“Catalunya xarxa de ciutats” un libro sobre Pasqual Maragall y el municipalismo

Recientemente se ha publicado el resultado de la investigación que llevé a cabo sobre Pasqual Maragall para la Fundació Catalunya Europa: Catalunya xarxa de ciutats: el municipalisme de Pasqual Maragall i el seu impacte en la governança de Catalunya (Cataluña red de ciudades: el municipalismo de Pasqual Maragall y su impacto en la gobernanza de Cataluña).  Bajo este título farragoso hay una investigación que trata de demostrar varias cosas que me parecía interesante destacar en este blog y que tienen que ver con los estudios urbanos, con el papel de los municipios y con los debates sobre la reorganización territorial o incluso la forma en la que los partidos se organizan territorialmente. La clave del asunto reside en el papel que el municipalismo juega en el pensamiento progresista en España y como eso se plasma de forma específica en Cataluña. Resumo los principales hallazgos en tres puntos.

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Debates on the Urban Revolution and polycentrism

Synekism and the origin of cities

Recently I have been working on the concept of Urban Revolution and reading a lot on the origin of cities. In the thirties of the past century, the archaeologist Gordon Childe proposed the theory of an urban revolution taking place after the neolithic (that is agricultural) revolution. He analysed archaeological data from ancient cities and reconstructed a sequence in which the existence of a surplus allowed for more complex division of labour and the emergence of cities. The hypothesis is so widely extended that is accepted as a conventional wisdom.

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Merry Christmas post: Summary of the year in Changing cities

In order to celebrate the end of the year and to wish you all merry Christmas, I summarise what I have done so far, and what has happened in cities and urban studies around me.

2015 has been a productive year in many ways. In our research group, we have finished some projects and started others, and we managed to publish some interesting stuff. In the meanwhile, main Spanish cities have seen the emergence of a ‘democratic revolution’ through the victory in the municipal elections of anti-austerity political platforms claiming for less corruption and an alternative management of cities granting greater redistribution and fight against poverty. furthermore, with catalan elections in autumn and general elections in winter, this has been a pretty political year.

The Innosogo Project: social innovation and governance

In January we started the national project INNOSOGO Innovación Social y Gobernanza, prácticas emergentes para ciudades en transformación (Social innovation and governance, emerging practices for cities in transformation) in which we try to analyse bottom-up practices taking place in Spanish cities and their connection with local administration. Are socially innovative practices against social exclusion collaborating with public administration? What kind of governance models allow for greater or weaker collaboration? What are the results of this different patterns of collaboration? The project compares four cities: Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid and Zaragoza.

At the end of the year we have analysed the governance models of the four cities and selected the case studies to start extensive fieldwork on January. Synthesis reports will be soon available, and results will be presented in the next ISA Forum in Viena and in the next RC21 Conference in Mexico amongst others.

You can find more information on the project here.

The Innova project: new forms of production in the city

This year we have finished the Innova Project, a coordinated research project in collaboration with other research groups in University of Valencia and University of Lleida. The projecte attempted to analyse new forms of organisation of economic actors within the city, comparing four Spanish cities: Barcelona, Bilbao, Madrid and Valencia. Specifically, we analysed the role of networks of creative workers and its connection with more classic clusters and agglomeration economies’ approaches being developed in cities. The results will be published in different journals and books soon. In the meantime, you can take a look to the summary of the project done by the project coordinator Montserrat Pareja in the final conference of the project together with the other two main researchers of Valencia and Lleida.

A new spring? The ‘democratic revolution’ in Spanish cities

In May 2015 the municipal elections brought new mayors to main Spanish cities, affecting almost all cities studied in Innova and Innosogo projects. In Madrid, Manuela Carmena led a coalition of parties and movements that accessed to the city council with support of the traditional left party PSOE. In Barcelona, the former anti-evictions activitst Ada Colau became mayor through the platform Barcelona en Comú, but in a very fragmented scenario where the vote is highly distributed between seven parties. In Valencia and Zaragoza similar movements reached the city council bringing new proposals for management based on greater transparency and anti-corruption, as well as enforcing redistributive policies to tackle growing povery and social exclusion.

colau i carmena

Colau and Carmena during the electoral campaign

The emergence of these new city councils is interesting for both projects: what are the proposals in terms of economic development of these new political parties? How are they connecting with the grassroot movements that propose new measures against social exclusion? To what extent they are new politics and what are their proposals? The new scene brings a complete new research agenda in a context of general austerity.

