22@ Barcelona is an urban transformation project with the aim of creating a new innovation district.
22@ Barcelona district is located on two hundred hectares of former industrial land in the south-east of the city. As the process of urban renewal began in 2000, the area had been impoverished for several decades by industries closing down and public authorities neglecting investments. The size of the district area, coupled with its central location in the city and good transport connections conferred to it important potentials for the international development of Barcelona, in a context of competitiveness between metropolitan areas worldwide.
The 22@ district has thus been developed as a new place for urban, economic and social innovation. This global vision has been implemented through the concentration of knowledge-based activities, as well as a strong involvement of new technologies. Urban planning was guided by the “compact city” principle, which links higher-density planning to environmental efficiency and improved life-quality. To that end, subsidized housing, public spaces and green areas have been planned in order to create a balanced neighborhood.
Since 2000 the district achieved to attract about 4,500 new companies and to foster the development of new start-ups. The estimated number of workers in the district is 90,000 (not counting freelance workers), 62.5% more than in 2000 for a total increase of 56,200 workers.
Background and objectives
The new 22@ district is located in the former industrial area of Poblenou, in the San Martin’s district of Barcelona. The district’s nickname long used to be the “Catalan Manchester”, due to the presence of industries and the workers’ political activism. In the 1960s’, the deindustrialization movement began to impact on the factories of San Martin. This process has been accompanied by the continuous degradation of the factories and of the urban ensemble.
The Olympic Games which took place in the City of Barcelona in 1992 brought a decisive impulse to the renewal of the former industrial area. As part of that event, the area became better connected to the business center, the airport and the port, conferring to it great potentials for its future international development. After the organization of a public debate, the amended Metropolitan Master Plan for the refurbishment of the industrial area of Poblenou - the 22@ Plan - was adopted in July 2000.
The 22@ project has been developed in opposition to the former specialization of the area, whose industrial designation was 22a. For this purpose, non-disturbing and non-polluting activities have been planned in the frame of the district’s urban, economic and social refurbishment. The 22@ area strives for the “strategic concentration of intensive knowledge based activities”. Its three main dimensions are:
- urban refurbishment: creating a balanced environment for better working, living and learning conditions.
- economic refurbishment: bringing out a scientific, technologic and cultural center of metropolitan relevance.
- social refurbishment: intensifying the relations between professionals.
In 2000 the Barcelona City Council created the municipal society 22 ARROBA BCN, S.A.U., responsible for the supervision of the project, that is, for its management and promotion.
Following steps characterize the development process of the 22@ area:
2001: Urban Planning
2003: Urban management
2004: Corporate projects, Clusters
2008: Publicly owned land, Compact city
The project developers planned 4.000.000m² of new gross floor space, mostly allocated to productive activities (3.200.000m²), but also to housing, facilities and services (800.000m²). On the top of that, they included the development of 114.000m² green spaces.
The 22@ plan also aimed at restoring more than 4.600 houses built during the industrial age. In fact, when the Regional Plan decided in the 1950s to restrict future uses of the area to industrial functions, these former houses became largely neglected by public authorities. The planning of the new 22@ area aimed at recognizing the historical value of these houses and at fully restoring their initial function. To reinforce the housing offer in the area, 4.000 new state-subsidized units (with minimum 25% rental) have been built.
The district’s goal is to foster a knowledge-based economy and to achieve a more compact city. The district’s development path is characterized by following key features:
- @activities: the district has shifted toward innovative knowledge-based activities, defined as activities using human competences as their main resource for production. These activities still coexist with traditional ones in the district. Five specialized clusters have been created in the activity fields of media, energy, medical technologies, information and communication technologies and design.
- Revitalization of public space and green spaces: the plan adopted a model in which the large open spaces become gradually squares and smaller streets with houses.
- Advanced infrastructures: a Special Infrastructure Plan regulated urban transformation for 37 kilometers of streets. This plan also foresaw the constitution of several networks, among others fiber optic telecommunications, waste collection and electricity.
