Author: Pablo Acebillo- enCity’s Senior Associate, Planning + Transport
At the turn of the 21st Century, many large metropolises in the west started suffering the consequences of industrial delocations. In Barcelona, this process, started in the 80s, was at its strongest in the 90s. The city suffered a loss of economic and social activity due to the relocation to other regions of economic activity based on industrial outputs. This structural change from industrial to tertiary economy required urgent urban transformations which in the case of Barcelona where tackled through specific urban strategies. One of them was to transform the obsolete industrial spaces located in the northeast of the city into new tertiary services. The [email protected] project was in this sense the main project to transition to a tertiary economy based on a mixed-used area with a high density of technology related enterprises.
Our consultant, Pablo Acebillo presents the key findings of the [email protected] Barcelona based on his extensive research experience in industrial and brownfield regeneration strategies.
Cohabitation between Old and New, Pablo Acebillo 2017
House of the industrialization processes in the early 19th Century, the current [email protected] area in Barcelona was the preeminent site for industrial production, mainly in the textile and metallurgic sectors for over 150 years. The strong industrial growth of the early 20th Century, coupled with a solid population migration inflow from other parts of Spain made the Poblenou area (the neighborhood where [email protected] is located) contribute for 20% of the regional GDP. Through the 1960s and 1970s the changes in industrial production and logistic procedures made factories and industries move to outskirt location with the consequent decay of the Poblenou industrial activity. At the same time, the late 1970s saw the start of Democracy in Spain and in turn a new approach to city planning in which social and urban problems were seen as two parts of the same coin. In Barcelona, the 1980s meant the careful implementation of the Acupuncture plan, a scattered intervention plan to upgrade public squares and public facilities throughout the city without altering the large-scale urban infrastructures. The Olympic Venues at the turn of the 1990s allowed the city to jump in scale and tackle large infrastructure interventions such as the removal of the waterfront rail line and the development of beaches and seashore for leisure. The [email protected] positions itself in the third phase, in which a metropolitan view is at the core of Barcelona’s ambitions. In it, the regeneration of obsolete industrial quarters in the east part of the city acts as one of the main focuses.
Public space as the catalyst for urban dynamism, Pablo Acebillo 2017
1. Focus on planning policies, not on design
As the area was mainly occupied by factories and warehouses, the land ownership was mostly in private hands. The first crucial decision taken by the City Planners was to not use the expropriation mechanism (due to its high cost) and instead squeeze the regulative capacity of the Administration. The expropriation tool gives the City a great level of autonomy in deciding the overall masterplan for a site, as it happened during the same years in the nearby Forum Area in Barcelona. In the Forum case the capacity to act of the Administration was very high, while their capacity to regulate quasi nonexistent. Consequently, the Planning Authorities were able to fully draw a spatial masterplan identifying all design elements in the area. [email protected] on the opposite end used regulation instead of expropriation. The City had a high capacity to regulate the development but a very little capacity to act, meaning to start transformations. In fact the initiative for land transformations was left to the private landowners and as such, incentives for them were drawn up. The focus on planning policies over predefined design gave the opportunity to constantly adapt to changing circumstances and design trends. As a matter of fact, developments which were happening in the beginning of the 2000s have little in common with current developments taking place now in terms of urban design and architecture composition, even though all are subjected to the same planning principles. Hence, a focus on planning policies can make the project more adaptable and resilient over time.
2. Place the infrastructure as the backbone
A further key aspect for the attraction of investments in the project was the strong bet on high end infrastructure utilities. A fully new Infrastructure Plan was drafted and approved along the [email protected] in 2000 stating the guidelines for the development and funding of key infrastructure networks. New utilities were mandatory and for the first time used in Spain, such as the mandatory laying down of fiber optics, the implementation of a district heating & cooling system or the construction of pneumatic waste collectors. Based on the incentives and benefits which were given by the Authorities to developers to build, a set of duties were also required from them. Part of these duties included the transfer of 30% of land owned by privates to the public hand with which social housing, public space and public facilities would be developed. But above all, the most important duty set for developers was the co-finance of the Infrastructure Plan. According to the Plan, landowners willing to transform a parcel were required to fund the infrastructure utilities and public space being built adjacent to their plot based on a ratio per sqm of GFA, currently being 90 EUR/sqm of GFA. The result is that privates funded about 60% of the new infrastructures in the district, leaving the rest 40% to infrastructure operators such as telecom companies or electricity suppliers and the City Council.
3. Organic growth instead of predefined phasing
One of the great success factors of [email protected] is its incremental growth in its development. As mentioned earlier, the private initiative in leading the urban transformations made the development of the district depend on the economic and social circumstances of the period. In fact, the first 10 years of the Plan from 2000-2010 experienced a solid growth both brought forward by the positive economic context as well as by the initial thrust catalyzed by the approval of the Plan. The 2007 economic crisis made the urban transformations in [email protected] slow down and stop altogether, because of the real estate oversupply as well as economic uncertainty worldwide. For the past 3 years, economic improvements have brought back the interest of investors and developers in the area. The elasticity in the interest and investment potential was made possible in [email protected] by putting the initiative on the private hands and not on a grand phasing scheme devised by the City Council. It therefore allowed the development to adapt to changing economic circumstances. In fact, as of today, only 30% of the potential GFA has been built, leaving 2 mill. sqm of GFA in the pipeline for the future. The not reliance on a phasing scheme has proven to be determinant to adapt to unforeseeable disruptions. The [email protected] policies are clear, the final picture of the district is not.
4. Use anchor institutions as catalysts for development
One of the key success factors of the [email protected] company, the public entity created ad-hoc for the planning, managing and implementation of the project, was to couple both the urban development with the economic promotion of the district. The promotion was made possible through the consolidation of the so-called Three-Helix Model, a framework by which stakeholders of government, academy and private sector as poised to collaborate and create positive synergies. In the case of [email protected], this model was made possible through the implementation of anchor institutions such as the Audiovisual Campus, a Faculty of Communication, which was located next to public facilities as well as private companies related to the Media sector. The careful planning of anchor institutions placed along complementary functions allowed students to perform internships in the companies and at the same time employees learn from research projects happening at the Faculty.
These factors provide an alternative insight to gradual revitalization of obsolete industrial areas. Current initiatives of spurring development through innovation districts include the Ho Chi Minh Innovation District project, in which Encity and Sasaki are delivering a comprehensive framework on how to bring innovation closer to the citizens.