One of the good things to come out of the doom-and-gloom surrounding the End of the World 2012™, is a provoked general interest in the future. Human nature being what it is, we never want something unless we think we cannot have it. And I cannot help but feel that the thinkers busily prophesying the world’s possible futures must have a huge amount of potential to do good, if anticipating the problem is half of solving it. Rather than make some awkward disclaimer about academic responsibility, all I will say is that this article is not so much about predicting the future but about imagining the possibilities, which, by
definition, are infinite.
Many predictions focus on the impact of technology on our lives in 2025, others on the fiery inferno of debate over Catalan independence and the future of FC Barcelona. It is impossible to talk of the future without mentioning technology. In the last 13 years the world has been completely transformed by technological advances that have made it possible for 75% of the world to own a mobile phone. In a further 13 years, our current lifestyles will be similarly unimaginable, a plethora of life-transforming gadgets undoubtedly doing everything for us, from choosing our lighting ambience according to our mood to monitoring our air quality, but alas, I am no techno-whiz – I’m just an anthropologist. The side of the futuristic penny I would like to talk about is the more human one. After all, Barcelona is a city in close quarters, where not only technology but also streets and public spaces play an important role in the everyday social lives of almost every citizen. Technology and public space are similar in their capacity to connect people and communities from disparate parts of the globe living an increasingly interior and private existence, and both will continue to be of central importance to maintaining and improving the quality of life as Barcelona’s future population booms. Speaking of which…
According to predictions, the population of Spain in 2025 will be nearing its apex, finally pushing 49 million people in 2030, before it starts contracting in 2050 down to 44 million. It doesn’t sound that drastic, but the statistics that apply to Spain are somewhat magnified for Barcelona, as there is a much higher rate of immigration and temporary residents here, all fighting for their square metres. Barcelona is already one of the most densely populated cities in Europe: at its most dense, in the Sagrada Familia neighbourhood, there are approximately 50,000 people squashed into every square kilometre. Add another million or two to the mix and Barcelona starts to positively ache at the seams. The Barcelona of 2025 will be just busy; more saturated, with fuller sidewalks, and metros more akin to London’s or Tokyo’s where you either find your face pressed to the sweaty under-bosom of an overweight businessman as you struggle for breath on your morning commute, or find yourself manhandled by white-gloved guards onto trains like unruly livestock. I shudder to imagine the San Joan festivities in thirteen years’ time – the entire beach ablaze, a decent percentage of partygoers ending up with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As is the case in many cities with a high rate of immigration (internal migration as well as from the “outside” world), certain public spaces have been dominated by different urban tribes: the obvious example of the skaters at the MACBA, or the perroflautas in Plaça Trippi, the Dominicans all over Carrer Blai, the Pakistani and Bangladeshi people along Rambla del Raval, and the Moroccans that rule the football pitch just off it. In the past, many of these spaces would have been the realm of different groups, the ruling tribe being overthrown as shifting national and global trends and climates pushed different groups into the city. So, who’s waiting in the wings in 2025?
Along with Catalans enjoying their petardo-exploding rite of passage on San Joan, there will be a fair amount of other groups appropriating this and other celebrations, imbuing them with new meaning. By 2021 “developing” countries such as the Phillipines, India, Chile and Peru will be officially “developed” (everyone’s very uncertain of the correct terminology to use here so I place emphasis on the quotation marks), enabling more and more people to come in search of work or the coveted European education or job – already 14% of the population of Barcelona is not from Spain.
The current ratio of Muslim men to women in Barcelona is currently almost two men to every woman. By 2025, as women and families come to join the men who came here to work some time ago, the ratio will even out to about 1.3 men to every woman, and the number of Catalan-speaking Muslim children will rise. The same will happen with the other prominent groups here, leading to higher integration into the working and social world of Barcelona, something that can only happen with time. If you can read economic and cultural power in the skyline of a city, hotels and churches (read: tourism and the Catholic Church) currently dominate Barcelona. The skyline of 2025 is likely to be monopolised by even larger and more garish Dubai-style hotels, à la Vela. The Sagrada Familia should then be just one year away from completion, with ten more spires added to the current eight, making it the tallest church in the world, and just in time for the skyline of power to shift.
Spain currently has the highest immigration rate of any country in Europe, and it is all relatively recent. If it is to follow the pattern of other European countries, immigration is at first welcomed, but at a certain point public opinion shifts when it is deemed “too much,” and immigration policies become more restrictive. As Rick Sandell wrote, there arises a conflict between the need for immigration and the desire for it. One example: The Generalitat recently approved construction of a €30 million “mega-mosque”. However, with over a thousand mosques built in Spain in the last decade, public opinion is closing and they are struggling to find an accepting neighbourhood in which to build (a textbook Not In My Back Yard situation).
But undoubtedly, Spain needs immigration and will continue to need it in the future. According to The Guardian, from 2015 onwards, deaths will outnumber births in the EU, and population growth due to natural increase will cease. By 2050 Spain will be the country with the most elderly people in the world, according to Xavier Bosch. A low birth rate (only 1.2 children per woman) + an ageing population = a shrinking working population. And it has been noted that never in history has there been economic growth without population growth.
