Monthly Archives: October 2008

La Barcelona del diseño on PSFK

Piers Fawkes of PSFK, a global trends and innovation company with a strong online presence, interviewed me recently about Spanish design and my book La Barcelona del diseño. You can read it here.

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Barcelona, third most attractive European city

Only London and Paris beat Barcelona in the tourist seduction game, according to a recent report by Saffron, branding guru Wally Olin’s and Jacon Benbunan’s consultancy. The three cities are also ahead of the pack in constructing and maintaining a strong and attractive ‘brand’ in the minds of tourists, visitors and investors.

Paris emerges as Europe’s number one city brand, followed by London, Barcelona, Berlin and Amsterdam. The study, entitled ‘The City Brand Barometer’ and created by London-based Saffron Consultants, ranks 72 of Europe’s largest cities based on a comparison of their assets and attractions against the strength of their brands.

The study highlights

the contrasting fortunes of Barcelona and Naples – two potentially comparable cities in terms of regional significance, yet the Catalan capital has trounced its Italian rival in projecting a distinctive idea of what it stands for and who it’s appealing to. The southern Italian city is rich in good climate, history, culture and gastronomy but it has devoted little time to creating a reputation among Europe’s cities.

To rate the cities, Saffron established a series of pointers that measure what they call ‘City Assets strength’, based on the most desirable attributes. These are:

● Pride and personality
● Distinctive environment – landmark buildings, facilities, public transport
● Ambitious vision, with good leadership and buoyant economy
● Worth going out of the way to see
● Easy access and good public transport
● Conversational value – it is fun to talk about Paris but not Bradford
● Location – it is somewhere special or a centre for an interesting area

One of the most interesting aspects of the study, however, is the distinction between ‘real’ assets and brand strength. Some cities have a brand visibility that is greater than their real assets would suggest. Berlin comes out as a strong example of that, but it is also the case with Barcelona:

Berlin has a 137% Brand Utilisation rate; Stockholm 118%; Prague, Liverpool and Amsterdam 115%; Barcelona 112%; andParis 111%. For all of these cities, their brand is better than their assets would predict (even if the Assets are strong), meaning they are selling a story above and beyond an urban experience.  What does this mean? If you are a city with an over 100% Utilisation rate, it means you are successfully selling your image as well as a reality. It means that through your history and culture you have fostered an aura about you.

Speaking of Barcelona

Yale information designer Edward Tufte introduced us all, many years ago, to the joys of graphically stunning data visualisation. Now IBM’s beta software Many Eyes is available online for anyone to use, offering various alternatives for the graphic organisation of data. One of its most appealing features is the text visualisation option, which crunches through a text file and turns it into word clouds or tree structures, according to the number of instances any given word appears in the text. The ‘Wordle’ (see picture above) and ‘Cloud’ visualisations are informative and pretty, but the ‘Tree’ structure allows for specific word searches within a text and then presents a schematic visualisation of its structural use throughout the text.

I have uploaded two files of recent speeches by Barcelona’s Mayor Jordi Hereu, curious to see what the official vision of the city actually looks like. Not surprisingly, words such as ‘social’, ‘public’, ‘services’, ‘neighbourhood’ and ‘creativity’ loom large.

Most of the visualisations are interactive, you can visit the page here and play around with them – searches for specific words in the Word Tree are especially rewarding.

Fear and Loathing in Barcelona

…or, after watching the video above, one might be tempted to swap famous titles and go for ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Barcelona’.

The video is part of an online campaign for the promotion of the book Odio Barcelona (‘I Hate Barcelona’), published by Editorial Melusina. It’s a compilation of pieces by twelve Barcelona-based authors, whose essays address aspects of the city that they dislike, in most cases related to the housing boom speculation and the negative effect of commercial interests on the fabric and spirit of the city, as well as to the growing pressure of Catalan nationalism on everyday life and urban politics.

Authors include Javier Calvo, Agustín Fernández Mallo, Philipp Engel, Robert-Juan Cantavella, Hernán Migoya, Llúcia Ramis, Matías Néspolo, Carol Paris, Oscar Gual, Lucía Lijtmaer, Javier Blánquez and Efrén Álvarez.

There can be no doubt that the extended honeymoon of the Barcelonese with their city is long over, a disenchantment that was probably sealed in the collective urban mind by José Luis Guerín’s 2001 film En Construcción, the understated but moving documentary of the construction of a new building in the inner-city neighbourhood of El Raval.

Another recent addition to the chorus of critical voices is Manuel Delgado’s book La ciudad mentirosa. Fraude y miseria del modelo Barcelona (‘The Liar City. Fraud and Misery of the Barcelona Model’), published by Catarata in 2007. This is an impassioned rant, described by the author as the cry from the heart of a disabused lover. Although the author is an academic at Barcelona University, the work is journalistic in tone (but with useful bibliography in the footnotes). It offers a fairly generic serving of urban studies and public space theories as background to a virulent critique of the evolution and implementation of the Barcelona model of urban regeneration, particularly the wholesale commercialisation of the city both as a ‘brand’ and as a building site.