- Industrial heritage: sixty-eight new elements have been included in Barcelona's Catalogue of Heritage Sites.
- 7@ facilities: the district’s purpose is to promote training, research and the use of new technologies through new spaces. These facilities try to improve synergies between universities, tech and research centers, as well as production activities.
- Subsidized housing: creation of mixed spaces for a lively and balanced environment.
- New mobility model: a reduced number of main streets carrying the majority of private vehicles as well as public transportation, and a larger number of secondary streets, with minimum traffic flow, used to access buildings.
Moreover the cluster offers many possibilities to citizens and professionals to expand their network, learn from each other and share good practices.
One of the major networking platforms in the cluster is the 22@Network Association of Businesses and Institutions which also offers corporate consultancy services. Firms’ common interest in that network is based on the recognition of knowledge as a corner stone of their activity. Other platforms include the 22@ Update Breakfast, which is a meeting point for professionals for exchanging on new ideas and innovations. The district also organizes a yearly symposium on urban clusters.
Moreover the 22@ voluntariat aims at creating more solidarity between firms, institutions and inhabitants within the cluster. It targets the enrollment of firms to support newly arrived professionals in the cluster concerning various matters (e.g. language, use of new technologies). In the same manner, volunteers support citizens in order to foster the use of new communication and information technologies in their everyday life and to improve communication between people.
Financing and resources
The project has received over €180m of public funding.
Three ordinance plans regulated the urban transformation process:
- Modification of the General Metropolitan Plan (designated as MPGM): six areas were targeted to be developed through public initiatives with a focus on mixed use. Space located outside of this area could be developed by private or public initiatives.
- Special infrastructure plan: ordered street improvements for 37km.
Results and impacts
The urban, economic and social refurbishment of the area brought both private and public benefits. Firms located in the cluster can now benefit from the co-presence of other innovative and knowledge-based activities. The model of the “compact city” also allowed to achieve a higher density in the cluster, from a density level of 2 to a level of 2,2 to 2,7. The special infrastructure plan connected peripheral infrastructure with the district, creating an enabling environment for economic development and innovation.
The renewal of the area also allowed public authorities to regain control on this part of the city’s territory. Whereas the 200ha of land were privately owned in 2000, the City of Barcelona obtained free cession of land for following uses: 10% for 7@ activities, 10% for subsidized housing, 10% for green areas.
In December 2011, after more than ten years of development, it was clear that the project had been largely supported by the real estate sector. At that time, the area counted 139 plans for urban amelioration - among them 84 promoted by the private sector. Planning permissions for almost 700,000m² of productive activities had been delivered. About 4.500 new companies had moved to the district since 2000. 47,3% were new start-ups and 31% were technological and knowledge-based companies. As a result 56.000 new-coming professionals were already working in Poblenou. (source for statistics: www.22Barcelona.com)
Lessons learned and transferability
The 22@ district has been developed along a classical cluster-based approach. The idea behind is that the physical proximity between firms, research centers and universities can increase the potential for innovation thanks to a high density of formal and informal channels of learning and exchange between them.
Through a mixed use of space and the presence of diverse activities, the district has encouraged the presence both of local and international communities. One of the most remarkable features of the 22@ regeneration plan is the presence of housing and social facilities within the district. Creating a vibrant and diverse environment in the 22@ area and offering facilities for a high life-quality aims at retaining a very mobile and well-educated working class within the city of Barcelona. In a study of the 22@ district (see references) the importance of planning social amenities that can fulfill the specific needs of the international community, such as the presence of international schools in the district or the organization of 24-hour services, is underlined.
One of the drivers for the 22@ district development has been the recognition by the city of Barcelona of the necessity to connect its international community with the local one. This gave the opportunity to better benefit from their various skills and backgrounds for the constitution of a city-wide knowledge-based economy. In order to have positive spill-over effects on the local economy, the international community had to be overall better connected and staying longer in the city. So the cluster has been conceived as a hub for knowledge that can benefit all communities present in the city and contribute to the visibility and influence of Barcelona and Spain internationally.