European Prize for Urban Public Space

4 July 2016

As Mayor of Barcelona it is a pleasure to be surrounded by friends from all over Europe. It is an honor to have you here, and I would like to start by congratulating all of you for your hard work, your innovation skills and your contribution to improve people’s lives. 

It is often said that architecture and urbanism it is just a part of a city. In fact, it is much more than that. It is not just about building cities, it is about thinking cities –it is about thinking how urbanism can be put to the service of people, to improve social justice, sustainability and economic fairness. 

Barcelona has always been regarded as a landmark for architecture and urbanism. And it is true that we are known around the world as the city transformed by Cerdà and Gaudí, and for the Olympic transformation. We are proud of that cultural heritage. But, at the same time, we must acknowledge that in recent times, architecture and urbanism has forgotten its primary role of benefitting people’s lives. We want now to reverse that trend. I hope these awards serve to build a city of rights and opportunities and to recover urbanism’s original spirit, and adapt it to the 21st century.

Dear Friends, it is an honour for me as Mayor to take part in the European Prize for Urban Public Space award ceremony. Since the first competition was held in 2000, these prizes have acknowledged the urban values of projects for the reclamation, creation and improvement of public space in various European cities . 

When we think of what characterises and distinguishes European cities, concepts such as density, compactness and socio-spatial combinations often come to mind. Factors which have undoubtedly helped to make our cities more habitable and socially cohesive. However, none of these factors in themselves could create a city without another essential element, one of our continent's main urban contributions: public space as a democratising element in the city. 

Public space makes the city. Its existence is what makes daily exchange and hybridisation possible, the ever-changing repetition of the dance in the street which the urbanist Jane Jacobs referred to in her lucid analyses of urban life and form. At the same time, public space is also the condition and expression of citizenship, of the rights of citizens. It is the park where diverse origins cross paths, the squares and streets where citizens demand their rights and where we discover our power. It is the democratic forum where urban life takes shape and is reproduced as a meeting point.

So, thinking about urban space, planning and evaluating it, represents a major challenge which is not just about technical and planning aspects. It is eminently political too, because the city is also a reflection of its social, economic and political conditions, and in particular the possibility of transforming them.

When financialisation and privatisation processes are making it easier for speculative interests to take over public space, all too often turning it into a banal, exclusive space, a theme park even, to be visited but not used, then the battle to reclaim it being played out in our squares and streets is a battle for democracy, a battle for the right to the city. Urbanism is now a battleground, making it impossible to remain neutral.

The initiatives we are recognising today share this goal: the creation of a more egalitarian city, a city of equal opportunities, concerned about the quality of life of its current inhabitants, as well as that of future generations. An open city committed to a fairer, redistributive social and environmental model. A city built by and for its citizens.

If Europe is its cities and public space is their backbone, then defending Europe today also means working to equip its cities with more inclusive, more democratic public spaces, where everyone can feel involved in their construction. It means putting people's collective intelligence to work, sharing learning and experiences, such as those presented today, so citizens can regain their city and make it their own, time and time again. As we know, democracy and public space are not the finishing line but rather the starting point. We welcome these awards, and long may they continue, because we need awards and residents which make the streets and squares of our city their own. 

Thank you.

Themes

City Right / Urbanism

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