater to the characteristics of the times, Barcelona continued to make innovative improvements in its strategic management. Broadly speaking, it can be divided into three stages.

The first stage (1976-1986) was a micro-renovation period with the old town and urban fringe as the core.

The most noteworthy aspect of this period is the Special Plans of Interior Reform (Planes Especiales de Reforma Interior or PERI). PERI focuses on the way to improve the quality and charm of the old town, restore its vitality, and retain young people. There are three key strategies to this. The first is to activate small public spaces. Under the guidance of the PERI program, the old town developed 2 small parks, 26 small squares, 308 streets, and lanes were paved, and 6 new civic centers. 90% of the planned facilities have been built and the old town has been significantly improved. The second is the replacement of industrial land functions. Since entering the post-industrial era, many industrial lands in the city have been abandoned. Based on different forms of wasteland, it is proposed in the PERI to carry out the function replacement in a timely manner to transform the abandoned industrial land into urban public space. The third is to make the old town a shining star. The old town has lost its charm and is in urgent need of reviving it to change people's perception and attracts people. Federico García Lorca, a Spanish poet, wrote that La Rambla was "the only street in the world which I wish would never end." La Rambla, which connects the city's landmark Plaza de Cataluña with the Columbus Monument, has been renovated to leave a public space about 12 meters wide in the middle of the road for citizens and tourists, lined with open-air bars, restaurants, flower shops, and street artists. Nowadays, this tree-lined pedestrian street has become a window for tourists to understand Spain and experience Spanish life. Of the 30 million tourists Barcelona receives each year, 80% of them will walk through this street.

The second stage (1986-1999) was a period of greater improvement with the aim of "reshaping the city's Mediterranean cultural identity".

Since the 1980s, the urban scale of Barcelona began to accelerate its expansion, and the urban development is in urgent need of greater spatial increment. Just in time, Barcelona won the right to host the 25thOlympic Games. By taking this international event as an opportunity, Barcelona adjusted its urban strategy. In contrast to the first stage, the management of the quality of public space has a clear theme, "redefining the city's Mediterranean cultural identity". This is divided into two stages: the pre-Olympic period, when the city is pushed towards the sea, and the post-Olympic period, when the city is integrated.

Specifically, in the pre-Olympic period, the government planned and focused on four Olympic areas, namely La Vall d'Hebron (the Olympic sports center) on the edge of the city, the extension project of Avinguda Diagonal (urban traffic structure center), Montjuïc Area (Olympic park), and the Olympic Port (Olympic village). Among them, the construction of the Olympic Port is the most representative. As a shipping hub in the 19th century, the Olympic Port was surrounded by railways and warehouses, which caused the connection between the city and the coast to be cut off. In particular, the original 12-lane ring road was like the gulf between the coastline and the city, making the city "close to the sea but not close to the sea". During the run-up to the Olympic Games, the government designed a 4.2km coastal walkway from west to east to renew the planned coastline, replacing all the highly fragmented nodes with underground traffic. At the same time, the old buildings along the coastline are renovated and injected with new forms of business. 9,500 square meters of leisure facilities, such as restaurants and bars, are scattered among them. Through leisure function implantation, a more pedestrian-friendly urban public space is created and new urban functions are endowed to the old port area.

In the post-Olympic period, the city implemented other measures. Through cultural public facilities, the inner links of the city were stitched together, thereby breaking down the barriers between spatially isolated islands. During this period, people not only enhanced their interaction and communication by increasing the available green area, but the city also built contemporary art museum, navigation museum, National Theatre of Catalonia and other cultural venues.

The third stage (2000-present) is the transformation period that aimed to create a technological city with innovation as the core.

After 2000, Barcelona began to implement the urban "Golden Triangle Project" that consisting of the transformation of the Poblenou industrial zone, the transformation of the Basso Valley, and the construction of La Sagrera city. Among them, the "22@bcn Plan" of Poblenou district has an insight into the trend of the rise of the knowledge economy and the return of innovation to the city, creating the world's first innovative economic zone, and also a more avant-garde strategy for the quality construction of urban public space with "innovation" as the core. There are two core elements in the "22@bcn Plan". The first is to incubate a hybrid innovative micro-environment. In the "22@bcn Plan", a single block is taken as a basic innovation unit by virtue of the grid characteristics. Functional mixing is the core of the innovation unit. According to the requirements, more than 20% of the new projects of the innovation unit must be of the innovation economy type, and each district must include facilities, new housing, and green public space, with no less than 10% of each, so as to meet the demand of frequent exchange of innovative talents and the demand of the perfect convenient life.

Second, diversify the space and create an environment for innovation. In the process of environmental construction, 10% of the land is used for green space construction, and public spaces such as parks, small squares, and streets are built at different levels to create a comfortable communication environment for innovative people. The building renovation has improved the building density index, transforming the image of sparse factory zone into the image of a technological city.

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