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If you were the Mayor of Barcelona, what would you do with the MWC?

mcimpact<- Previous. ‘Your mayor for president’ (2/3). If mayors ruled the world.

You are reading the last post of a series “Your Mayor for President”, whose rough logic goes like this: We live in the era of the cities, so mayors are increasingly significant. On the other hand, austerity policies in Europe have provoked an earthquake in recent municipal Spanish elections, rising former 15M protesters very close to take the Mayor seat in Madrid, Barcelona or Zaragoza, three of the main Spanish cities. Since the political structures supporting Manuela Carmena (Madrid), Ada Colau (Barcelona) or Pedro Santisteve (Zaragoza) are the assemblies, or ‘circles’, we can infer that active citizens will more than ever influence the ‘big’ decisions. So, up to a certain point, ‘you’, reader, are increasingly significant in the global sphere. Now that it’s up to you to decide how you run innovation in, say… Barcelona, what do we do with the Mobile World Congress?

You can either buy this logic or not, but what is undeniable is that some of these new mayors will have to face important decisions related to innovation in the forthcoming months, and they, or their teams, do not seem to have an innovative background. But, wait… maybe they are not coming from a ‘classical’ innovative millieu, but many of their ranks have participated in some of the most innovative experiences happening in cities lately: fab labs, innovation hubs, bike promotion associations, or the ‘circles’ of active citizens ellaborating political programs. Innovation is not just about technology. In a post called ‘Cities innovating in politics’, we noted that, four years after the 15-M protest movement:

[…] there is a non-negligible flow of innovation in politics coming out of cities at this precise moment of times, originated symbolically in their central squares or plazas.[…]

Just a few months after writing this, the 15-M protesters, turned into citizen platforms or political parties, threaten to turn the political establishment upside down. So yes, they have an innovative ‘innovative background’.

The question of maintaining the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona has been one of the first to arise. Ironically, the claim of the event that these days is on the edge of being discontinued is ‘the edge of innovation’. With still three years of contract with GSMA organization, the probable new Mayor Ada Colau will promptly have to face the decision of placing a new bet for a contract extension, or drop it and probably watch it fly to Milan, a city that fiercely competes with Barcelona for the economic leadership of the Mediterranean countries. The supporters of exiting the event-based urban policies argue that the city would be better off transferring that cost to education and housing aids. Those that favor continuity argue that the MWC should be considered as an investment generating revenues for supporting whatever expenditures rank high at every moment in the political agenda. The 15M political newcomers respond that, if that is the case, those revenues need to be more equally distributed.

Maybe data scientists can throw some light. BBVA and CatoDB have worked on cuantitative data collected from the bank’s customers and produced a map with the comparative credit card transactions from 2012 edition, where 65.000 visitors attended the event. With a record attendance in 2015 of around 93.000 visitors and an unemployment rate of 19% in Barcelona province, it would be hard to explain that the city and its surrounding towns can afford to dismiss an estimated injection of 440 ME into their economies.

Barcelona won the iCapital prize in 2014. A group of city officials, responsible for bringing European funds to Barcelona, explained to us this week that a good percentage of the funds that the city collects fro European institutions are due to the city ‘innovative’ branding or lean on other innovation projects or events that, as the MWC does, support the urban policies towards innovation. The loss of the MWC could provoke a sort of ‘domino effect’ affecting future revenue projections.

But if one smells the new political breeze attentively, there is still a third possibility in the air. The new Mayor could decide to celebrate a poll about the convenience of keeping the MWC at the shore of the Mediterranean sea. Why not? Crazy or not, it’s still possible.

It is unclear how the rituals of politics will develop from now on, and to what extent these fresh movements will be capable to achieve a truly deliberative governance or even to conform stable majorities. What is clear, reader, is that if there was a time in the last two decades of accelerating urbanization were it experimenting new and extended approaches to citizen participation in city making, that time is now.

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