A petite woman, dressed in a black outfit and with crystalline, kind blue eyes, hidden behind green tortoiseshell glasses, enters the Center de Cultura Contemporània in Barcelona. This is Margaret Crawford, a famous urban planner, architectural historian and professor at the University of Berkeley (California), especially known for her studies on urban development in the United States and China. She has come to the city to talk about her research in the field of suburban revitalization.

What role do the suburbs have?

They are very different from each other. In every American city there are neighborhoods that can be distinguished from each other. In Europe, they are even more different. Increasingly, cities are more similar and suburbs more diverse. There are more than 100 suburbs in the United States. Some are big, some are small, some are very rich, some are very poor.

Why do people go to the suburbs?

Because they don’t want to live in the city center and there they can be in contact with nature and have their own house. Plus, it’s cheaper.

How have they evolved in recent years?

Many people are moving to the furthest neighborhoods of the city. This is a positive thing, since groups like African Americans have never been successful in generating wealth in real estate. And, of course, by moving to the outskirts they can do it. Most significantly, after the 1965 immigration, California has received a large number of immigrants from all over the world. Now they are no longer moving to Chinatown, but heading straight to the suburbs. In fact, they have created another type of suburb called ethnoburb.

An example?

Fremont, in California, where they speak 95 different languages. More than half of the people who live there were not born in the United States. The most surprising thing is that they have won an award for being the happiest city in the world. They even have Hindu and Buddhist temples.

Barcelona has been acclaimed for its innovative urban model and its focus on urban revitalization. What lessons can other cities learn?

I consider it to be very famous for its innovative urban model, but we must also take into account that there are currently suburbs larger than the entire city. Actually, I think that most people have taken Barcelona as a good example. When I arrived, I thought the city was the opposite of America, but now I look at it and see similarities.

As which?

I didn’t know that Barcelona had suburbs, with houses very similar to those in the neighborhoods far from the city in the United States. When they say Barcelona, ​​you only think of the center, but currently, due to gentrification and tourists, it is becoming less and less desirable to live there.

And tourismphobia can be born…

The more tourists there are, the more complicated it becomes to live in your city. And that happens all over the world. My husband and I have a house in a small town in Italy, and now it is full of tourists, and we find that there are no shops for daily needs. Everything is Gucci or Prada. This reflects the extreme inequalities of society, where people who can afford to travel in certain luxuries are able to transform entire towns and cities.

What measures do you think should be taken without losing the authenticity and diversity of the city?

For example, ban companies like Airbnb, so that large companies are not in cities. Or the case of Venice, which is making tourists pay who come only for one day and has banned cruises. And then there is pedestrianization.

What do you think about her?

It is very good, especially in urban areas where there is a lot of pollution, but I think it lends itself a lot to tourism. Many studies indicate that once you have pedestrianized a street, the shops change drastically to attract the attention of tourists, who do not go there for daily needs.

All in all, do you think that Barcelona has managed to create a vibrant and liveable city?

I don’t know, honestly I’ve only been here for two days. I see a lot of people on the street, but I don’t know if they are residents or tourists. In the end, Barcelona, ​​Paris, among other European cities have been transformed into a kind of amusement parks for tourists. But, I must say, I love the historical architecture of Barcelona, ​​which is extreme. It is very beautiful, and not just because of Gaudi.

Do you think buildings were prettier before than now?

That has to do with the development of the real estate industry, with architects and with what type of materials are being used. And, also, I would say the abstraction of modern architecture as opposed to the incredible decoration of the 19th and earlier centuries.

Some experts encourage residents to participate in decision-making.

In the United States, participation is mandatory in all long-term projects, although it is usually a somewhat artificial process. I think it’s best to start by finding out what people like and then create the project. My research is about understanding how people live their daily lives. That should be the beginning of everything and not political problems.

What advantages or challenges does Barcelona’s urban model present?

It is a city very famous for being compact but, at the same time, it is very dispersed and disaggregated. Perhaps, now that Barcelona is popular for being so well designed, it can be used for the periphery and all the suburbs around it. European cities have historical characteristics and great heritage conservation. The American model, on the other hand, is mostly suburbs.

What type of city would you like to live in?

My favorite city is Los Angeles, which is completely different from Barcelona. It is a city that is very spread out, that has no real center. That’s what makes it interesting, because every day you can go to a different place and have a new experience. European cities for me are too predictable.