It was strange this week to hear words like “ineffective” and “stalled” used to describe something coming from Barcelona. For nearly 30 years the city has been known for its progressive agenda of urban ‘acupuncture’ and infrastructural interventions, a flexible but robust economy and responsive politics–all falling broadly under the banner of ‘The Barcelona Model’. So while Barcelona has played host to a fruitless climate summit, it might be hoped that the city itself offered lessons to those visiting ministers intent on environmental responsibility.
To be sure, Barcelona’s development is not immune to criticism. In recent years, the notion of ‘progressive’ planning strategies has given way to what Peter Rowe calls an “architectural connoisseurship”, where predictable works by an (established) avant-garde litter the landscape like a collection of trophies. But before the current Baroque phase, the city was known first in the 1980’s for small-scale interventions by home-grown architects intent on crystallizing a network of small public open spaces in the city. From there, Barcelona transitioned into an overhaul of its transportation infrastructure and renovation of key peripheral zones–both expanding the city and interconnecting it in the boom before the 1992 Olympic Games. It was in these years that a concept of infrastrutural urbanism was used to describe the hybrid public space/public works that emerged. Looking beyond and between the starchitecture period that followed, a thread of sophisticated, sensitive proposals remains. An exciting example is found a short walk away from Herzog and De Meuron’s Forum–at the unassuming Besòs River Park.