Leading article: Like Barcelona, our cities can also thrive

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
IT WAS the city states of Europe that provided its culture and its trade in the Middle Ages. Maybe it will be the city states that will give Europe, or at least Britain, a new peace and prosperity.

That is the promise of Barcelona, one of the leading cultural capitals of Europe and which has acted as a model for hundreds of other cities of revival, from Glasgow to Manchester, and is now the recipient of the Royal Institute of Architects annual gold medal - the first time that the award has been given to a place rather than an architect.

Of course, Barcelona is unique. But there is nothing in that city which cannot be repeated here, or elsewhere. Scotland, too, has its own separate renaissance and, in Glasgow, it has a city that is halfway along the path of self-pride that Barcelona has pioneered. And then there are Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, cities born out of Victorian wealth, sustained by small industries and inheritors of a once-powerful municipal pride.

Britain's tragedy is that the post-war years of bad planning, worse architecture and Whitehall centralisation have drained so much of the lifeblood of civic pride and community vitality. The Government's emphasis on regional devolution misses much of the point. Its idea of elected mayors who are popular with the public, even if not with our third-rate local politicians, is much nearer the mark.

With the right combination of youth, small business investment and culture, however, Barcelona has shown that a new focus of activity can grow even out of the dead hand of Franco's Spain.The good burghers of the Catalan capital have also provided another lesson worthy of thought. Public works and cultural investment work best when they are in the hands of the locality, and least well when they are, in London as in Paris, in the hands of ministers.