Barcelona’s redevelopment has been widely celebrated for its apparently successful combination of cultural strategies with urban regeneration to address social problems. The ‘Barcelona model’ has evolved, however, with changing relationships between urban regeneration, the use of culture and modes of governance. The role of cultural strategy has shifted from being part of a cultural vernacular with social and political citizenship at its core to become a functional tool for ensuring social cohesion and marketing the city’s brand. This is linked to a gradual dilution of bottom‐up participatory democracy in governance. Pressures for international competitiveness are challenging the sustainability of the ‘Barcelona model’, while local actors are trying to ensure social justice at home.