Barcelona, not yet a member but one of the club

 

On 27 January 2010 Barcelona City Council announced "Barcelona Intercultural Decalogue: A Strategy for Living in a city of diversity".

 

What are the three main objectives of this strategy? Firstly, it aims at defining and understanding dramatic rises in socio-cultural diversity in Barcelona. Secondly, it wants to seize the opportunities that present themselves through an increasingly diverse population. Thirdly, it strives to address the long term challenges posed by diversity and social cohesion.

 

What demographic changes are occurring in Barcelona? Since the last century the city has witnessed a significant influx of people who have settled from all over the world. In January 2000 3.5% of the city’s inhabitants were foreigners. The latest statistics reveal that approximately 18% of the city’s population are foreigners.

 

What are the principles governing Barcelona’s intercultural strategy? The tenant of equality promotes positive action towards achieving a level playing field for all, whilst eliminating exclusion and discrimination on both ethnic and cultural grounds. Then comes the notion of positive interaction between the citizens of Barcelona. Whilst acknowledging the fact that differences do exist it emphasises the common and shared aspects which unite the city’s inhabitants. Lastly, Barcelona’s intercultural strategy is driven by wide public participation and open discussion. For instance it gathers views of people from many areas and backgrounds (i.e. associative, cultural, religious, academic) as well as from the general public (e.g. students, unemployed).

 

What platforms and mechanisms has Barcelona City Council implemented to encourage participation and open discussion? They span from a website and a facebook profile to public hearings and participatory meetings.

 

How does Barcelona’s strategy compare with the Intercultural Cities model? Gaining an understanding of the Intercultural Cities Initiative's role in cultural diversity management is crucial in comparing the two approaches. The Intercultural Cities program provides strategic guidelines and good practice recommendations for cities wishing to approach integration in a different way. However Barcelona worked closely in the past two years with Intercultural cities and has provided important inputs in the intercultural cities approach. Its Intercultural Decalogue is a perfect illustration of the Intercultural cities model in action.

 

Particularly interesting is the process of strategy development which has been put in place in Barcelona. A participatory survey found that 72% of Barcelona’s inhabitants appreciate diversity while 34.5% perceive diversity as an opportunity. These statistics indicate that the intercultural ideology is shared by many citizens; it is not just a City Council’s vision.

 

The high level of participation by young people in public hearings organised to provide input for the strategy illustrate their high-level of engagement and support. For instance, involvement by 1,200 young people allowed clear consensus to be reached on 100 proposals concerning diversity and intercultural education in the city. The special website has also encouraged discussion within 200 forums in response to five questions on diversity. Lastly, 36 participatory meetings were held with over 400 participants, representing 259 organisations and associations. The high number of participants and the outputs of the participatory process show a clear sense of ownership for the strategy.

 

According to the survey respondents, what challenges is Barcelona’s intercultural strategy facing? Some factors prevent positive interaction to occur among inhabitants from diverse backgrounds. They comprise attitudinal issues, stereotypes, prejudice as well as institutional discrimination and lack of dynamic media discourse. These are not obstacles to achieving the potential benefits of diversity, but rather areas which Barcelona’s Intercultural Strategy needs to focus on in the future.

 

Barcelona’s example can be followed by other cities. It is what in social and economic science would be considered a classic "case study". There are two key parts to a case study. The first provides an in-depth analysis of a particular social unit, such as a city. This would not be widely dissimilar from the contents of this article, which has provided an in depth analysis of the drivers, strategic guidelines and mechanisms of Barcelona’s Intercultural Strategy. Secondly, a case study indentifies factors which have been central to an organization’s success. Whilst it is not yet possible to evaluate the results of Barcelona’s Intercultural strategy one can identify areas which have aided in the drafting and implementation of the Decalogue.

 

By Thomas Pavan-Woolfe