“A LA VILLE DE BARCELONA.”

30 years ago Barcelona was nominated 1992 Olympic Host City and from there began her incredible transformation. (Translated from an article in La Vanguardia)

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Thirty years ago the dream became reality. October 1986 Lausanne. Barcelona was awarded the charge of being host for the 1992 Olympic Games. Now, thirty years later, what did the Games leave Barcelona?

The answer is a City/Urban project, perhaps the largest and most ambitious ever attempted in its history. Barcelona looked to the sea, and eliminated the obstacles that existed between barrio and beach. She drew herself a new coastline, built roundabouts, networks and new motorways. Entire neighbourhoods were transformed, building the Olympic home recuperated the mountain of Montjuic. All this, and many other impressive urban legacies. Never was there a more complete vision for the City, which at the same time also achieved a most transcendental objective; to place Barcelona among the true global Cities of the world such as London, Paris and New York. After several false starts (a Civil and a World War among the most excusable of reasons), Barcelona finally achieved the honour. So was born the Generation of 92.

In 1979 the first democratic elections in many years were held in Spain. The Socialists took the already fascinating city of Barcelona, but quickly discovered an urban planning that could best be described as chaotic: patchy suburbs sitting uncomfortably along third world huts and lean-tos, and of course an inevitable deficit. The City needed a new common project and something to aspire to. Thus were the games mooted. Things really started to move. A plan was founded, and a close implication of authorities and individual citizens presented what Barcelona had to offer to the International Olympic Committee.

It is difficult to convey the euphoria at the announcement of the results. Every Barcelonian remembers where they were on the day of the decision. There was a party in Plaza Catalunya which moved along Las Ramblas before finishing up at Plaza España in the early hours. “What is good for Barcelona is good for Catalunya. What is good for Catlaunya is good for Espana!” said the Mayor Pascual Maragall. “Visca Barcelona!” Such sentiment would be difficult if not impossible to express today, but in that era Citizen, Council, Local Authority and Central Government came together in an idyllic way armed with a common objective.

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Almost 10 000 athletes came from over 150 countries. The Games gave Barcelona the opportunity to transform, and to do so in just such a way that the changes were permanent; the planners didn’t want infrastructure that would fall into disuse at the close of the Games and convert into ruin in a short space of time. By-passes were built which altered immensely the viability of the City. Poble-Nou, full of collapsing factories and rife with poverty was transformed to host the Olympic Village . Old industries gave way to breathe new life into the landscape. The athletes apartments were later sold on to the public at a fixed rate. Of note was the recuperation of the mountain for the use of the general public, where the majority of the Games were based and competed. Today it is cloaked in parks and attractions, and sports and recreation abound. But the most spectacular part of the Games legacy was the opening to the seas. The Games liberated vast swathes of land and re-connected the City to the Mediterranean. The coastline was completely transformed. The biggest obstacle was the oldest railway line in Spain which left a deep scar on the facade of the City, hopelessly separating the centre and the sea as it hugged the coast. Huge changes were made to the route before it was buried, deep and forever in another part of town. Thanks to this Barcelona today enjoys kilometres of unspoilt beach and easily accesible coast. In the transition from the old to the new sparkling Olympian City many landmarks disappeared, some evocative, others downright offensive. Gone forever were the shacks (chavolas) and simple cabins from the mountain side, entire poverty-ridden neighbourhoods fell under the bulldozers and wrecking balls. Dispatched never to return were the chiringuitos of la Barceloneta, where paella was eaten until well into the night. These half-despicable, half-desirable bar-restaurants, where wine was partaken of, where fighting and fun loving were common are gone, now nothing more than memories buried in the sand.

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Another question is what became of the actual installations. Music as much as sport has been their legacy. Concerts keep the two main arena open and financially autonomous. RCD Español football team played home in the Estadi Olympic for many years. Nowadays it is a private sports initiative, financially independent. The velodrome, rowing canal and swimming/diving pools are all still in full use.
As can happen, after the fame there was a wave of depression; there has been to date no new global plan for the City, no common project that creates the same bonhomie, although granted, the Olympics are a hard game to follow. Some smaller initiatives abounded with varying levels of success. @22 opened with the grand illusion of a technological paradise. Billion were spent on the Forum as a Global-Cultural reference-point and to serve as a new enjoining initiative for the City, but the development has had many critics and fails to live up to its initial hope, propaganda and promise. Since 92 many emblematic buildings have spring up, the Torre Agbar (the big red dildo) or the Hotel Vela (mini Dubai). Currently the Council is embedded in a major Traffic & Circulation Regeneration Plan which has cost more than a few political scalps over the years, as well as several hundreds of millions, and the re-modelation of several neighbourhoods, but these are ongoing projects with the final result yet to be seem.

The legacy of the Barcelona project is not only architectural, but moral. It was an opportunity for civic pride, to reclaim the essence of being Barcelones, a feeling which still exists today. The city quickly became the place which piqued interest. For evidence look at the exponential tourism figures which it has consequentially and controversially enjoyed since then. Thirty years have passed since Barcelona began the dream and lived the halcyon days of an Olympic spectacle. Mayor Pasquall Maragall fell victim to Alzheimer’s, and forgot the glorious memories of the Games in the City. It is poignant and to his memory that the millions who still live in the captivating fascinating marvellous City that is Barcelona do still remember, and with quiet pride.

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