Barcelona is known for its architecture and culture and is one of the most liveable cities in Spain, popular with locals and tourists alike, due to the city’s beaches, green spaces and urban lifestyle. Its metropolitan region spans 636km2 and is home to a population of over 5.4 million people.
The liveability of modern cities depends on urban ecosystems and the services they provide. Urban areas are reliant on ecosystems for a range of services that support human well-being and human health, such as reducing flood risk, water purification, air purification, urban cooling and providing space for recreation.
Following the notion that nature is socially constructed, the urban ecosystems that cities depend on have not simply emerged from nature but are co-produced by human activity – they are the outcome of historical, social, political and economic actions. Social practices, such as urban development and the day-to-day lives of city dwellers, impact and influence the benefits gained from ecosystem services, and also determine the distribution of these ecosystem services across society.
Like many cities around the world, Barcelona suffers from poor air quality and high temperatures due to the urban heat island (UHI) effect. The liveability of Barcelona is greatly improved by the ecosystem services the city receives from the Parc de Collserola, a mountain range to the north-west of the city, between the rivers Besòs and Liobregat.
The park has not simply emerged from nature but is the outcome of centuries of human activity. Archaeological findings from the area suggest the land was used intermittently for agriculture between the 12th and 19th centuries. In the mid-19th century, the Collserola began to be used for leisure activities, and over the course of the 20th century, the urban population surrounding the Collserola grew, gradually encroaching on the open space. In 1987, following the approval of the General Metropolitan Plan in 1976, the Parc de Collserola was officially set up, covering 8,465 hectares and to be managed by the Barcelona Provincial Council.
The Parc de Collserola contributes to vital air cooling and purification for the city, as well as providing flood mitigation and supporting biodiversity. Whilst the park was created by human interaction with nature, the ecosystem services the park provides were not ‘produced’ by humans, but are attributable to the ecosystems and natural processes that occur within the park.
The creation of nature in the Parc de Collserola is just one example of how the urban environment of Barcelona has been produced and reproduced over time. Over the coming weeks, this blog will go on to explore the urban political ecology of Barcelona in more depth, exploring topics such as the management of its water supply, how its urban planning influences flows of people through the city, and the contradictions of Barcelona as a ‘smart city’.