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TOURISM, CULTURE AND THE PRODUCTION OF URBAN SPACE: CHANGING IMAGES. SHIFTING MEANINGS?

Final Activity Report Summary - CIUTAT (Tourism, culture and the production of urban space: changing images. shifting meanings)

With the frequent aim of distinction, many cities worldwide have competed with each other in (re)producing and promoting themselves for tourism and culture-based objectives. This has often been pursued via identical or similar mechanisms, although in adopting such mechanisms, any ability to create uniqueness tends to diminish; potentially leading to serial reproduction effects. A frequent response to this increasing homogeneity of urban landscapes has been the staging of major sporting and cultural events, which are often seen as more flexible and distinctive carriers of the symbolic capital of the city than hard infrastructure-based tourism and cultural projects. Such mega-events are arguably a principal 'image builder' of urban tourism globally. However, the extent to which they can continue to create difference in spite of the ubiquity of having become global brands themselves is questionable. Even where the branded event possibilities have been passed up in favour of a new event design, the new format tends to become branded as other cities herald the 'success narratives' of the formula.

Furthermore, urban authorities have often adopted (or transplanted) event-led regeneration strategies for implementation in declining districts of host cities, with resulting tensions between the advocates of the chosen model and those who subsequently have to live with the post-event spaces on a daily basis. On top of this, event-led strategies have often had to shoulder a raft of externalitaties in terms of urban social agendas; agendas that ephemeral events were not generally designed to address. This has led to increasing contradictions that stretch beyond the urban competitive field and into the social justice domain; particularly where the durability and adaptability of event strategies, structures and spaces is in question.

The Catalan capital Barcelona has become a master at redefining and subsequently remodelling itself via the staging of major events, which has provoked much international debate on the 'Barcelona Model'. The CIUTAT project involved an empirical study of Barcelona's ambitious self-appointed mega-event, the Universal Forum of Cultures, concentrating on the city's changing urban form and image for visitors and residents. As well as building on semi-qualitative surveys with residents and visitors of Barcelona, the perspectives of those implicated in the image building processes were taken into account through in-depth stakeholder interviews. The event provoked a volatile response from many local groups and individuals, particularly as it was viewed as the final piece in a neoliberalist jigsaw of culture-led, speculative urban redevelopment. International visitors, on the other hand, were largely unaware of the event's presence between May and September - which should have been a concern for an event of 'universal' scale, but perhaps wasn't.

The project focused on the extent to which image-building effects resulting from the event were positive (in many different respects) and durable, particularly given the high cost of staging the event, the vast post-event space that remains, and the near-crisis urban context of adjacent city districts.

The image of Barcelona did change over the course of the event in certain aspects, but the change was not significant enough to state that the hosting of the event had an overall positive effect on the image of the city. In other words, using image enhancement as a justification for hosting major events with even more major infrastructural and social implications is not entirely appropriate, especially where large scale public funding and vast spatial changes are concerned. The city does have the legacy of a new zone of (semi)public space and has launched itself as the originator of the Universal Forum of Cultures global event brand, but the cost of these legacies is arguably somewhat high for the many that need to live and work in the area on a continuing basis.