Barcelona feeds its brand with great events and urban alliances

The Winter Olympics have not entered the campaign (yet).

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
22 May 2023 Monday 14:22
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Barcelona feeds its brand with great events and urban alliances

The Winter Olympics have not entered the campaign (yet). What is being brought is the America's Cup, the European Capital of Architecture 2026 and a list of electoral promises of major events with which to promote the city in the coming years: from the Women's World Cup to the commemoration of the centenary of the Universal Exhibition of 1929, turning the Bruc barracks into a diplomatic center in favor of peace or creating the International Parliament of Barcelona.

What should be the city's promotion policy for the next four years? None of the electoral programs directly relates this facet to that of tourism promotion and only the PSC includes, in the promotion section, the need to expand the airport. What the parties do agree on is the organization of major events, the maintenance of appointments such as Mobile or ISE and the promotion of international structures and networks. They paint a more ambitious Barcelona with leadership linked to the Mediterranean area, where, with the exception of BComú, the other parties agree that it has lost weight and influence.

Without being the capital of any country, Barcelona has managed to position itself as an international benchmark in areas such as urban planning, culture, sports and science. The Olympic Games marked the turning point of the archism, which the PP and the PSC still claim in their election ads this campaign. The celebration of the global reference event served to attract capital with which the urban transformation could be financed. To a lesser extent, the Universal Forum of Cultures also had this effect. However, in recent years and until the announcement of the America's Cup (a candidacy made against the clock), the excuse to transform and promote the city has not been a great event, but that urban planning actions - up to all without political consensus – have become the main international flag of Barcelona City Council.

Thus, the mayor Ada Colau, who with the mayor of Milan holds the vice-presidency of the global C40 network (headed by the mayor of London), has placed the "Superilla Barcelona" on the same level as the "15-Minute City” of Paris or the “Low Traffic Neighborhoods” of London. Cities such as Berlin, Vienna, Rotterdam, Bogota and Los Angeles are adapting the Barcelona transformation model. And in the electoral program BComú focuses external action on the response to the climate emergency and claims for Barcelona a leading role as the capital of human rights in the Mediterranean. The commons program links international relations with social justice.

On the other hand, in its election programme, Trias per Barcelona maintains that the city's international relations have been more, in reality, "the international relations of the mayoress". The party considers that Colau has traveled little and above all "thinking about his promotion or for an ideological objective" and they regret the lack of expeditions designed to attract talent, economic investments or to promote international cooperation projects.

Even the PSC acknowledges in the electoral program that in recent years the leadership of the City Hall in the international agenda "has been lost, despite the work done from the international area and the promotion of city", in socialist hands. The PSC is betting on regaining leadership capacity and increasing "economic opportunities", with proposals such as the "Barcelona Antennas" in strategic cities or territories around the world, such as Boston, Seoul, Singapore or Mexico City, or expanding the activity of the Barcelona International Welcome Desk to facilitate a faster integration of talent coming from abroad and who decide to settle in the city to undertake, invest, research or train. The Socialists undertake to ensure the transformation of the airport - a proposal that is also in the programs of the PP, Ciutadans or Valents, but not linked to an explicit policy of international projection -, as well as "promoting a plan to multiply the Barcelona's air connectivity".

"There are many ways to exercise international leadership, from working for economic promotion to working on the brand or being present in international networks. Since it is not a capital, the policies must be powerful. Until the process, Barcelona's international action was successful, and now it is more complicated because of globality", maintains the political scientist and general secretary of Metropolis, Jordi Vaquer, who insists that, "for major events to be successful, they must simmer and several administrations must be involved; steering wheels are not good".

The next mayor will be the host of the last major international event confirmed in the city, the America's Cup, which is serving to accelerate the transformation of the seafront. "Other bets such as the Manifesta or the Capital of Architecture in 2026 provide knowledge and added value. We need to bet on new levers, invest in science and culture to position ourselves internationally", adds Mateu Hernández, former director of Barcelona Global.