How to make Barcelona's city centre appealing to locals?
A new long-term vision is needed for mobility in and around the city
There is a risk that there will be problems in Barcelona city center if we are not able to encourage companies, entrepreneurs, research centers and co-workings to return. The best way of fighting against the gentrification and ghettoization of the center is to ensure that there are plenty of jobs there.
Barcelona, like all global cities, is now empty of visitors and is faced with the challenge of getting its economy back on track in circumstances that are still uncertain due to the Covid-19 crisis. Even so, the city has one great advantage: its well-deserved reputation of being among the most attractive cities in the world for talented professionals.
But Barcelona also faces a major challenge: in the last 18 years economic activity in the city center has become less diverse and a large amount of space for business premises has been lost. This has upset the balance of the center and is accelerating its gentrification and standardization.
More than 720,000m2 of office space in the center of Barcelona has been turned into hotels or homes. This is no small amount and to this must be added the challenges faced by the restaurant and retail sectors, in which iconic businesses are at risk of disappearing, and where there is a proliferation of global chains, sometimes of very low quality. With huge question marks over the future of tourism in the short term, it is time to implement measures aimed at attracting new economic activity to the center of Barcelona and ensuring that the center recovers its identity and becomes the economic heart of the city once again, with all that implies in terms of quality of life, commercial activity, improvements in education, security services, and ease of access.
Transformation through high quality employment
To tackle this challenge, the so-called "knowledge economy," based on innovation, research, and entrepreneurship, etc., is the idea way of driving transformation in Barcelona city center. The knowledge economy generates startups, quality jobs, and income, and makes a powerful economic impact on the shops and restaurants in the city. The center of Barcelona has land, facilities and unique buildings that are perfect for use in the knowledge economy.
A clear example of this is the Pier complex promoted by Barcelona Tech City that is giving new entrepreneurial uses to spaces in the historic center of Barcelona. These include Pier01 with the Tinglados del Port and the new docksides that are being developed successfully in the area. The 10,000 square meters on Pier01 in the Port Vell are the best example of what can happen if, instead of isolated investment, there is a systematic policy of returning economic activity to the city center.
The fact that quality jobs are located in the centre of Barcelona means that the offer of local commerce is also aimed at these new residents who become customers of shops, wineries, services which, in this way, add dynamism and diversity to an economy in the city centre that is very much oriented towards the visitor, who is becoming its main customer. In addition, the restaurant industry (so affected by the crisis) is becoming more dynamic and is also acquiring new customers. One element very much our own would return to the restaurant boards: the lunch menus and business lunches.
"Barcelona has a great asset to attract talent: many professionals would feel a strong stimulus with the idea of working in the centre of a city like this"
More space available for economic activity in the center of Barcelona would prompt economic growth and new jobs.
Identifying locations in the center
At a time when Barcelona is suffering from a shortage of office space in the city center, Barcelona Global’s proposal is that the administration should speed up the conversion of entire disused buildings for use in the knowledge economy. We would recommend establishing a special office designed to speed up applications for planning and restoration projects while also ensuring that Barcelona’s built heritage is well-protected.
In collaboration with Cushman & Wakefield, we have identified 18 buildings and plots in the city center under public, semi-public and private ownership. These locations are not in use, underused or employed in activities that are no longer appropriate for the city center. In total, they account for more than 243,000 m2 that could be employed differently, provide new jobs, and boost new business in Barcelona. And these are far from being the only locations.
"Going down to the centre of Barcelona should not only be a way to go shopping, eat or visit, but also to work and meet.
Furthermore, boosting the economy of the city center by increasing jobs and promoting the conversion of currently unexploited buildings in different parts of the city would produce other valuable results: economic diversification, which would help to combat gentrification and the concentration of office space in just a few areas of the city; and the renewal of shops, restaurants and residential premises in areas benefiting from the arrival of new workers.
This has proved to be a successful approach in many European cities that have demonstrated how public and private sectors can work together. One example is the Halle Freyssinet - Station F, a former train station in Paris that has been turned into the biggest technological startup center in the world.
How to speed up the process
Barcelona Global believes it is necessary to create an office to streamline procedures for changes of use, licensing and other administrative hurdles in order to ensure that these changes can be carried out as efficiently and dynamically as possible.
The central message of our proposal is to urge the City Council to do its utmost to facilitate changes of use and the refurbishment of complete buildings in the city center.