May 29th, 2007
How do cities meet the demands of the present without losing the value of their past? John Herring joins Global Gossip with some bold answers in his ‘postcard’ from Bilbao.
In the 1980′s Bilbao was presented with an opportunity when the industry and shipping facilities blocking up the city centre moved out to the river mouth on the coast. Not many cities get the chance of a huge brownfield site bang in the centre.
The Guggenheim Museum: an affront to the past or the spirit of 21st century Bilbao?
And not many city fathers would have the vision to chose a futurist option. The Guggenheim Museum, all waving lines and shiny exterior, stands on the waters edge like an affront to the safe nineteenth century mansions of Bilbao’s past. However, this doodle of a building has been used as a catalyst to reshape the spirit of this city and, arguably, the shape of modern Basque identity.
A trip to Bilbao shows how a city can reinvent itself, given the will, the money and, someone perhaps wielding dictatorial powers? The city still suffers the perennial problem of cars and parking but the building of a metro and the development of a tramway at least shows a willingness to take on this problem.
But this spirit of modernity isn’t being allowed to wipe away the evidence of the city’s past. A new office/residential development is being built inside the old walls of a historic building, showing how the new can grow out of the old.
The focus for Bilbao’s regeneration is the river running through and around it. This feature has been used to create a pedestrian walkway alongside the new tramway.
This trail for people was used prodigiously whilst we were there; people indulging in their regular ‘paseo’, whole families rollerblading, or those hardy, masochistic souls out jogging.
Certainly Bilbao is a city for today’s lifestyle, but perhaps this makes it unique, given that not many people, governors nor populace, would be prepared to see their little world torn down to start anew. The dilemma for the cities of the 21st century is how to drag themselves up to date with peoples current lifestyles without destroying the things that have made them what they are. Can global warming push the ‘cold’ cities of Northern Europe into a more open, outside society?