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7 | To the mayor of a great city</br>Frame from the film Barcelona de riu a riu, 1998

7 | To the mayor of a great city

by Leonardo Ciacci

… or to the rector of a university… . That is how we could begin this update of Movie, which resumes publication after a period of uncertainty as to the direction to be taken over the question of filmed representation of urban planning themes and projects.

Events over the last few years pose the repeated and increasingly urgent question about information and public consultation over decisions which have visible effects upon the space in which we live and on the management of its transformation. People who traditionally remain on the margins of urban planning now discover that they are fully entitled to take part in development processes involving living space and they claim the right to public information and awareness. 

Movie, by exploring the archives of the "urbanist cinema" has shown that the subject is not a new one. But that is not sufficient. Now the objective is to bring an established practice - the city project - into line with the entirely new requirement of ensuring publicity, transparency and accessibility in relation to the various stages of an urban and environmental planning project which is increasingly fragmented into operations of a private or only partially public nature. In this respect, Movie will become the archive of examples - to be studied, imitated, repeated and developed - produced by those who have already taken seriously the question of communications and the social aspects of project and policy decisions relating to urban development.

Barcelona, one of the most important and dynamic cities in Europe, which is coming to grips with a project that, over a period of twenty years (from 1979 to 2004), has completely reinterpreted its hitherto unaltered though glorious urban past, seems for this reason to be a perfect place to begin. A few years ago, Alessandro Dal Sordo, in his architecture degree thesis, described with accuracy and with helpful documentary and bibliographic documentation the programme that the city authorities had launched for creating a constant, guided rapport with the public. Film and video played a significant role in it. Dividing the city into twelve "areas of new centrality", the programme passed through four project stages, guided by major events of powerful urban impact. These were initially led by Oriol Bohigas, the architect who headed the city's urban planning office during the period of redevelopment of public spaces (1979 - 1986). He was followed by Joan Busquet who created the four areas for the 1992 Olympic Games (1986 - 1992). A change of administration and a new mayor brought new works to the metropolitan area, this time external, with the completion of unfinished projects and a development towards the regional scale of the city (1992 - 1997). Finally (1997 - 2004) there was another major event, the Forum de les Cultures, providing the occasion for restructuring the coastal area at the mouth of the River Besòs and the public transport network. Public action has rapidly and increasingly left space for private participation, through companies (for example, Infrastrucures S.A, with a 49% private shareholding), reserving for itself the responsibility for supervising projects and the successful outcome of the programmes.


The management of communications is the real innovation in the whole story. The need to share decision-making processes, the need to attract investors and to avoid obstacles arising from possible hostility to the project and the interest in increasing support for individual enterprises, have produced a radical reversal in the project and construction process and have led to the adoption of a procedure based, from the earliest stages, on its complete publicity. The Direcciò Corporativa Comunicaciò i Qualitat, specially set up in order to look after all editorial and communications activities for municipal initiatives, has thus been able to bring together constructively the various contributions to the project which have been separately produced by technical experts, administrators and members of the public. Without entering into further detail that would require more space than is available here, the experience of the Barcelona development plans, from this point of view, raises a question of central importance. A public administration which wishes to maintain control over the outcome of activities that it has to hand over or share to a large extent with private shareholders, has as its only practicable option that of taking control of information and the public channels for publicising its initiatives.

In 1999, three years after the creation of the Department of Communication (1996), Barcelona City Council further developed this sector by opening a department that was responsible for rationalising editorial services which were already active, to cut communications costs and establish a new system of broadcasting communications "products" beginning with the comprehensive series of periodicals. Barcelona Informaciò is a monthly magazine providing information about municipal services and municipal activities, which is posted free of charge to personal addresses, in 580,000 copies and 10 different editions according to the city district. La Municipal is published every three months and is also posted free of charge to personal addresses, this time to workers in the various municipal departments, providing an information bulletin to municipal employees. Finally, Barcelona Metropolis Mediterranea, has been published every three months since 1987 and is dedicated to aspects of urban and infrastructure planning and publishes details of relevant projects. The head of the Direcciò Corporativa Comunicaciò i Qualitat, receives the results of the activities of five different offices dedicated to marketing, internet, publications, research and public participation. It is for him, in turn, to send out the communications that are prepared by the municipal departments and selected on the basis of the programmes prepared by a special commission. The commission consists of twenty five people including the five communications heads from the departments of general services, personal services, maintenance, traffic and urban planning, as well as the individual heads of communications for the ten city districts and heads of communications for the municipal companies, including the companies set up to carry out the major works and urban planning projects. Once the calendar for the fortnightly meetings has been set, all members of the commission are obliged to take part and to decide upon the topics and projects to be dealt with, even if they are not directly involved.


The short series of documentaries reviewed by Movies and produced by the Ajuntament de Barcelona on the basis of the management procedure for municipal communications described above, shows some of the communications activities that Barcelona City Council has carried out in relation to the city's urban planning activity. What is particularly interesting is its ability to reveal communications strategies in relation to the general public, which is inevitably much clearer when seen on film. All four documentaries cover in part the same material, the same pictures, rearranged however in settings and in formats that are intended from time to time to surprise or to reassure, to justify or, more directly, to show that everything that is carried out is accessible to anyone who wants to find out about it and that the views of everyone are taken into account. You can believe that or not, but it works.