Sociologist Monica Degen writes of Barcelona as the most successful global model for post-industrial urban regeneration based on its urban design’ (Degen 2004: 131). Perceived from outside, this success was magnetic, to be re-applied in other cities.
The difficulty is that what works in a city such as Barcelona may not work in one lacking that city’s exceptional history and cultural wealth. Notwithstanding reality checks, the cultural turn was pervasive in the global North. New cultural venues transformed a city’s image through a level of investment lower than that required for the renewal of a social fabric or an economic infrastructure. The shift of image was aimed in any case at external perception, not recognition by a city’s diverse, competing publics. It subsumed diverse realities within a single representation of a future to which the city’s governing, commercial and cultural elites aspired.