As the last few days of 2021 draw to a close, I’ve been thinking about how different New Year’s Eve celebrations have been over the last two years, and reminiscing about my favourite Hogmanay.
It was not difficult to pinpoint as, without a doubt, the best way I have ever seen in the bells is when I was packed into Barcelona’s Plaza de Catalunya. It’s something I long to do right now.
It was my first time to the city, which has since become one of my favourite places in the world. So much so that anyone who knows me can tell you it’s been at least a yearly pilgrimage for me ever since.
Barcelona somehow made a mark on me in a way no other place I have visited has managed to achieve since. And, when I think about it, there’s a lot my great Granite City could take from this place I now consider my spiritual home.
The two cities are not that different after all. So, why the incredulity I sense from you, dear reader?
Yes, the transport links are lacking and Aberdeen is a fraction of the size of Barcelona. And, of course, there is the matter of warm Mediterranean climate contrasted to our rainfall, but that’s no reason to stop me furthering my argument.
How Barcelona got its ‘wow’ factor
Before the Olympics in 1992, the Catalonian capital was considered to be a fairly industrial city and did not experience anywhere near the tourism it does today. Some who live there may argue that was a good thing. However, that’s another discussion for another day.
In order to accommodate the athletes and rejuvenate the city centre, officials decided to get rid of most of the factory buildings on the coastline and create a new urban village, now known as Poblenou.
Improvements were also made to the ports and harbour area, but the biggest difference to the seafront was the creation of Barcelona beach – now considered one of the best in the world. Some might not realise that the two-mile stretch of beachfront was created using sand imported from Egypt.
Right next to this is Barceloneta, which is traditionally known as the fisherman’s village and was constructed during the 18th century. It is here you will find some of the best seafood served up in the city.
This, combined with the newly constructed beachfront, has led to the creation of a thriving centre for residents and tourists alike and, some may say, made the place completely unrecognisable from what sat there before. And it is just one of many things that gives the city its “wow” factor.
Time for bold change in Aberdeen
In Aberdeen, we are already putting plans in motion to regenerate the beachfront, but I think what we can learn from the Catalans is that change should be vast and bold.
Historically, Aberdonians do not like change.
Aberdeen’s beachfront is not the thriving food and leisure hub it could be
We are fortunate that we already have the natural infrastructure. No tonnes of sand would need to be flown in from Egypt here.
And we know from the floods of people who took to the beach during lockdown that it is one of the most popular places for locals to go to spend time. But it is not the thriving food and leisure hub it could be.
Aberdeen City Council’s regeneration plans go some way to addressing that. The early designs are promising and I think it’s great to see the Beach Ballroom as part of our heritage incorporated into that.
If the Dons do indeed move their stadium to the beach, it would encourage footfall among any new businesses that spring up, but is that bold enough?
Does anyone remember plans mooted to build a cable car linking the city centre to the beach and then on to the newly built harbour area?
This was a favourite idea of mine at the time, and not because I don’t think we’re capable of walking the distance between the Castlegate and the Beach Esplanade, but because it was bold, it would bring a wow factor to the city, and it would have signalled change.
On my yearly pilgrimage to Barcelona, I always take a ride in the cable car. Why? Because it’s fun, the views are spectacular and I don’t really get to do it anywhere else.
Let’s be ambitious
The creation of Barcelona’s beach area signalled the way for change across the whole city, but it was a massive transformation.
As we prepare to enter 2022, the Granite City has a lot of recovering to do from the last two years and I know it won’t be easy. But, if we want to rebuild, reinvent ourselves and recover, we need to embrace major change, have bold and ambitious ideas and look to the future. We too need to find our “wow” factor.
So, while Barcelona may feel like a very different place to Aberdeen, the coastal cities have plenty in common. As city leaders plot our future, they could do well to look abroad for inspiration.
Rebecca Buchan is City and Shire Team Leader for The Press & Journal and Evening Express