Industrial Graveyard To Hot Innovation Center | Citiscope
How can a city resuscitate an entire depressed, old inner city district, many of its blocks marked by the skeletons of abandoned factories? Even more challenging–how to transform the same area into a high-powered knowledge hub that adds jobs by the thousands and draws dozens of high-powered national and international firms? The “free enterprise” American approach might be to bring in the bulldozers, create an industrial park that displaces the old residents, and maybe offer companies public subsidies to move in. Not Barcelona. Ten years ago this entrepreneurial city decided to build a modern “knowledge economy” close to downtown in its old waterfront Poblenou district, once a leading cotton mill center, renaming it “22@Barcelona, District of Innovation.” Barcelona’s then-mayor, Joan Close, took the initiative. But an extraordinary political consensus–ranging all the way from the city’s capitalist right wing to socialist-oriented left–came together to design 22@Barcelona and set it in motion. Their central idea: Talent is the gold of our time, crucial to build thriving new economic clusters. Talented people (and cutting-edge firms) want lively urban environments. Instead of the isolation of corporate campuses, they’re anxious to brush shoulders with other gifted people from companies, universities and the artistic realm. So 22@Barcelona has been consciously shaped to include attractive green spaces, restaurants and entertainment, bike lanes, and plentiful public transit both within the area and between it and greater Barcelona. But to create that environment–and not force out the families and workers living there–the Barcelona politicians decided on an ingenious but highly controlled form of real estate redevelopment. Each of the district’s 100-square meter blocks–rather than individual land holdings–were made the basic unit for regeneration. Once 60 percent of landowners in any one of the 115 blocks agree to act collectively, they can–as a community–increase the value of their property by getting city permission to rebuild with greater height (more stories) than allowed in the past.
Neal Peirce, newspaper columnist,Washington Post Writers Group; chairman of the Citistates Group; lead author of Century of the City: No Time To Lose, based on the Rockefeller Foundation’s 2007 “Global Urban Summit” of city practitioners and scholars from around the world.