 Catalonia as a network of cities

The third large research project of this year has analysed the trajectory of former mayor of Barcelona and President of Catalonia Pasqual Maragall, whose political project was largely based on promoting the role of municipalities in policy-making. The project, being published next year, has been possible thanks to Fundació Catalunya Europa who awarded me with a prize to do the research.

The former mayor Pasqual Maragall

The former mayor Pasqual Maragall

Conferences and publications

Finally, the year has brought the participation in conferences and the publication of some articles. Here is a short list:

  • Participation in a Workshop in the framework of the Expo 2015 in Milan on urban Laboratories already explained here
  • Participation in the RC21  Conferece in Urbino with the presentation “Changing models for growth? Governance of large metropolitan regions in Spain” with Fernando Díaz Orueta, Maria Luisa Lourés, and Santiago Eizaguirre based on the research conducted during the Innosogo Project

Publication of articles is always painful. This 2015 I have been able to publish some works already waiting to appear:

  • An article on Environment and Planning C: Making polycentrism: governance innovation in smalland medium-sized cities in the West Midlands and Barcelona metropolitan regions.
  • For the next year a spanish version of this article will be published in Revista de Estudios Regionales
  • An article with Marisol García and Santiago Eizaguirre in City, Culture and Society: Social innovation and creativity in cities: A socially inclusive governance approach in two peripheral spaces of Barcelona.

Unfortunately many other articles and chapters are waiting to be published next year.

Well, and that’s 2015 for changing cities and its author. I wish you all a merry Christmas and a productive and fruitful 2016, which for sure will be more urban than ever. As usual, a video to celebrate the holidays







Origen, potencialidades y flaquezas del concepto de innovación social

el otro mundo posibleEl uso continuo de conceptos nuevos para definir y analizar fenómenos sociales es una tendencia ya antigua pero en crecimiento en las ciencias sociales. La necesidad continua de producir nuevos conocimientos y de tener un impacto en la literatura existente y el sistema de producción científica basada en artículos explica en parte esta tendencia. Hoy nos centraremos en uno de estos conceptos de moda que han surgido recientemente para analizar el cambio social: el concepto de innovación social. Después de un tiempo largo usando el concepto de innovación social en nuestras investigación sobre ciudades, siguen asaltándonos dudas sobre su origen y significado, así como su utilidad analítica para entender la realidad. Las reflexiones que aparecen aquí, muy genéricas, entroncan con las más específicas que en su momento publicó Rubén Martínez en su blog en el marco de su investigación doctoral (podéis leerlas aquí).

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Detroit: the fascination for urban decay

Since its bankruptcy, Detroit is receiving increasing attention from the media and from urban researchers. Here you will find a brief analysis of the literature.


For Europeans of my generation, Detroit was a faraway industrial city with lots of problems and violence that we could only see in movies. In Beverly Hills Cop (Superdetective en Hollywod in Spanish, 1984) Axel Foley was travelling from a decadent Detroit to Beverly Hills to resolve the murder of his (ex-convict) friend.  In Robocop (1987) the city council of Detroit privatises the police service in a context of a city hit by unemployment and violence. Robocop fights drug lords in derelict factories whereas there is a project to refurbish the city centre into the ‘Delta City’ project, a new town centre providing millions of jobs and urban regeneration (yes, many have seen the movie as prophetic). Later, thanks to Michael Moore we knew a bit more about Michigan and its industrial basis, social and racial segregation and rising inequalities. No much more from Detroit was known until the financial crisis, when all the media started to analyse the case of Detroit as a failed city, and also urban studies started to take a look on the city. Abandoned houses, lack of public transportation, decline of manufacturing activities, decreasing of population by a half and bankruptcy have brought international attention to the city. In the most read newspaper in Spain, El País, there has been an article on Detroit every three or four months.

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Urban laboratories: a useful concept for social sciences?

simcity_3000_by_jordan90-d4x922xThe concept of urban laboratory is being increasingly used in policy-making and social research to understand processes of creation of knowledge in cities. The idea of city as a laboratory means that there is some kind of experimentation with city life in order to understand and to intervene in the reality. In these ‘laboratories’ there is analysis of how inhabitants use the city and interact amongst themselves and new solutions are tested in order to improve city life.

These days I have had the opportunity to discuss on the subject of urban laboratories with Bas van Heur and Gabriele Pasqui in a workshop organized by Marianna d’Ovidio (Università Milano-Bicocca) in the framework of the Expo 2015 in Milan. The departing point of the session was a symposium in IJURR on urban laboratories (vol. 38 num. 2) coordinated by Bas van Heur and Andrew Karvonen published last year.

