I start this essay with the goal to answer the question posed by the editor: “What elements do we need to emphasize, incorporate, or avoid so that Bilbao can become the city that it needs to be in the future?”
Before trying to answer this question with my humble opinion, first I’d like to clarify two aspects that I find important. On the one hand, I have no clue about what Bilbao needs to become in the future. Although I assume that, as it is stated in the title of this piece, the city of Bilbao, like any other, needs to change for the same reason that time goes by, space changes and, above all, the needs and desires of those who live in it evolve.
On the other hand, if the future is defined by what will happen in a subsequent period than the present, the future must be unreal, only the speculation of what it will be. That is, the future does not exist. Rather, we live in an eternal presentism in which we have enormous longings to prognosticate what will come so that we can prevent things and, most excitingly, we can project our desires and dreams.
Considering that the city of the future does not exist, not even in Bilbao, I am going to try to analyze from which perspective we seem to be thinking about the future of a city like ours.
For years there has been a lot of work done to consider the strategic plan about what metropolitan Bilbao could become. Already in the reflections made in 1999 for the Bilbao of 2010, the goal was to position it in a global world; to create a world-class city. There was talk about being a model and reaching excellence. About innovation, knowledge, and becoming an attractive city. All those statements correspond more to a competitive projection between cities than an exercise of thorough research. However, the most surprising part about strategic plans for cities is that almost all of them, for almost every city, end up being practically the same. It is something that we clearly see illustrated with the Cultural and Creative Industries (CCIs), the sector that has become the most prominent in these large strategies.
Although there doesn’t seem to be a simple and shared definition about what the CCIs are, we know that they can be good both for driving the knowledge economy as well as to revitalize a depressed neighborhood. They can favor diversity as well as gentrify. It depends on the moment. In the last urban intervention in Bilbao, in the postindustrial neighborhoods of the Ribera de Deusto and Zorrotzaurre, you can find all these aspects and a few more: urban strategy, institutional vision, CCIs, former industrial warehouses sitting vacant, neighborhood associations, and cultural collectives. The urban plan is also the result of those plans for the future led and decided by those who do not live in the area but pretend to know what Bilbao needs to become in the future. This, like any other strategic plan or master plan, has a beginning, an end, and implementation phases, as if it wasn’t daring to predict the future with such a conviction.
With a more modest approach, a few collectives are working in the abstract distance found between present and future, in what we call the “meanwhile” period. ZAWP is situated in an area that does not provide solutions, only a few temporary responses. It has to do more with a collective experience than with the leadership of a singular vision. It has to do more with a reasonable evolution and sustainable transformation. Because it seems more appropriate that the soul transforms a place than the transformation of a place changing its soul.
I go back to the initial question and I reassert the idea that it is more urgent, and even more important, to ask how we are changing the city than where we are heading. We still have to assume that we do not know our future, that we can work on the “in the meantime” period so it becomes what each of us want, and that we are obliged to question who are the people that transform the city and why not others, and why not all.