The town-planner J. Borja (1) defined the city as "that European, Mediterranean, but also American, Asian, physical, political and complex cultural product that we have characterised in our ideology and our values as a concentration of population and activity, a social and functional mixture, capable of self-government and an area of symbolic identification and civic participation. The city as a place of encounter, exchange, where city equals culture and trade. A city of place and not a mere nexus of flux."

The political philosopher Isidre Molas (2) wrote that "the contemporary city constitutes a primary setting for social life and interrelation; and subsequently for solidarity. That this should be left to private enterprise or organised collectively by the city itself is an optional aspect, which is not to say irrelevant. As such a setting it provides a limited packet of possibilities, within which people operate and make choices. In other words, it determines the possibilities of true freedom to exercise the universal liberties granted by democratic system. In the face of individualism, the city is a setting for solidarity. In the face of isolation, it's a setting for communication.

The city provides the best material conditions from which to forge a general offer of diffusion of the learning and the knowledge needed for live in society and, at the same time, can create the greatest range of inequalities in its distribution. The city is a shop window filled with an array of offers and possibilities waiting to be chosen, but very often they aren't taken advantage of or else there's an unequal distribution of the freedom to do so. Town-planning has shown us that the urban layout itself can lead to inequality of conditions, but we've also learnt that this is not the brought about by fate, but by the action of people.

...The municipal system, because of its proximity to the citizens, is the most open and the most transparent. Its decisions and its administrations are the most palpable and therefore the ones that most easily generate public opinion. It is therefore a school of citizenship.

...The city, then, is a setting and an educational agent which practises public opinion and freedom before the concentration of power; expresses pluralism before the tendency to gregariousness; defends citizenship before the unequal distribution of power; strives for solidary individuality before the tendency towards individualism. It provides the fabric for the civic customs that create the sense of reciprocity, which in turn gives rise to the feeling that there are interests which must be protected. It unites with its bonds of community living. It allows the formation of human beings who are aware both of their duties and of their rights."

In this framework education appears clearly as an action that goes beyond the family and the school. While including them as key factors, education comprises now a multitude of parameters and agents that have gone unrecognised until today and includes the entire population.

When the city of Barcelona, at the 1st International Congress of Educating Cities in 1990, the City Council coined the phrase "educating city", it did so with the clear conviction that the city is an educating city merely for being a city; it is the source of education in itself, with its multiple spheres and for all its inhabitants.

The city is, therefore, educative, per se: there is no question that urban planning, culture, the schools, sport, environmental and health, economic and budget issues, and matters related to transport and traffic, safety and services, the media, etc. include and generate forms of citizen education.

The city is educative when it imprints this intention on the way it presents itself to its citizens, aware that its proposals have attitude-related and co-existential consequences and generate new values, knowledge and skills. All areas are involved and are of concern to the entire city population.

This intention constitutes a political commitment that must be borne, first of all, by the municipal government, as a representative policy body of the citizenry, and one which is the closest to the latter, but it must also be shared necessarily with civil society. It involves the incorporation of education as a means of obtaining a more educated citizenry that feels a greater solidarity and which is happier.

The above-mentioned compromise is based on three basic premises: understandable information -necessarily discriminating- provided to the citizens, participation of the latter from a critical and co-responsible perspective, and, finally, -although no less important, - evaluation of needs, proposals and actions.

For the educating city, the great challenge of the 21st century is to deepen the practice of democratic values through appropriate orientation and actions. We must introduce into the legal-political framework of any democracy the pedagogical factors that can allow us to use the information, participation and evaluation as axes in the learning and educational processes and in the process of citizen building.

The above-mentioned commitment involves, for the local government itself, certain relationships and ways of working amongst the members of the governing team, given the transversality of the question.

Many municipal policies still consider the educating city only as a series of actions that are in one way or another related to the conventional education institutions or ages. The policies of the educating city often appear to be of interest to and involve only the departments of education or related institutions.

The educating city is a new paradigm, a necessarily shared project that involves all the departments of the local administrations, the different levels of government and civil society. Transversality and co-ordination are essential in order to give sense to actions that incorporate education as a process that exists throughout one's entire life.

The local authorities must propitiate, provide and articulate the communication required for mutual knowledge of the different actions that are being undertaken and for the establishment of the consequential synergies for action and reflection, through the creation of joint platforms that make it possible to pursue the principles of the Charter of Educating Cities.

The specific forms of this development and concretion of the concept of the educating city are as different as each and every city, with their different rhythms and levels of involvement. This has much to do with the city's own history, location, specificity and its political project.

Undoubtedly, the road to creating an educating city is a long one, but it is also stimulating and positive and must be marked out and taken by everyone: local governments and civil society alike.

It will thus become a demand of the citizens, an achievement that knows no going back, as stated in the Prologue to the Charter of Educating Cities: "A new right of the inhabitants of the city is therefore affirmed: the right to an educating city."

Pilar Figueras

General Secretary from 1994 to September 2012


1 "La ciutat del futur i el futur de les ciutats". Borja, Nel·lo, Vallès
Fundació Campalans. Barcelona, 1998

2 "The Educating City" AAVV - City Council of Barcelona, 1990