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Bohigas on the public and the market in Barcelona

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Having pulled off a regeneration of Barcelona that is almost universally acclaimed as a resounding success, Oriol Bohigas can afford to stand up and voice politically incorrect and provocative opinions with impunity and calm assurance.

In his recent talk at the London School of Economics he declared both that 'the city is the place of freedom, but not exactly of liberty', and that there is a 'general problem with popular participation'. Most methods of public consultation do not work, he said - in contrast to Alsop & Stormer's Christophe Egret, who addressed the same issues with Peckham Library - and 'when people do give their opinion it is often a mistake'. Not only did Bohigas cast doubt on the reliability of public opinion; he also pronounced that 'all civil servants are really horrible', implying a deep scepticism of management-led approaches of any sort.

In Barcelona they relied on university professors instead, and then their students, whom they found to be 'much better than the professors'.

Bohigas states without hesitation that 'the city is always a socialist approach'; and yet, at the same time, when it came to deciding whether to start the regeneration of Barcelona with housing programmes or with a public space strategy, they rejected the former and, daringly, plumped for the latter, employing a large number of sculptors (including Serra, Miro, Oldenburg and other great names), not planners, to transform the gaps between buildings throughout the city. The result was a transformation of quarters which 'created new communities. ' In 1992, the Olympics provided an excuse to extend the same basic policy to four key problem areas of the city; for instance, the Olympic Village was located near the seafront on the site of 'a sort of ghetto'.

As far as Bohigas is concerned, 'it is not possible to maintain the life of the city without urban policy', and that, in turn, 'is too important to be left in the hands of the market'. In Barcelona, the whole urban strategy was based on the principle that the use of the land must be controlled 'for the collective needs of the community', with a heavy emphasis on traditional kinds of public spaces - streets and squares replacing redundant industrial buildings and leftover spaces - which, believes Bohigas, are the only ones which 'have that capacity for collective life'. The various sites and projects were only sold on to private investors, who financed construction and sold them at market rates, after the architects had been commissioned; and the process of building was closely supervised by the city authorities.

Bohigas confesses he is 'very conservative' in his commitment to 'traditional territorial hierarchy'; but at the same time he is adamant that it 'must not be a social hierarchy'. In his stringent opposition to masterplans, he clearly identifies local neighbourhoods and communities as the source of urban vitality and 'egalite' in the whole.

Oriol Bohigas, former city architect of Barcelona, was speaking on 'Designing Urban Regeneration'at the London School of Economics vital statistics One in three big-city dwellers in the UK yearns to live in the countryside, according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey, while fewer than five per cent of those already there want to move the other way. The survey also found that eight out of 10 council tenants want to remain council tenants rather than transfer to housing associations.

Bank lending to property companies is at its highest level since the 1980s, according to the Bank of England. Current debt stands at £51. 7 billion, the same as in 1989.

City dwellers are poorer than their rural counterparts, according to a new Countryside Agency report - but only just. The urban poor have an average income of £94 a week, compared with the rural poor's income of £103. Urban middle incomes are also lower, £217 compared with £225 for their rural counterparts.

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