Globalist Paper

Barcelona and Madrid: A Tale of Two Cities (Part II)

How far does the influence of a global megacity reach?

La Gran Vía in Madrid. Read Part I here.


  • Madrid and Barcelona have become two parts of an emerging networked megacity, without renouncing their respective idiosyncrasies.
  • Due in great measure to an influx of immigration, Madrid grew from a medium- sized European capital to the third largest metropolitan area in Europe.
  • It would be unfair to say that Barcelona, the hare, ultimately lost the competition with Madrid, the tortoise.

Lacking a strong local identity, Madrid embraced immigrants from all corners of the world.

While in 1999 foreigners were just 3% of Madrid’s population, in 2007 they amounted to 17%.

Due in great measure to this influx, Madrid grew from a medium-sized European capital to the third largest metropolitan area in Europe, only behind île de France and Greater London.

Meanwhile, some people in regions such as Catalonia became wary of seeing their identity diluted by the flow of newcomers. For a city like Barcelona, striking a balance between its image as a cosmopolitan, post-modern symbol and its perceived role as guarantor of Catalonian nationalism became a difficult, albeit by no means impossible, act.

Besides, many locals now complain that in the aftermath of the Olympic glory, Barcelona rested a little too much on its laurels. According to this view, while Madrid was expanding, Barcelona was immersed in itself.

A simple look at figures beyond sheer demographics can testify to Madrid’s rise. Thanks to more than a decade of uninterrupted expansion, Madrid boasts the second most extensive underground system in Europe and the sixth in the world.

The enlarged Barajas airport is now the fourth largest in Europe, the tenth in the world, and has become the undisputed hub for Latin American and Southern European flights.

On the economic front, the Madrid stock exchange in 2007 became the world’s second largest in terms of financing new business ventures. Madrid is also the host of most thriving Spanish multinationals and increasingly the place of choice for foreign multinationals setting up their regional headquarters for Southern Europe, Latin America and Northern Africa.

It would be unfair to say that Barcelona, the hare, ultimately lost the competition with Madrid, the tortoise. It would be equally erroneous to conclude that cosmopolitism finally prevailed over the inward-looking self.

It would be more accurate to say that Madrid and Barcelona have become two parts of an emerging networked megacity, without renouncing their respective idiosyncrasies.

In fact, both cities have become enmeshed in a seamless net through which people, capital and ideas are constantly exchanged within the confines of the nation-state — and beyond its confines.

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, Madrid and Barcelona have also become more interdependent than ever before.

As an example of this, suffice it to say that the air shuttle between the two cities has become the world’s busiest route by number of flights, exceeding the route between Heathrow and New York by more than two million passengers per year. On an average week, more than 971 flights go between the urban centers.

By following a pattern of specialization and interconnectedness, Madrid and Barcelona are mutually reinforcing their joint position in a wider world. While Madrid has become the de facto financial and business center of the Iberian Peninsula and even of the Hispanic world, Barcelona is constantly repositioning itself as a cluster for information, design and technology-intensive industries.

Recent research by PricewaterhouseCoopers on the 100 richest cities in the world put Madrid and Barcelona, respectively, as the third and fourth biggest cities in Europe in terms of GDP adjusted for purchasing power. This puts them behind only London and Paris, and far ahead of Rome, Milan, Berlin, Moscow or Frankfurt.

In global terms, the combined GDP of Madrid and Barcelona would place the resulting megacity as the seventh largest in the world, on par with Osaka and well ahead of Hong Kong, San Francisco, Singapore or Shanghai.

Of course, the trend followed by Barcelona and Madrid is not unique to Spain. Actually, one of the most salient characteristics of our globalizing world is its dependence on a limited number of networked “globo-cities.”

In this regard, there is much talk in the English-speaking media of the importance of the so-called Newlonkong (an amalgamation of New York, London and Hong Kong) in the rise of globalization. Though those three world cities are no doubt key players, the truth is that they are part of a larger pattern.

When it comes to cities with a global reach, three models seem to be emerging. The first one is the American model, where New York’s unchallenged position is reinforced by a fairly large number of world-connected cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Boston or Philadelphia.

A second one is the Anglo-French model of one dominant megacity within the borders of the state. London and Paris are the obvious examples, contributing disproportionately to the overall wealth of the UK and France.

A third way, somewhere in between the previous two, is shared by countries like Germany, Spain, Italy, China and Japan. Duopolies like Berlin/Frankfurt, Barcelona/Madrid, Rome/Milan, Beijing/Shanghai or Tokyo/Osaka are becoming the dominant and dynamic anchors of their respective countries.

But whatever the path, a common emerging thread is that globo-cities can no longer be considered as localized places representing the “spirit” of a culture or nationality.

Instead, they have become spaces that simultaneously reflect, integrate and surpass national identities.

Editor’s Note: You can read Part I of this feature here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Luis Francisco Martínez Montes

Luis Francisco Martínez Montes is a counselor to the Spanish Representation to the United Nations in New York.

Responses to “Barcelona and Madrid: A Tale of Two Cities (Part II)”

If you would like to comment, please visit our Facebook page.