08001 Barcelona, Spain

Episode#41 Barcelona: Building "Unexpected Alliances" And Cooperation

GuestsOriol Estela Barnet, General Coordinator of the Metropolitan Strategic Plan Association of Barcelona (or PEMB) in Spain

Date of recording: 21 June 2023


Find transcript here


Summaries of Key Takeaways:  

  • Metropolitan Strategic Planning: Oriol Estela Barnet's role as the General Coordinator of the Metropolitan Strategic Plan Association of Barcelona, focusing on urban and regional development strategies. 
  • Innovative Urban Solutions: The emphasis on innovative approaches to urban planning, such as the food policy area and the development of a small-scale wholesale food market dedicated to local producers. 
  • Governance Challenges: The challenge of governing a metropolitan region without a formal government structure, requiring bottom-up governance tools. 
  • Inequality and Climate Change: Addressing inequalities and climate change as major challenges, highlighting the need for a fair transition and environmental justice. 
  • Urban-Rural Pact: The concept of an urban-rural pact to manage resources equitably and sustainably, emphasizing the importance of planning and articulation around the metropolis to support rural areas. 


“To you, what is a Smart City?”

Oriol Estela Barnet: “A smart city? For me, a smart city is a city. So then a community of people that knows where they want to go and, uh, and get into action, uh, using the community resources, uh, their wisdom, their, their knowledge and their, their hands to make it possible. So to get, get they get into action to achieve a common future. Yeah, of course. For better.” 



  • Bringing together different actors can contribute to urban innovation and development

"We are like a platform for cooperation. I think that it's one of the most wonderful things that you can do, and the most useful thing that you can do when you work for the city, you know, for the future of your city or of your metropolitan area or region. That is how to make all the stakeholders and all the actors and all the organisations and all the people that are doing good things for the future, to collaborate, to work together, and, to find new alliances, unexpected alliances. Sometimes with organisations that you never met, bu you are able to put them in contact and do to make them see that what you are doing is something that can match with what others are doing." - Oriol Estela Barnet

  • Ensuring that urban development is inclusive is vital

"Inequalities have grown a lot, especially since 2008. And that means that our development model was weak, was not that strong, was not that resilient, as we say now. Because things are worse and worse for a lot of people. And we have inequalities, both social and both territorial. Also, we have areas, not big areas in the metropolitan region that are becoming big, deprived neighborhoods now, vulnerable neighborhoods, and that they have not taken advantage of the progress of the city in this past 30, 40 years. So we must address these inequalities at all levels. And then, of course, climate change, the global challenge for all. So how to combine, you know, this environmental justice, all the fair transition, in front of the climate emergency is one of the biggest concern." - Oriol Estela Barnet

  • Taking a holistic approach helps in understanding the complex interactions and challenges a city faces

"[From a geographer's point of view, the most crucial element for success] is to understand that cities have five dimensions. [...] The first dimension is the city as a living body, the metabolism of the city. [...] It takes resources and it generates waste. [...] The second one is the functional city. The functional city is related to our daily lives and commuting. [...] The third one is the administrative city. So it's the administrative boundaries that we have in our cities. [...] The four one is the identity. Where do we belong, which is what our community, are we identified with our neighborhood, with our city, with the metropolis. And then you have the flows, you know, the global flows of wealth and resources and investments and so on, which is the fifth one." - Oriol Estela Barnet

  • Empowering local economies is crucial for economic sustainability​​​​​​​

"Rebuilding ownership for the local economies is very important. And recovering some fields of sovereign entity, in terms of energy. [...] I think that the problem is that people see economy as something in the air. That there's, I don't know, a hidden committee, you know, they don't know where it's decided. And so I know the economy is what we do every day. It depends on our daily decisions and our daily acts. It's a question of understanding that the economy is a flow. [...]You must find ways to get these flows of income, of resources circulate as much as you can. This is the multiplier effect. And this is only possible if there is ownership of the economy from the people. And that means that they are involved in the businesses and companies. It doesn't mean that everything is public, but it means that people are involved in economic decisions." - Oriol Estela Barnet