Lessons from Bilbao's Transformation
Bilbao’s transformation from an industrial city to a vibrant, reinvented metropolis has become a case study for urban renewal that many other struggling industrial cities are striving to emulate. Many analysts have pointed to the opening of the Guggenheim Museum in 1997 as the catalyst of Bilbao’s dramatic change. The museum has come to symbolize Bilbao and it has fueled the notion of a “Bilbao Effect,” the idea that a landmark architectural or cultural attraction can lure tourists and trigger rapid economic transformation.
Yet in addition to the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao’s longer term strategy for global engagement laid the groundwork for the city’s reinvention. Bilbao’s rebirth and ability to attract major institutions and investments stemmed from a comprehensive strategy that was developed during the 1980s to set the city’s reemergence in motion.
In the latter half of the 1980s, the city produced a “Strategic Plan for the Revitalization of Metropolitan Bilbao” that recognized Bilbao’s growing challenges and crafted a strategy to intervene. The plan was finalized in 1991 and it was accompanied by the creation of Bilbao Metrópoli-30, an agency that would ensure collaboration across government levels and promote the objectives set forth in the roadmap for Bilbao’s transformation. In addition, a “Territorial Plan” was completed in 1989 that identified ‘opportunity areas’ to revitalize the city’s dilapidated infrastructure. Bilbao Ria 2000 was established in 1992 to coordinate projects for redevelopment, which included the reclamation of Abandodoibarra an investment in the early 1990s, which entailed extensive infrastructure modernization.
What emerges from Bilbao’s reinvention is a consistent, disciplined, integrated, and long term strategy to tackle its urban ills. As other cities ponder how they can reemerge and become leaders of innovation, Bilbao instructs us that there are rarely quick-fix solutions like a “Bilbao Effect.” Rather, significant change tends to occur over a long term horizon and requires a carefully constructed approach and commitment by many stakeholders to follow a shared vision.
For more background on Bilbao, please click here.