Barcelona becomes the model for regenerating British cities

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THE LEADING architect Lord Foster presented the 1999 Royal Gold Medal for Architecture last night to Barcelona, which has become a blueprint for Britain's own cities.

The medal was presented at the Royal Institute of British Architects to five people who helped transform the Spanish city from a polluted industrial sprawl into a model for urban regeneration.

The three phases of Barcelona's rebirth are illustrated in an exhibition at the London institute: an "Urban Acupuncture" of small projects in the Eighties; the 1987-92 infrastructure for the Olympic Games; and the 1993- 2004 "Metropolitan Regeneration" programme.

Next Tuesday, Lord Rogers of Riverside, chairman of Britain's Urban Task Force, will present the Government with his report, Towards a Better Environment, on the future of cities - with Barcelona as the model. Lord Rogers believes that Barcelona, like Lyon and Glasgow, has forged links with other dynamic cities, and set targets and implemented policies to improve the quality of urban life and limit negative ecological impact.

The gold medal was presented last night to Barcelona's current mayor Joan Clos, past mayors Narcis Serra and Pasqual Maragall, and architects Oriol Bohigas and Josep Acebillo. Mr Maragall said: "When a city has gone through years of passivity, ideas about its future mature. They can be transformed into a fruitful, forceful and purposeful attitude when the necessary political conditions come into play. This, I am convinced, is the moment London and its politicians, architects and social workers [are] entering."

The Barcelona visionaries believe the successful development of a decaying city depends on taking a less fragmented approach. Architects must work with landscapers and designers of street lighting and furniture. Artists are vital to ensure projects transcend the purely functional. Public bodies and the private sector must work together.

Barcelona began to pull itself around with a seven-year plan in 1980: 140 small projects provided more piazzas and better housing, routes, schools and hospitals. Crime rates fell by 40 per cent in a decade.

A central theme was: "Make the centre more functional and shape the outskirts." New parks were created, along with public art works, including a great white wall by Richard Serra. This has not entirely escaped graffiti. "We don't live in Heaven," said Mayor Clos.

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How To Revive An Urban Area

1. Make the most of your historic assets. Whatever they are, renovate them.

2. Seize opportunities like the Olympics or an Expo as excuses for a makeover.

3. Build public transport. Don't be afraid to clobber cars. Drivers complain, but the city prospers.

4. Use only the best architects. Today's crop, like Oriol Bohigas, can help restore the classics.

5. Listen to the people. Barcelona's triumph began as a democratic exercise in the dying days of Franco.

6. Don't punish your pedestrians. Subways should be kept for trains.

7. Don't be precious about private money. Use it to do more, as Barcelona did with their waterfront.

8. If money is short, start small. Put playgrounds on corners. Brighten up neighbourhood squares.

9. Never underestimate your citizens' appetite for beautiful objects.

10 Do not be afraid of the new and the brave.Let Lichtenstein, for instance, brighten up a crossroads.