Tourism and Barcelona go hand-in-hand – almost nine percent of jobs are linked to tourism and the sector generates over seven percent of the city’s GDP. But residents often feel fed up with mass tourism. This all changed, however, with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now that the once-busy tourist areas like Las Ramblas are quiet, Barcelona is reinventing its city centre and looking to the future. With the pandemic providing an opportunity for change, the Catalonian city wants to go beyond the tourist economy and broaden its economic prospects.
Speaking at Eurocities’ City Dialogue on recovery programmes in Europe’s cities on November 20, Barcelona City Council’s Bàrbara Pons-Giner explained the “Barcelona way” out of the crisis. Presenting the “Pact for Barcelona”, Pons-Giner emphasised the importance of diversifying the economy and taking a phased approach to its recovery.
Along with an internal task force to establish the economic recovery plan, part of the process involves a new publicity and information campaign outlining the city’s actions. “Barcelona never stops,” says Pons-Giner, referring to the website set up by the city council to showcase its measures and the stories of people and businesses bouncing back. But one key element of the plan involves the city’s places.
Parallel to Las Ramblas is Via Laietana, a main north-south road cutting through downtown Barcelona. Currently a busy street for foot and vehicle traffic, the plan will see it turned into a “green and civic corridor”, with wider pavements, less car traffic and new cycle lanes. At the southern end of this street is the Correos Building – the central post office in Barcelona – which Pons-Giner explained will become a hub for Barcelona’s changing economy.
The 30,000 M2 space will become an “innovative environment for the digital economy”, according to Pons-Giner, hosting start-ups in a style seen in other cities, such as the famous Station F in Paris. Pons-Giner hopes the former post office will serve as a flagship for attracting talent to work in Barcelona as well as a place to help re-train local inhabitants with new digital skills.
Further south from the Correos building is the city’s Port Olímpic. Pre-Covid, this area was a bustling centre for nightlife and relied heavily on the tourist economy. Barcelona wants to change this dynamic and create a hub for the “blue” economy – economic activities related to oceans, seas and coasts. Mock-ups of the city’s vision for the Port Olímpic show outdoor bars and takeaway restaurants replaced with a bustling and thriving environment for people and businesses.
Overall, it is hoped these measures will reduce Barcelona’s economic reliance on tourism. The pandemic revealed that businesses with too narrow a focus were most vulnerable to shocks. The transformation will hopefully make Barcelona a more liveable, people-first city and bring a host of economic benefits such as more jobs and investment.