Crisis engenders a change in values

In etymological terms, crisis means “rupture”, critique is the analysis needed to make a judgement, and criterion means “adequate reasoning”. The crisis has sparked an awareness that in turn can translate into new values and proposals.

Dani Codina
The Encants Vells flea market in its new location in Plaça de les Glòries.

Any normal Saturday you might be awakened by the whistle of the knife-sharpener under your window. Or if it’s later, it might be the clanging of the butane gas seller beating his cylinder. These sounds were also familiar to our parents and our grandparents. You make yourself a cup of tea. You bought the tea online from a company based in Empordà that sells innovative products that are locally sourced and healthy; high quality herbal drinks with environmental values under the registered trademark Tegust, according to their website. With each purchase you’re contributing to expanding its farming area, supporting rural employment and participating in sustainable management. What is more, a tertiary-sector company packages the tea bags, so you’re also contributing to a social cause. Its creators have drawn up formulas to accomplish exclusive and highly Catalan flavours, such as non-alcoholic Ratafia or Aromes de Montserrat infusions.

You head out to the market. It’s pricier than the supermarket, but you like the atmosphere, the liveliness, and the fish is the best around. Well, except for the local fishmonger’s, but that’s not on your route today. The dairy products you buy are made by La Fageda, a cooperative that also sells jam products to match them, and is among the 25 leading companies with the best digital reputation.

Then you go to buy some steak at Casa Ametller, a once-humble stall in the weekly market in Vilafranca del Penedès now running 14 shops in Barcelona, which has become, as the owners proclaim, “your 21st century farmhouse”. An urban farmhouse, or one for urbanites, you say to yourself. Its objective is to offer healthy and balanced food while recovering the essence of its roots. Its fresh produce comes straight from the countryside, and its slogan, “We’ve closed the circle – we produce for you”, defines a philosophy driven by the values of honesty and commitment to customers, workers, suppliers and the environment.

Dani Codina
Aixada de Gràcia Cooperative, which promotes responsible local consumption.

Feeling good about yourself

You load your shopping into a wicker basket, because plastic bags have turned our oceans into an endless dump, and just the other day you saw a news piece about a dead whale whose innards spewed some 25 kg of plastic. You’re content in the knowledge that you’re doing your bit to save the environment, good deeds come easy, small gestures suffice, and they make you feel like a good person.

You go for a pre-lunch drink. Those truly authentic old wine bars that smell of wood, frequented not so long ago solely by the locals with toothpicks embedded in their teeth, are now the latest rage, always teeming with young late-thirty-somethings. This pre-lunch aperitif model with its anchovies, canned food and well-pulled draught beer inspired the creation of Morro Fi, a revamped take on its forerunner, which now runs three bars, has its own premises in the L’illa Diagonal shopping mall and markets its products in places such as La Central bookstore. Yes, one must admit that this pre-lunch drinks thing smacks of posing. But even so, this posing upholds tradition, recovering age-old customs. Customs that are part of our identity.

Afterwards, as you order some mussels and watch your friends arrive, some of them pushing baby-chairs with smiling toddlers, you get to thinking: are people rejecting that version of Barcelona – the one that’s like a tourist shop window beaming the BCN brand  and thinking that it’s the best boutique in the world –, in favour of a return to the authentic Barcelona?

Society changes perpetually. In times of prosperity and abundance, when most people are getting by fairly well, it does so slowly but surely, in a transformation that is barely noticeable. The idea of success goes hand in hand with purchasing power: those who have the most make the most, and people do little more than contemplate their own navel, are oblivious to how much they spend or what they spend it on, and splash out on the occasional whim because they feel they have earned it. This keeps the system going.

A crisis is a separation, a rupture. When a situation ceases to be comfortable a way out must be found, and the sooner the better. The initial phase of confusion may generate anxiety in the face of an uncertain future, but it is followed by another in which solutions are sought. Things suddenly start to happen quickly, and the perception that this evolution is possible generates a constructive optimism and yet more acceleration. Changes become visible.