In the symposium, we can find different examples of the use of the concept urban laboratory, not only from policy-makers, who label some initiatives as urban laboratories, but also from researchers themselves, who consider certain cases as urban laboratories of experimentation of new solutions. The special issue asks for the relevance of the concept for urban studies, analysing the main elements of a laboratory and to what extent we can consider the city as such. A key question in considering the city as a laboratory is the difference between a controlled environment and the unpredictability and complexity of the city, and the role of the experiments in the city in its transformation if the variables are not covered. Nevertheless, the use of the concept of laboratory, brings us the idea of certain people and instruments being used on a standardized way, the idea of measuring and the idea of controlled inducement of changes. Karvonen and van Heur’s approach to the issue finishes with the idea of three achievements of urban laboratories: situatedness, change-orientation and contingency.

After van Heur’s presentation, the discussion of these ideas brought the author and the two discussants (Gabriele Pasqui and me) to the fields of agency and context in this production of knowledge. Agency refers to the idea of who is the one who experiments and what are the objectives of this experimentation. For instance in Barcelona the idea of urban laboratory is focused to the experimentation of private companies to develop their products for smart cities: indicators for car parks, smart lighting and a large etc. This is completely different from an approach based on collective experimentation or involvement of citizens in new solutions. The second issue refers to context: if urban laboratories are bringing conclusions based on experiments that can be extrapolated to the ‘urban context’ in general, what role are local specificities playing? what about the specific social configurations of a locality affecting, let’s say the use of car, how pedestrians use the street or the different ways of using the public space? Besides some questions were raised on the transformative potential of urban laboratories and its progressive values which are not inherent to the issue. If urban laboratories are conceptualised as patterns for knowledge creation, we must ask ourselves on what is the purpose of this creation, what are the interest behind it and who is going to benefit from the results.

We can find examples of urban laboratories in lots of different cities. In Barcelona the former 22@ district has been transformed into a urban laboratory, whereas many universities have created interdisciplinar centres to experiment with the city, for instance in the University College of London. You can surf the website for more examples. You can also follow Bas van Heur through twitter @basvanheur.

Reference article:

Karvonen, A, van Heur, B (2014) Urban Laboratories: Experiments in Reworking Cities International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38(2): 379-392

Greetings from Changingcities (and a short summary of 2014)

Last year I was complaining that I produced only six posts, this year I produced only three, counting this one. But I don’t give up, and I will continue posting in the eighth year of Changing cities as the current blog. Looking in perspective I could have written more this 2014 as it has been a year plenty of interesting professional activities:

  • I have been in Ankara for the Intensive Program of the European Spatial Development Planning Network (see here) and I have visited Japan (for the ISA Conference) and Paris ( a short research stay in the Centre d’estudes Europeenes in Science Po). I had also the opportunity to participate in the third Annual Conference of the Center for Metropolitan Studies in Berlin, strengthening opportunities for collaboration. Unfortunately I didn’t find time or energy to write about Japan and the biggest city in the world: Tokyo.
  • For the first time in two years, our research group CRIT has been funded to develop a new project on Social Innovation against social excluison in Spanish Cities (INNOSOGO) and we have been working hard in the development of our other project on new forms of economic competitiveness of cities (INRED).
  • And finally, a new article co-authored with Montserrat Pareja (Towards the Creative and Knowledge Economies: Analysing Diverse Pathways in Spanish Cities) has been published in European Planning Studies, while another (Making Polycentrism) has been accepted in Environment and Planning C.

In our nice southern European city, Barcelona, 2014 has been the year of consolidation of the trends of growing social exclusion and economic growth. The city economy is performing extraordinarily well, specially in comparison with other southern european cities, thanks mainly to Tourism. At the same time, social inequalities continue to grow, with Nou Barris (my district of birth) as the poorest district of the city and the district with more evictions of Spain, and Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, the bourgeois district, increasing wealth (see map below). It has been also a year of hard work of citizens, who are organizing themselves to revert this situation and to bring back the city council to redistributive policies and citizens’ participation. Unfortunately, some of them have been forced to move to other parts of the world seeking better opportunities, but we will bring back them as soon as possible.

desigualtats Barcelona

Family income Inequalities in Barcelona, where 100 is the average of the city (data from 2012, now it is even worse).

It is said that 2015 is going to be a year of changes. Let’s see what happens. I want to wish you a happy 2015 with lots of luck and positive energy.

Feliç any nou!

Feliz año nuevo!

Frohes neues Jahr!

Happy new year!