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September in Barcelona

By Stephanie Hemelryk Donald
12.10.2010

I missed the strike in Barcelona (29.09.10) by a day, but being there at all that week was somewhat interesting given the desperation in Spanish finances sits alongside the ongoing ambition for Spanish cities. I was a speaker at the City Branding workshop at the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona), with executives from Rubicon and Young, Visit London and several Spanish city governments. We discussed everything from the Mayor of London (Ken and Boris) to the Bilbao floods and class wars, from Sydney’s beauty (and problems with architectural innovation) to Shanghai’s art scene (and problems with distinguishing between commercial advantage and cosmopolitan sensibility). The most interesting debate was about Catalan and whether a city should speak its own language in order to be itself, or Spanish, in order to please incoming CEOs who want their children to speak Spanish on vacations. Quite a testy atmosphere in the room when that was raised in those terms by one of the speakers (Welsh as it happens) – although it was of course also a way of reminding us and Barcelona and everyone else, that the CEOs and their HQs are really what every city is tilting at with increasingly expensive brand campaigns that seem, on first sight, to be about tourism and civic pride. And of course we talked about events – Expo, the tenth anniversary of the Sydney Olympics, the upcoming London Olympics etc. The London Games will be lots of fun, but the elephant in the room is, why would one spend quite so much money on fun and infrastructure when London is already so well positioned as a global city? Beijing wanted to say We’re Here, Shanghai wanted t say, Yes We Really Are Here; what is London going to say – We’re Still Here? Perhaps. I am still looking forward to the Games though – maybe the London games are for nostalgic ex-pats.

Stephanie Donald

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