Community and Civic Centers all around the city, a whole new district converted from industrial warehouses into office buidlings, hotels and hackerlabs (@22), squater houses and top universities, the site of the Mobile World Congress, Barcelona´s modern art museum (MACBA), and the media and design centers (CCCB), Barcelona´s historic lead in architecture, arts and entrepreneurship, they all play a role in the making one of Europe´s most innovative, creative and cool cities.
After living in Barcelona for about 8 years I get a feeling that Barcelona and San Francisco are natural twin sister cities. Barcelona plays a role in Spain and in Europe the same way that San Francisco has played a role during decades becoming the destination for creatives, artists, liberals, entrepreneurs, gold diggers, environmentalists, hackers, smart young professionals and even hippies. A warm mild weather, being next to the sea, having a worldwide reknown port and welcomming an influx of immigrants, there are so many factors that both cities enjoy and profit from.
Barcelona has been even converting itself from an old industrial, port city to a creative, cosmopolitan, smart and hi tech metropolis while keeping a sense of pride and community, even when Spain was hit in the last years by one of the worst economic crisis after the war. But Catalans are determined. They are resilent. And independent. If things don’t go the way they want it, they will take the chance to make their own changes. They are too eager to succeed and have taken this crisis as an opportunity to rise again, reimagine their economy, refocus their promotional efforts, remake their image. And like succesful entrepreneurs that they are, it’s working. Well, there is a whole debate about their desire to separate from Spain, which might be well justified, but that’s a whole different issue.
The Bay area might be the birthplace of semiconductors, microchips, Google, Facebook and Twitter. So in that sense Barcelona might not be considered Europe’s Silicon Valley. However, the plan is to make Barcelona a smart city promoting hi-tech industries, design, startups, venture capital and top research universities. They have built a massive Biotech research lab next to the mediterranean sea that, by its location, must the envy of their German, English and Scandinavian counterparts. Not many cities can say they have a Museum of Ideas!
Their community centers all around the city create a network of civic centers that serve as meeting places, educational centers, artist galleries, music creation and production labs and maker spaces open to the “barrio” or neighborhood. They offer free internet, low cost courses in technology, dancing, crafts, media production, etc. They are the official, city funded community centers, while squatter houses are the self organized counterparts, that while promoting anarchism provide also a network of free spaces for many creative activities and some even have hackerspaces, a free university, organic farms and tool making workshops.
Other alternative ideas flourish in Barcelona naturally. From secret “illegal” home restaurants, terraces and bars, to a hi-tech hostel, to maker spaces that organize the Mini Maker Faire. The use of electric cars, electric pedal cargo bikes, city bike sharing and car sharing and P2P rentals is widespread. There are many creative small businesses and citizen initiatives like squater gardens, low cost bookshops, neighborhood community street blackboards,crowdsourced art projects, used and vintage markets in iconic places, and many other open, crowdsourced, citizen, self organized, sharing economy activities, events and services. Catalans even launched their own crowdfunding platform, Goteo.org since Kickstarter hasn’t allowed yet to publish projects in Spain.
So Barcelona is aiming to become an international modern creative platform, built by grassroots collaborative projects, official initiatives to create hi-tech jobs and venture capitalists funding the next mobile apps and startups.