As a cultural theorist, but one who has no particular interest in graffiti, I would still point to the political significance as well the de-contextualization (itself a political act) of the section of the Wall re-sited in New York. Advocates such as Florida and Landry (2000), still, have been influential in persuading city authorities to adopt cultural strategies as if they represent a non-contentious, harmonious alternative to the divisiveness of sociopolitical struggles and debates. Examples such as Barcelona or Seattle are seductive. Whether their success can be replicated is another matter. There are, anyway, differences between North America and Europe in the period of late capitalism. Saskia Sassen (1991) wrote of a global city, constituted by financial-services enclaves in New York, London and Tokyo, as a single, distributed city using 24-hour information super-highways to connect – but only Frankfurt in continental Europe could begin to qualify as part of this exclusive city. Hence the attraction of a cultural-city identity in Europe, formalized by the European Commission in a programme for an annual European City (or Capital) of Culture (Miles 2007: 121-42). Cultural cities, then, create another kind of mapping, not by money-power but by cultural capital. This links, in particular, to cultural tourism but has implications, too, for inward investment.
Approaches differed: in Bilbao, in the Basque region of Spain, the city’s elite opted for a transnational art institution – a Guggenheim Museum designed by architect Frank Gehry – on a brownfield site at the city’s ex-industrial edge. This intentionally elided Basque culture, which was linked to a violent separatist movement (Gonzalez 1993). The Guggenheim was expensive, not only in its construction but also in payment of a continuing fee to Guggenheim for their curating expertise. Whether the economic upturn initially produced by cultural tourism will persist remains a question, as tourists move from place to place and fashions change. Besides, in a recession, the weekend city break may be an unaffordable luxury for many who once saw it as a routine opportunity for acquiring cultural capital.
Barcelona, like Bilbao, the hub of an aspirant nation-state within Spain (Catalunya), with its own language and traditions, opted to develop a Catalan cultural infrastructure through public-sector investment. But this Catalan infrastructure also appealed to cultural tourists seeking out authentic cultural encounters (Dodd 1999). Claiming world status, Barcelona has a World Trade Centre designed by I.M. Pei on its new waterfront. It also has an extraordinary wealth of cultural attractions including museums for major modern artists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro, and the colourful architecture of Antonio Gaudi. The city’s savings banks (which work on a non-profit-distributing basis) invested in cultural projects beside the city’s funding of key redevelopment schemes. Added to that is a unique political history: from the fall of the city to the Bourbons in the early eighteenth century to its fight against fascism in 1937, oppression during the Fascist period, and liberation after the death of General Franco in 1975. The key moment for the city’s renewal was its hosting of the 1992 Olympic Games, in preparation for which over one hundred public spaces were created or refurbished, mainly in residential areas.