The latest recession, linked to corruption, cutbacks in social and educational policies and in individual rights, the eviction of underprivileged families, demonstrators being treated as criminals, and a high unemployment rate – injustice in a nutshell – has led society to lose its trust in the institutions and to distance themselves from them. It has disavowed the leaders who, instead of running the country, seem to be bent on pursuing their own interests and ordering others around, full stop. A new awareness is afoot, one that seeks to change the system through people, attempting to win back the city for its inhabitants. New support and protest networks are being created.

Dani Codina
Gra de Gràcia, shop selling food products in bulk.

In a report commissioned by the Barcelona City Council, brand strategy consultants Labrand, who specialise in the study of social behaviour, states that one of the consequences of this shift in values is that people have begun to take to the streets to claim back public spaces for the community. Consolidation comes from self-management, objecting to situations that displease us, a different form of consumption and new financing options, giving a much more active and engaged, fully emancipated citizen, who is less trusting than before. The people have lost their innocence.

From outrage to reflection

The outrage that characterised the first stage of the crisis has morphed into reflection. Indeed, in etymological terms, crisis means “rupture”, critique is the analysis needed to make a judgement, and criterion means “adequate reasoning”. Therefore, the crisis has spawned an awareness that can translate into different aspects.

Despite the fact that universal values such as friendship or the family persist, other values are taking hold, ones that never used to be considered for marketing strategies, perhaps because they were taken for granted, and were superfluous, or perhaps because they did not have the meaning they have now. Currently, these values need to be reclaimed, and they are also a rallying call. Look back to the young food companies mentioned above, near the start: honesty, roots, tradition, sustainability, local-sourcing, health, commitment, solidarity, ecology.

A more direct relationship has been established between companies and consumers; the latter no longer just purchase, but rather have the impression that they are interacting with the environment in a responsible fashion. The produce of the land, clothes recycled at festivals such as Handmade or customisation workshops, craft methods for making beer and sweets, local pride, cooperatives and association-forming are becoming the city’s appellation d’origine.

This self-management might remind us of how medieval villages or towns used to operate: people made their own products and sold them to their fellow townsfolk. This created a world far removed from the federal lord to whom, naturally enough, tithes and tribute also had to be paid. “The great difference now is that we have come to realise that each and every one of us helps to build an active ‘whole’ so that every individual can change things through the community,” says Sergio Prieto, brand strategy expert and a member of the Labrand team.

Labrand’s conclusions are drawn from the observation of budding forms of expression that start off in a minority but are embraced by the general public shortly afterwards. Thus, analysis of the micro allows us to deduce how the macro will be affected.

Image of 2012 Prospe Beach, a beach volleyball tournament organised by La Prosperitat neighbourhood.

Cooperate, create and recreate

According to Labrand’s last study on behavioural changes, we have moved from the human factor, which last year characterised the reaction of society to the economic jolt, to a new stage, which besides being cooperative is also creative and recreational. Slogans such as “We decide”, “It can be done”, or “The street belongs to everyone”, bear out this participation-based ethos, which now and to an ever increasing degree is expressed in original ways and with a positive attitude.

For example, if the City Council decides not to invest in Nou Barris and refuses to lay sand on Prospe Beach, which for 20 years now has been hosting local activities and beach-ball volleyball Championships in Prosperitat, no problem: the associations take it in their good-natured stride, inventing “Concrete Prospe”, launching the Nou Barris cabrejada (Nou Barris Is Pissed Off) blog and setting up a beach in Sant Jaume square, where they protest with beach balls and placards. They good-humouredly contribute their own grain of sand.

The Hortet del Forat was created in 2005 in the so-called Forat de la Vergonya (Hole of Shame) in the Ribera neighbourhood. When the neighbours learnt that the 1999 city development plan intended to turn land rated as a green area into a car park they took to the streets, and in December 2001 symbolically planted a Christmas tree. New plantations were gradually added until that empty area became a common recreation and rest area. In 2008 they were even given a municipal subsidy for its upkeep.

Llúcia Ramis

Journalist

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