On a summer stroll along the Paseo de Gracia one is surrounded by a sea of bikinis: they
are the body snatchers. They invade the city lured in by the brand BAR-CEL-ONA, the promise
of bars open till late (bar), blue skies (cel), and the gentle waves of the sea (ona),
Mariscal’s ingenious intuition of 1992, turned into a double edged sword. The body snatchers
are like armies of travelling young partygoers, the symbol of mass tourism. They speedily
invade, staying two or three days maximum, leaving the frontline open to the next battalion.
The tourist army never ends, not even with the economic crisis. The city’s administration
has sold Barcelona to the world as a brand and did so so successfully that it is now
impossible to buy a coffee in the centre of town. To sell a city by marketing rules does
however have its social downsides.
The centre of town and its hotels are now swarmed with tourists, the prices have risen, and only a small percentage of the tourist money is reinvested in the city. Paradoxically, Barcelona is becoming a lifeless place, self referential, victim of its own worldwide image. The city was built around big events and according to a now obsolete concept of social change. The Olympic games of 1992 opened the city towards the sea, transforming the town planning in an extreme but positive way. We have finally rediscovered that we belong to the Mediterranean coast, with its cultural, human and commercial exchanges. There and then big events ceased to define the city’s development. As we saw with the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures, urban planning can’t be the sole driver of social change. It’s more complicated than that.