Why can't the "Bilbao Effect" be reproduced? | Bilbao as an example of Transformational Projects Action Planning
The Guggenheim Bilbao. ©FMGB, Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, 2017.
I wrote about Bilbao and the so-called "Guggenheim Effect," in the series of articles I did for an EU National Institutes of Culture project in Baltimore:
-- "THE BILBAO EFFECT’S SECRET INGREDIENTS: PLANNING, RELATIONSHIPS, FUNDING, IMPLEMENTATION," Europe in Baltimore
I was pretty pleased with the article, especially because afterwards I heard from people in Bilbao who said that I had captured very well the essence of their approach, process, and program.
It was but one of many examples that shaped my thinking about the need for what I am now calling "Transformational Projects Action Plans" and the Transformational Projects Action Planning process, as an essential element of Comprehensive Land Use Plans/Community Master Plans.
I wrote about the concept more recently here:
-- "(Big Hairy) Projects Action Plan(s) as an element of Comprehensive/Master Plans"
but even four months ago, I hadn't scintillated the TPAP phrase and acronym, although admittedly it still doesn't flow off the tongue.
Besides the Amazon HQ2 discussion, it also comes up because it is the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and as discussed in this excellent article, "The Guggenheim Bilbao, 20 Years Later: How a Museum Transformed a City—and Why the ‘Bilbao Effect’ Has Been Impossible to Replicate," from artnet, though many other communities seized on the example, in particular the employment of a "starchitect" and "starchitecture" to create sculptural usually cultural buildings that were supposed to attract hundreds of thousands if not millions of visitors, none have been truly successful.
Frank Gehry didn't single-handedly revitalize Bilbao. The Guggenheim Museum was but one element of a wide-ranging program.
I summarized the process in Bilbao as being constructed of six integrated components. I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:
- A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
- the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program. Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
- strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
- funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
- integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);
- flexibility and a willingness to take advantage of serendipitous events and opportunities and integrate new projects into the overall planning and implementation framework (examples include Bilbao's "acquisition" of a branch of the Guggenheim Museum and the creation of a light rail system to complement its new subway system, Liverpool City Council's agreement with a developer to create the Liverpool One mixed use retail, office, and residential development in parallel to the regeneration plan and the hosting of the Capital of Culture program in 2008, and how multifaceted arts centers were developed in otherwise vacated properties rented out cheaply by their owners in Dublin, Helsinki, and Marseille).I
And essential to these plans is flexibility, and the ability to seize on unplanned for opportunities (such as a second Amazon headquarters).
Bilbao didn't plan for such a museum, although it did create a framework for the creation of new civic and cultural assets, and wanted to engage leading architects to design architecturally startlingly new buildings.
When the opportunity to land the Guggenheim Museum came up, Bilbao was able to seize the opportunity because they already had the necessary process framework in place to be successful at doing so.
Return to the Rails: The Motivations for Building a Modern Tramway in Bilbao Spain," Matti Siemiatycki).
The first link of a tram system for Bilbao opened within a few years, while in DC it took 13 years to open a streetcar line of a similar distance.
Other failures to see benefits comparable to that of Bilbao: libraries. Starchitecture has been attributed to the success of new central libraries by Rem Koolhaas in Seattle and Moshe Safdie in Vancouver, but I would argue more fundamental than the design is the program for the library as a multi-faceted community, civic, and cultural asset and the execution of the design on those elements has been the primary reason for sustainable success of these facilities.
Similarly, the David Adjaye-designed Idea Store libraries in the Tower Hamlets borough of London are successful because of their program and central locations--the design is secondary. And the David Adjaye designed community libraries in DC are not particularly noteworthy in the way that the Idea Stores are, because what mattered most, like for Bilbao, was the program overall, not the specific architectural or cultural "object."
High Line analogues. New York City wasn't the first city to repurpose an elevated rail line for a walking trail, Paris was, with the Promenade Plantée/Coulée Verte ("Paris' Elevated Park Predates NYC's High Line by Nearly 20 Years (and It's Prettier, Too)," TreeHugger).
But the High Line in New York City is particularly well-placed, in an area that had all the hallmarks of success, but needed a branding and positioning device, as well as a civic facility to rally around (comparable to how Bryant Park was revitalized and contributed to improvements across Central Manhattan, see "Splendor in the Grass," New York Times, 2005).
-- "New York's High Line: Why the floating promenade is so popular," Washington Post
-- "New York's High Line Park a marvel of vision, co-operation" Toronto Star
-- "The High Line effect: Why cities around the world (including Toronto) are building parks in the sky," Toronto Globe & Mail
Other communities including DC (11th Street Bridge Park) and Chicago (606) are doing similar projects, although an attempt to create a similar Garden Bridge in London has fallen apart.
There is no reason for other projects to not be successful, but it needs to be understood why the Promenade Plantée, the High Line and the 606 Trail are successful--they are already entwined and integrated within communities that are either already successful or capable of being so, which is why a Scarborough High Line in suburban Toronto may not succeed ("SRT could become 'high line' park," Toronto Star).
The proposed Rail Deck Park in Toronto is a different animal, but exorbitant is a word that under-describes the financial requirements ("Much enthusiasm for Rail Deck Park plan that is short on details," Toronto Star).
"The arts," public art, murals, etc. Public art too isn't necessarily an independent transformational force, although as part of a program it can bring communities together and draw visitors. The difference is between a single project versus a program. The way buildings are turned into murals in the Wynwood district of Miami is an example of the latter (Wynwood Walls - Urban Graffiti Art Miami).
See "Arts, culture districts, and revitalization," especially the discussion of the writings of John Montgomery and this article, "How the Arts Drove Pittsburgh's Revitalization," from The Atlantic on the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.
Conclusion. (1) It's all about the program; (2) a set of transformational projects; (3) the capacity and capability for implementation; (4) financing; and (5) a willingness to experiment and be flexible.