REASONS FOR AND ELEMENTS OF THE TRANSFORMATION
The reason for the change The plan for the urban regeneration of the capital city of Bizkaia, Bilbao, was not conceived as a mere decorative improvement. Bilbao's economic activity underwent an imperative change, and this led to an exponential transformation, notably altering the look and the feel of the city today. In order to understand this, we must take a look at the history of the city. On 15th June 1300, Bilbao was granted a charter as a town. It remained a mediaeval metropolis until 1511 and the was founding of the Consulate of Bilbao, predecessor to the modern-day Chamber of Commerce of Bilbao, effectively turning the metropolis into a mercantile town providing Castile a corridor to the sea.
More than 300 years were to pass before Bilbao became an industrial city with the construction of the first blast furnace in 1850, signalling the arrival of the industrial revolution and shifting economic activity almost exclusively to the iron and steel industry and ship building. It was, in fact, this lack of diversification which eventually would result in dire consequences for Bilbao during the industrial crisis of 1975. Thus, faced with the alarming predicament of 30% unemployment, city authorities set about looking for novel formulae to stimulate business and promote job creation, as it had become painfully evident that this was no temporary problem, but rather a structural crisis of a deeper nature.
In urgent response to this do or die situation was born the Bilbao of service and cultural industry, metamorphosing into a cross-cultural city of business and tourism. Bilbao is today a post-industrial city where it is quite usual to see a crowd of tourists by the river bank near the Guggenheim Museum, on a boat motoring past the Euskalduna Conference Centre, walking past the Basque Health Service Building, designed by architect Juan COLL-BARREU or the new Miribilla Sports Centre.
Elements of the transformation The city by the beginning of 90's has nothing to do with Bilbao at present. That change is based on four basic points.
The first one is improving exterior accessibility and interior mobility. So then, the Port of Bilbao was enlarged and so was the Airportâ€Ś and about mobility for our citizens, the Metro line and the tramway were set in work and, adding to this, new avenues and promenades. Regeneration of environment and urban quality were essential in contributing to the transformation of Bilbao. It is especially relevant the works to improve water conditions in the river Ibaizabal - NerviĂłn, its oxygenation, and arranging both banks. In that industrial Bilbao, the river was the main artery for the city's economic activity and, so that, it was acting as a wall between its waters and residential areas too. On that same decolonized river banks, in the place of furnaces remains, abandoned shipyards and debris of collapsed buildings, right now, nice promenades line along singular buildings and environment-friendly means of transport.
As a result of water quality improvement, the city leaned again on the “Ría” and that influenced significantly on architecture of the new Bilbao. Let's take as a sample the construction of Guggenheim Museum close to the “Ría”… And we can take for granted that giving culture a boost through raising up exceptional buildings, as aforementioned Museum or Euskalduna Palace, was another engine for changing the city, as their activity had direct and indirect repercussions, not only in the economy of Bilbao, but in the whole Basque Country.
Both, investing in human resources and in technology innovation, were a clue for the transformation, because they became the mean of supporting secondary activity, through a competitive and environmentfriendly industry, in the line of high productivity and with the added value of well trained workers. Although it is not placed in Bilbao, the Technology Park of the neighbouring village, Zamudio, is the best example of this dynamic.
So then, that joining of four complementary factors gave way to a new city, turned into a worldwide window. We can attribute the success of such a magnificent urban operation to the multidisciplinary character of all this pushing on to carry out the project. Public and private enterprises joined their strength all along this productive decade. Even more remarkable was synergy declared amongst public administration competent in different fields.