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12 March 2010

Congress Cerdà Postmetropolis Government of Metropolitan Regions in the 21st Century

From 6th to 12th of June, CCCB


June 2009 saw the start of the celebrations in honour of the 150th anniversary of the approval of the project for the Barcelona Eixample neighbourhood, the Cerdà Eixample Plan. This is a celebration of the past that aspires to look to the future. In this regard, while it is clear that the Cerdà Year had to begin with an explanation of the Eixample, its history and its analysis as an urban form in the context of the city’s urban planning, it must necessarily end by proposing some reflection on the future of the metropolis of Barcelona in the 21st century. Beyond looking back over the historical evolution of the grid of streets and blocks that, without a doubt, defined a new city, the Cerdà Year invites us to imagine the future city by projecting the Cerdà gaze on to the city to come.

This certainly does not mean imagining the physical spread of the Eixample (extension) over the territory. What the Cerdà Year inspires us to do instead is to revise both the process of urban planning in the territory and the social construction of the city so as to confirm the need for a gesture that would surely remind us of Cerdà’s gesture when he proposed the Eixample for Barcelona.

There is a Cerdà gesture that is related with deep, detailed knowledge of the city, its diagnosis, its capacity to transform itself on the basis of understanding its different logics. Hence, Cerdà studied and demonstrated the link between density and overly high mortality rates – then the main urban problem – to conclude that the existing city needed reform and expansion as the prior condition for planning an urban space more in keeping with the technical and social modernity that Barcelona then upheld. It was this gesture that led Cerdà to argue for the need for the Eixample Plan.

There is also a Cerdà gesture linked with the capacity for administering this transformation through governing the territory, adapting the frameworks of action and political management and ensuring that they are appropriate for the real scale of metropolitan dynamics. This is so much the case that the thinking that produced the Eixample led to nothing less than the municipal unification of 1897, a first leap ahead in the city’s scale of government.

These two gestures are definitely illuminating if we think about the present-day situation of the metropolis of Barcelona. We have good knowledge of the metropolitan territory and we can evaluate with relative precision the volumes of population, land consumption and cultural habits but we still need to resolve the problem of how to ensure that this exhaustive diagnosis will serve a regional vision of government of the territory.

Thinking about the present moment of territorial government on the wider metropolitan scale raises no few difficulties. Nevertheless, while this is a necessary condition, it is not sufficient since the eventual creation of a law or the shaping of future metropolitan government needs to go hand in hand with another still more important gesture of clearly Cerdanian roots: the redefinition, inspired on the diagnosis of territory, of urban policies on the metropolitan scale.

To synthesise, this means three things: bringing up to date the urban policies pertaining to the compact city; thinking up new ones with regard to the context of disperse urbanisation and, in both cases, producing strategies and plans to the measure of a territorial scale that goes beyond the administrative limits of the municipalities.

To sum up in a few words: take urban policy out into the territory.

This, then, is the reality of the Cerdà gesture from which Barcelona might benefit in this new century.

With this in mind, the Cerdà Postmetropolis Congress will bring together more than sixty experts from the local and international spheres who will present their points of view from different territories and disciplines over a week of working together. The discussion on the metropolitan city will, moreover, be approached in different formats, for example fifteen panel sessions and two sessions of voting for urban policies so that the experts and the audience may choose the most appropriate actions for the different urban and territorial settings.

There can be no doubt that Cerdà’s rhetorical demand “Rurizad lo urbano, urbanizad lo rural” (Ruralise the urban, urbanise the rural) materialised in the course of the twentieth century and we have indeed urbanised the countryside. Yet it is equally clear that we have done so without the policy, without the politics to inspire the urbanity that would have enabled us to go beyond the pure and simple urbanisation of the territory.

Beyond celebrating the anniversary and upholding the figure of the engineer-creator of the Eixample, beyond revising the form and urban functionality of the Eixample, the Cerdà Year offers us an opportunity to submit the metropolitan question to debate. It is a debate that, although it must begin with the Eixample itself, evaluating its history and urban relevance today, must end a long way from the frontiers that define the geometry of its present grid so as to bring to light, and put on the agenda of urban policy-making the territories of the metropolis where the Cerdà gesture is most necessary now.

Francesc Muñoz, director of the Congress

Web Cerdà Postmetròpolis

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