Urban Value Creation

Montserrat Pareja-Eastaway

Universidad de Barcelona



In the context of urban competitiveness, cities aim to increase the number of areas that become attractive for the location of high added-value activities or the settlement of talent.  In terms of land use, this could be the result of processes of brownfield development, urban regeneration or built environment rehabilitation, among others. With respect to the tools to raise the value of an existing urban area, a broad range of instruments can be identified: from the increase in the use of digital technologies to the use of flagship events (i.e. mobile world congress in Barcelona), improving environmental amenities or building new cultural facilities (i.e. Guggenheim in Bilbao). The major aim of these processes is to increase the existing urban value.


Several aspects should be taken into account while reflecting on the processes of urban value creation. First, to whom is this value addressed? Urban strategies might definitely be aimed at increasing the urban value for existing citizens by providing green areas or better social facilities. However, after Florida’s recipe provided in the 2000s, many local governments targeted foreign capital and talent in their urban planning activities. Besides, the rise in tourist flows all over the world is also a source of urban value creation.  Second, how is this value created? Local policies and actions traditionally decide, in a sort of paternalistic mode, the better pathways to achieve certain objectives associated to the creation of urban value. Processes of co-creation among the different stakeholders involved in using the city, have been recently employed as a natural mechanism to increase the value of the city for all those benefiting from its use. Thirdly, how has the capital gain created by the increase of urban value been shared by the different actors of the city? What kind of mechanisms have been developed to compensate the increasing value? In an era of liberalisation and diminishing role of the public intervention, there is a considerable risk related to the unbalanced absorption of urban value creation by certain economic actors in key areas of the city. This has sparked multiple effects, among others the displacement of existing residents and activities in these areas.  And finally, what kind of processes and dynamics are created as side-effects of the urban value creation procedure? Frequently, although the objective of value creation is clear and defined, there are some effects, some of them totally desirable and some of a negative nature, that also take place in the area of intervention. The attractiveness or popularity of an area after certain interventions of value creation might result in profound conflicts in the use of space by different actors. The availability of brand new green spaces or cultural facilities for the inhabitants could be considered as a positive side-effect of an intervention aimed at increasing the economic activity in certain areas.


An additional feature to be explored in processes of urban value creation is their sustainability (social, economic and environmental) over time.  Since we know, for instance,  that around 70% of the world population will be concentrated in cities in a couple of decades, or that headquarters of large firms are increasingly less dependent of agglomeration economies, the current processes of urban value creation should respect the foreseen urban dynamics and the already existing resources in the city. Urban ecosystems are highly sensitive to changes, for instance, those triggered by new technologies and big data. Public authorities are responsible for guaranteeing a smooth urban transition to new dominant paradigms.


There are some experiences where targeting knowledge and innovation as main drivers of economic growth have transformed existing areas with low added value activities into the most dynamic scenes in the city. This is the case, for instance, of the  district of innovation 22@Barcelona in 1998: by means of an urban, economic and social transformation of the territory led by the municipality, the resulting increase in urban value would, on the one hand, displace existing activities with no or little capacities to produce high added value goods or services and, on the other,  allow the location of targeted sectors able to afford higher prices and rents. Besides, the implementation of compensating mechanisms (i.e. higher density) to private landowners affected by the redevelopment and reorganisation of land was used in the negotiation to free land for other purposes than the existing ones.  Even though the process was definitely top-down, after 15 years the targets of the urban value creation process have changed. Since 2018, the different processes of urban value creation have been agreed upon by different stakeholders with a negotiated pathway for future intervention.

Key questions to be considered from a North – South global perspective:


  1. Are the processes of urban value creation targeting the same objectives in the global North and South?
  2. Up to what extent is the urban value co-created with the different stakeholders involved? Do the global North and South follow similar patterns? Are we witnessing a shift from top-down to bottom-up processes?
  3. How is the capital gain obtained after urban value creation distributed among actors? Are there mechanisms that guarantee an equal or at least, balanced distribution?
  4. Does it make sense to be concerned about the sustainability of processes that alter urban value creation? Is there a similar concern in the global North and South?
  5. How are the city’s existing resources contemplated in the processes of urban value creation? How are they channelled and cultivated? Do these processes take place in both the global North and South?