Universally hailed for world-class public spaces and convivial spirit, you’d never know a generation ago it was rarely counted among Europe’s great cities

Last winter we once again returned for another brief visit to Barcelona. Each trip, we explore as much as we can. As "Flaneurs", we look around each corner, see where people are gathering, watch how they exhibit joy and wonder, and where locals find a source of well being as they play, shop or just go for a stroll. Seven is a majic number for us. Kathy Madden was born on the 17th of July, the 7th month.

Barcelona is so deep in remarkable and distinct places and it’s reputation is so immense, it is important to call them out. Most cities are limited in the kinds of resources that Barcelona has. What can we all learn from Barcelona about how to create these places in other cities? Where do people naturally want to gather and connect with one another?

We uncovered seven key spots around the city that offer crucial lessons about how to instill a greater sense of social life in an urban setting: Sagrada Famila, Palau de la Musica Catalana, a Giant Flea Market, Parc de la Ciutadella, a busy neighborhood…park, market and street…and a small fountain.

1. Basilica de la Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudi’s masterwork, a bouquet of spiked spires soaring toward heaven, is one of the most photographed sites on earth. Yet, seeing it with your own eyes from inside and the surrounding square can awaken a new understanding architecture’s power to unite people in a shared yet intimate experience of awe. Perhaps the greatest delight in visiting Sagrada Familia is joining in the sheer joy of everyone around you — an uplifting communal bond among people of all ages and races forged by architecture, art and the soul of the city. Although still under construction, we believe that it qualifies as one of the seven wonders of the world alongside the Taj Mahal…

It is obvious to all that this bascilica is one of the most important places in Barcelona. But, it is more than that. We think it stands out as one of the top 10 wonders of the world. This one is old and new, modern and contemporary all at once. It is also still being built. Other recognized wonders of the world are old and have secured their place on the top list many years ago. The reason we chose this is the joy, awe and inspiration people get and display with their behavior inside and around it. It is uplifting and totally memorable as a place to go. Some would even say…there are people in the world who have been there and seen it, and then there are those who have not. It is art, architecture, it is the soul of a city and a neighborhood. It stands out on the horizon and will even more as it grows to a height just under tallest mountain in the horizon, Mount Blanc

2. Palau de la Musica Catalana

Appreciating art alone, no matter how powerful or enjoyable, is just that…we are still alone. An artistic experience that heighten — the life of a community — that allows us to share ideas, a smile or just a nod is something entirely different. This becomes a setting where everyone feels part of something bigger, accepted and involved. In fact, you could say that in a place like Palau de las Musica Catalan, the artistry is not confined to the stage. The entire experience becomes an interactive work of art, as everyone comes alive together.

3. Encants Barcelona, a giant Flea Market

No where in the world has the Flea Market been given such a setting. In this magnificant market hall, the idea of the "flea" market has achieved a level of acceptance that is unknown anywhere else.

4. Parc de Ciutadella, The Cascada, a monument with a large waterfall, and a nearby playground exemplify the diversity of an historic park.

5. St. Mary of the Sea, Playground
There is nothing typical or off-the-rack about this playground. It is improvisation at its best. The team of citizens running and shaping this playground/education center have created an organic and dynamic place for everyone.

6. Vila de Gràcia, the former town of Gràcia, now an urban neighborhood full of life…Plaça de Gal.la Placidia, Mercat de la Llibertat and Carrer d'Asturies

7. Two small fountains on Avinguda Diagonal

These two well place water fountains along Avinguda Diagonal are wonderful, humorous focal points enjoyed and explored by many. A small button provides water for drinking.

Our many visits to Barcelona

For many years Kathy and I would spend at least a week in Barcelona, often guided by our long time friends George and Lucy Semler. There are numerous places that rise to the level that people around the world can learn from. Barcelona is full of examples. We expect to keep exploring those special places and share them as part of our larger Social Life Project. Please join us in this quest with your knowledge of Barcelona, questions that you may have about our choices and where are there similiar types of places that we can collect and share the cumulative efforts around similiar issues in other places.

Homage to Barcelona
Barcelona is most itself in smallish, spaces and what makes these spaces memorable is what happens in them.
La Rambla: Barcelona’s Promenade-to-the-Sea is One of the World’s Great Streets
A torrent of humanity, a river of life, a tumultuous flow of people of every imaginable size, shape, age, gender and flavor.

The mission of the Social Life Project is to incite a renaissance of community connection in public spaces around the globe. Through our online publication, presentations, campaigns, and catalytic projects, we can create transformative impact on communities everywhere. Our work grows out of more than 50 years devoted to building the global placemaking movement. It is an initiative of the Placemaking Fund, along with PlacemakingX — a global network of leaders who together accelerate placemaking as a way to create healthy, inclusive, and beloved communities.

If you are interested in collaborating (articles, presentations, exhibits, projects, and more) or supporting the cause contact us.

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