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It’s Barcelona Parklife - and you’re all invited

Por: | 25 de julio de 2014

If you wanted to know what life was like in 90s Britain you could do a lot worse than listen to Blur’s Parklife, an album that represented the peak of the band’s Kinks-ian observational songwriting and helped to kick off Britpop as a whole.

The album has its weaknesses - much has been made of its musical conservatism and obvious debt to the past - but it struck a chord with the British public, staying in the charts for 90 weeks thanks to a narrative songwriting approach that journalist John Harris compared to “a bittersweet take on the UK's human patchwork” in his 2004 book Britpop! Cool Britannia and the Spectacular Demise of English Rock.

Nowhere is this more obvious than on the album’s title track, an ode to people watching in London’s Hyde Park that erupts in the all-telling chorus: “All the people / So many people / And they all go hand in hand / hand in hand through their Parklife.”

Not for nothing is an ode to a park the centre of this album: the British love going to parks and London is dotted with some of the most beautiful green spaces to be found in any of Europe’s capitals. British people eat, drink and procreate in the parks and - maybe even more than the local pub - they represent the essence of British urban life.

I was wandering around Barcelona listening to Parklife this week, when I realised that the same can be said for the Catalan capital. Barcelona may have a beach and boundless squares, teeming with human interaction. But there is only one place to get to the heart of Barcelona life: Parc de la Ciutadella, 70 acres of green space, fountains, playgrounds and zoo to be found on the edge of the city centre.

Ciutadella is not just the city’s most popular park, full of life from dawn to dusk and even beyond. It also tells a story of the city - as all the best parks do - marking Barcelona’s evolution through the weeks, months and years.

In itself, the history of Ciutadella is fascinating: in 1714, after the War of the Spanish Succession, Barcelona fell to Philip V of Spain, who flattened a large percentage of the city and built the citadel of Barcelona right where thousands of families had lived. The hated citadel looked out over Barcelona for more than a hundred years until it was turned over to the city in 1869, with the majority of the site being turned into the Parc de la Ciutadella.

That alone would make the park a fascinating place. But Ciutadella is anything but a historical relic. You can feel the modern city move in the park’s bones, as the morning joggers and dog walkers give way to lunchtime picnics, afternoon sunbathers and evening revellers; and Monday’s lunching workers slide into Sunday’s sweaty hedonists, wringing the last drops of sunshine out of a long weekend.

You can watch the seasons pass there, too. In winter Ciutadella is functional, a cold, windswept space to take the dog for some relief; in spring it blooms, playing host to live music and culture; but the park finds its apotheosis in summer, as thousands of locals and tourists seek escape from the relentless heat under scraggy trees and on welcoming benches.

But the passing of time is nothing without people and Ciutadella tells a social history too, its users offering flesh-and-blood proof of how Barcelona has changed over the years, becoming a truly global city where people from all over the world come to live, work, holiday and make new lives.

This story is inescapable. A visit to the park one Sunday in July reveals Argentinian football supporters rubbing shoulders with French tourists;  dancing Indian women sharing space with Catalan jugglers; a multiracial group playing an endlessly circling drum coda on the bench; and - everywhere, like some vast, unexplained rash - people practising their circus skills.

It is a social phenomenon. Many places are. But the park is a great democratiser too: unlike, say, the Camp Nou, that other great symbol of Barcelona’s changing life, you can’t buy a better space at the park and if you want to go there you have to share it with everyone, from Swedish tourists on gleaming new €1,000 bikes to the unfortunate people who sleep under the trees, emerging bleary eyed in the morning form makeshift camps to brush their teeth and wash in the park’s water pumps.

All Barcelona is here, in other words, and - if the people may not quite be going hand in hand, Blur style - they’re generally rubbing along well in their Catalan park life. 

And such is a story of modern Barcelona.

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check:

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