As the very meaning of the word tradition starts to change, the old associations we make with different barrios will shift also; as the population of the city grows, the so-called centre will become larger. As the peripheries get absorbed into that centre, neighbourhoods now considered distant become populated with new arrivals. David Harvey is a bit of a hero when it comes to his ideas on public space – he is a geographer who talks about globalization, diasporas and transnational processes, in a number of works using Barcelona as a case study. On the gentrification of new neighbourhoods, he said that there are people of the middle class who will get tired of living in ‘guetos de oro’, as living in a closed and protected community is very boring. Young Catalans will start to move out of their family neighbourhoods, like Sarrià and Sant Cugat, and into more affordable housing both in the center (areas like Poble Sec and Sants are increasingly filled with young Catalan families) and further afield (Clot, La Sagrera, Poblenou and Nou Barris). According to Harvey – and I think many of us would agree – the mix of different groups of immigrants, the fusion of musical and gastronomic styles, is what makes urban life something fantastic. The kind of urbanism Harvey wants is one oriented towards internal rather than external demand, an urbanism that brings people together rather than segregating them. As the cultural make-up of these barrios changes, so too must the public spaces that unite the living and working spaces. As the architect Jan Gehl said, “Cultures and climates differ all over the world, but people are the same. They will gather in public if you give them a good space to do it.” Currently, walking around many of these newer neighbourhoods can be a profoundly alienating experience, as if the whole place had been evacuated for an emergency no one told you about. The regeneration and creation of good quality public spaces in these neighbourhoods is essential to revitalise these areas and to avoid the ghost-town effect that many of them manifest.
The citizen of Barcelona has access to, on average, just four square metres of green space. Historically, public spaces were central to everyone’s lives – they were places of transit, shopping and socialising. The 20th century changed everything: cars rule the streets and cities have spread out while technology encourages people to withdraw from the public spaces of the city. Due to its favourable climate and small median home size (just 32 square meters per person), the average Barcelona inhabitant is prone to a more exterior existence than his/her European counterpart. The government over the last few decades has been investing time and money in the rejuvenation of many of the public spaces of the city, something they plan to keep doing in the future. Pla Buits, an initiative that aims to temporarily use abandoned spaces and solares in the city as leisure spaces, eventually re-integrating that space into the city, is on the right track when it comes to revitalising “dead” space.
The citizens of Barcelona are already starting to discover and create new public and outside areas from the unused space in the city. A glance at Barcelona rooftops in 2025 will be a vision of glittering solar-panels and towering vertical vegetable gardens – people will scoff at how much dormant space we had lying around back in 2012 – what were we thinking having all those roof terraces locked and empty! Predictions say that the financial crisis could last until 2019. As bleak as that may seem, it could force some positive changes in our culture and mentality on a worldwide scale. As Einstein said, “It is in crisis that inventiveness is born.” Our approach to energy consumption will be totally transformed; sustainability will be hard-wired into our way of life from a young age. Spain has always been keen to get stuck in with wind-farming, but it is predicted that in the future the majority of wind harvesting will be done offshore.
The Universitat de Barcelona has developed giant ocean-based, wind-harvesting red balloons which, by 2025, may be sprinkled across your view of the horizon while you enjoy your in-vitro meat, aeroponically-grown vegetables and local micro-brew at a Barceloneta restaurant. The beachfront restaurants will become the domain of the very rich, especially well-off European tourists, as international travel will become prohibitively expensive. Fuel shortages mean that the era of mini-breaks and cheap flights is over, so most travel will be overland or by sea while international flights will be reserved for the 1%. According to predictions, the Virtual Holiday will become an alternative way of vacationing, although I’m not sure I can imagine a more depressing combination of two words. The fuel shortage will also mean fewer cars on the streets and improved public and shared transport – solar buses and shared-ownership hybrid electronic bicycles and cars will be the way to get from A to B.
And that is another good thing that will come out of an extended financial crisis – the consumerist treadmill mentality will seem passé, the concept of ownership transformed. We will appreciate durability and the ability to repurpose an object over the status is gives us or how shiny it is, and the sharing and leasing of goods over owning and accumulating them. Countries will no longer compete for bragging rights based on average GDP but rather on quality of life, the cleanest air or the most creative populace. Money won’t be as important as it is now and local trading systems will offer an alternative to structured currency and industrially managed systems. The area of Montseny has already created its own currency, both in reality and virtually; it is called the Eco-Seny, and it is based on the exchange of fruits and vegetables, seeds, time and skills. After the extended crisis, the throw-away era is dead and community cooperatives are enabled by technology: you log on to a community network to offer your time or skills in return for the goods and services of others who are also looking for better value and scaled-down consumption. This return to operating as a community, but enabled by technology, will change everything from where we hang out to where we buy our food. Government and community/crowd-funded “Maker’s Spaces” will become commonplace – multi-purpose community spaces that have tools, 3D printers using open-source software and design, technology and spaces for cross-cultural learning and collaboration.
But it is not, and cannot be, all bongos and Benetton ads. They say old habits die hard, and we have been a consumerist society for most of modern history. The financial pressures of the crisis and the always-connected nature of society will create the sensation for many that if you’re not part of the system, you’re invisible, and soaring rates of depression will be combatted by new blockbuster prescription drugs. There’s always an underdog – despite community initiatives. Inequality, the biggest threat to the stability of a society, is inevitable and riots will be commonplace.
It will not be an easy process, but the Barcelona of 2025 is going be a melting-pot that makes today’s Barcelona look positively homogenous. The greatest change, however, will not be an external one but an internal one, in the mentality of the people living in this city. It is a process that’s already begun, as the focus returns to community and inclusivity rather than survival of the fittest. I agree with the French philosopher Theodore Zeldin in that there will no longer be a majority to tolerate the minority, because majorities will have disintegrated into so many minorities that this world will become impossible for us to scientifically label and put in boxes, the boundaries blurring, possession of space becoming more complex as cultural hierarchies change.
Only time will tell, of course. Projecting into the future is a bit like standing atop some windy peak, looking across a bleak landscape that stretches in all directions, and trying to choose which way to walk. The possibilities are infinite, and there are any number of completely unpredictable factors that may change the course of our journey at any moment – meteors, for example, or extra-terrestrial contact, robot revolution or cyber warfare. Maybe Catalunya will be an independent nation – although, what would happen to Barça FC and La Liga?