First International Conference of Young Urban Researchers (FICYUrb)
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Trevor A. Goldsmith

From Alcatraz to Porta Miralles: managing legitimacy, transparency and quality in the built-environment in Barcelona, Spain.

Trevor A. Goldsmith
Department of Anthropology University of Chicago

     Full text: Paper removed by author
     Last modified: June 6, 2007
     Presentation date: 06/11/2007 2:30 PM in ISCTE-II C201
     (View Schedule)

This essay examines the management process behind the production of social housing in contemporary Barcelona, Spain. Contrary to local values which identify ‘low quality’ in the publicly sponsored built-environment with the corrupt intrusion of personal interests into the management process, two case studies in contrasting neighborhoods suggest that the management process itself may lead directly to urban environments which residents find unsatisfactory. Following ideals of bureaucratic efficiency and impartiality, the public administration develops urban plans through design competitions which yield a series of documents of increasing detail, all of which apply to the same territory, and each with potentially different authors. This process leads to the absence of a controlling authority to align the interests of multiple actors to yield coherent designs. Paradoxically, ‘corruption’ may yield desirable outcomes, particularly when the personal interests that intrude in the management process are grounded in the lived reality of the urban territory in question.

These data illustrate the problematic relationship between legitimacy and transparency in modern democratic states. According to state ideals, the legitimacy of institutions is derived from the rational and disinterested negotiation of courses of action, a negotiation often the exclusive domain of technocrats and functionaries who operate outside of public view. On the other hand, everyday citizens often recognize legitimacy above all in those activities which are products of inherently partial grounded local advocacy, an advocacy which both contradicts the bureaucratic/technocratic ideal of the state and in the worst case approximates the kinds of intrusion of private interests that the public often denounces.

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