Fighting for the global catwalk: formalizing public life in Castlefield (Manchester) and diluting public life in el Raval (Barcelona)


Increasingly cities are using regeneration strategies to revive their economy and to give a facelift to their physical environment to compete on a global catwalk. As urban environments change, their sensuous geography is also altered. This article argues that the transformation of sensescapes has been a neglected dimension of urban politics that needs to be analysed. By focusing on two inner‐city neighbourhoods, el Raval in Barcelona and Castlefield in Manchester, I examine how power expresses itself in the sensuous reorganization of public space, thus shaping public life. I first develop a theoretical framework around the concept of ‘socially embedded aesthetics’ to uncover sensuous‐material and social spatializations of power. I then compare and contrast the key discourses in interviews held with planners and politicians driving the regeneration process. Supported by my own ethnographic observations two aspects are analysed: firstly, the physical reorganization of the neighbourhoods shaped by the strategy of accessibility and ‘designer heritage aesthetic’; secondly, the envisaged public life that the transformation of public places is expected to support. The research unveils similar sensuous ideological frameworks in the regeneration of both these areas: processes that foster the inclusion of commercially profitable experiences in public places and the exclusion of marginal ones or those that do not fit into the conceived vision of official agents.