Whoa, my first post after a long blogging hiatus! Actually, I have been thinking of reviving my blogging habits since I started doing my thesis three months ago. I desperately need to find a way to free my stuffed mind without having to bother other people and simply to have a distraction from my routine. So, let’s hope I will always have time to do it!
Anyway, I am on a new platform now! I migrated all my blog posts from Tumblr to WordPress to capture a wider audience and honestly, because Tumblr is no longer a ‘cool’ thing haha… I hope I can find a spot in this vast online reader’s world and maintain a positive connection with anyone else out there 😉
Last week, I went to Barcelona to meet my friend who flew all the way from Jakarta to present at a conference. She works in an NGO in Jakarta and has been an important informant for my thesis topic (will tell you later about this). As we didn’t manage to see each other when I was doing my fieldwork in Jakarta a month ago, this was the only chance.
I booked the ticket to Barcelona one month in advance and luckily, it was a good deal because airline tickets to Spain (any city) have always been out of my budget. It was also a perfect time for me because there was no appointment with my Professor on that week so it would be a nice short getaway in between my thesis-writing. Long story short, since my friend’s arrival in Barcelona was one day later than mine, I decided to spend a day visiting the neighbouring city, Valencia. This city has caught my attention since it has been mentioned quite often in the literature which especially study about entrepreneurial cities.
In brief, entrepreneurialism is one of the neoliberal political strategies imposed on a city that necessarily shifts the mode and focus of the governance of the city from the redistribution of social welfare to economic growth, the attraction of investment, and inter-urban competition (Hall & Hubbard, 1996). As you may already know, neoliberalism is an inescapable ideology which has been embedded in our global economic system since the fall of Communism ideology in the 1970s. It is also quite evident in the European context (Valencia is no exceptions) even though its imposition might have distinct characteristics and implications from each other. And since I am interested in political economy in urban development, I might learn something from this trip.
It took three hours journey by train from Barcelona Sans to Valencia Joaquin Corolla, a modern train station hundreds of meters from the old North Station which was expected to be my arrival station.
Nevertheless, I departed from this old station on my way back to Barcelona. Below is the beautiful interior design of the station.
Well, in general, I like a city in this size where I can easily roam around and explore on foot. This is a typical medieval city in Europe which is built around a church in a big square surrounded by little shops, cafes, and restaurants. I noticed that the majority of shops in the central historical area of Valencia belong to the locals (or at least, are selling local-brand products), whereas the high street brands like Zara, Mango, etc. are located a bit far-off in the southeast of the historical area. It is, in a way, a good strategy to disperse tourists concentration and promote the local economy.
Below is the historic fountain in Plaza de la Virgen from the Roman era, the main central square of the historical area, depicting Neptune surrounded by eight naked women. On the background is Saint Mary’s Cathedral which once was turned into a mosque in Moors’ occupation era.
I was actually standing in a little square facing the La Lonja de la Seda building on the left-hand side when I snapped this photograph, and the building is apparently a UNESCO heritage site (I should have taken a proper photo of the building!).
The park lies in the middle of the city, spanning 280 km long from the northwesternmost part of the city on its way to the Mediterranean sea. It consists of numerous ponds, jogging paths, bicycle tracks, fountains, flower garden, cafés, playgrounds, climbing walls, and so forth. Some bridges overhead carry traffic across the park.
Down further to the park’s eastern end is the Gulliver Park (Parc Gulliver / Parque Gulliver), a children’s adventure playground featuring a huge fibreglass model of Lemuel Gulliver (the fictional protagonist and narrator of Gulliver’s Travels, a novel written by Jonathan Swift) tied to the ground with ropes. (source: Wikipedia)
Come closer to the end of the journey, seen from afar the prima donna, El Palau de Les Arts Reina Sofía, an opera house designed by the home-grown architect, Santiago Calatrava. It is nestled in the City of Art and Science complex, a controversial yet impressive urban renewal mega-project.
It is controversial because it is linked to a mega corruption case of the city as a result of the authoritative and privatized forms of decision-making in the implementation processes of the project. Even though it was designed by one of my favourite star-architects, I have always been very critical of this type of spectacular project: how it connects to the rest of the city, what happens behind the scene, what this kind of project contributes to the entire population, and who benefits from it. However, I should admit it is an amazing landscape, though.
From what I read, the idea of this mega-project came about during the transition period after the return of democracy in the 1980s.
“In that period a new State of the Autonomies was instated in Spain. Valencia became the capital city of the Valencian Autonomous Community and the seat of the regional government. The city and the region were going through a process of deindustrialization, and Valencia had to find its place in the Spanish and European systems of cities. With this in mind, successive local and regional governments made large public investments in infrastructure, prestige architectural projects and the organization of international events with the objective of re-imaging the city to make it attractive for investment and tourism. Therefore, the city developed several flagship projects.” (Vento, 2017)
I have to say that I was there only for one day or two so I would not capture the whole story of the city. But as a tourist, I found Valencia attractive. I can see and learn from the processes of the city if Valencia in becoming a city as it is today through its valuable tangible (and intangible) legacies. Nevertheless, I am not sure how it feels to be its citizens, the ones who live there every single day. Perhaps for them, it is not always about what they can benefit from the massive flow of tourism or what they should provide to keep the tourists coming back. Perhaps, it is more about something fundamental, something that has long to be made possible. Perhaps, it is about the perpetual attempts to (re)produce the city by the people, and solely for the people, just like how a city should be.
Hall, T. and Hubbard, P., 1998. The entrepreneurial city: geographies of politics, regime, and representation. John Wiley & Sons.
Tarazona Vento, A., 2017. Mega-project meltdown: Post-politics, neoliberal urban regeneration, and Valencia’s fiscal crisis. Urban Studies, 54(1), pp.68-84.