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Monistrol de Montserrat, getting self-organized to overcoming the shadows of the Mountain

“Living in the shade of Montserrat mountain prevented us from properly valuing our assets and attractive. In fact, we are now just beginning to understand that we can take advantage of Montserrat. We need our neighbours to get their self-esteem back and to value what we are and what we have”. Mayor of Monistrol de Montserrat

Monistrol de Monserrat is a 3.000 inhabitants town located in the outer Barcelona metropolitan region. Traditionally, Monistrol was a town with strong industrial activity in the textile sector but like many other areas in Catalonia, it suffered from deep economic restructuring in the 1970 and 1980s, and today industry is merely residual. Territorial complexity (accessibility deficits, lack of suitable land) partly explain why Monistrol, despite its past, has not been able to reconduct industrial activates like other neighbouring towns in the region (industry shares between 35% and 65% in many surrounding town). Economy and employment is mostly based today on the tertiary sector, constituting to a higher extent a residential economy.

In this context, the close presence of Montserrat Mountain and monastery is locally perceived as an opportunity for social and economic development of the town, linked to the development of tourism. Being erected in the 12th century as the civil base of the Montserrat Monastery and hosting the Priorate Palace, siege of political and economic power of Montserrat monks, nowadays large tourist flows head to the mountain (more than 2,5 million yearly) but almost none visit Monistrol itself. This, despite the fact that most transit infrastructure heading the mountain is located in town, even if somehow peripherally and somehow with poor designs.

Montserrat Mountain and monastery seen from Monistrol’s main square, so close and so far at the same time. Source: Mcrit

The average family income in Monistrol is 7% lower than in the Barcelona province. Unemployment accounts in 2017 for 14%, much lower than in 2014 when it reached a maximum of 21%. Local employment transitioned in the last 15 years, increasing the weight of services from 62% to 75%, and decreasing the weight of industry from 35% to 25%. Industrial companies went from 25 to 12 during the same period. Construction is currently almost residual, with all eight (8) constructing companies existing in 2001 now closed.

The Monistrol town council promoted in 2008-2009 the Local Strategic Plan Monistrol 2020 setup to foster local economies and develop endogenous potentials to overcome spatial injustice. The initiative aimed at the following objectives:

  • identifying local potential for place-based development strategies, and already existing bottom-up initiatives with potential to positively impact local communities both socially and economically
  • facilitating horizontal governance mechanisms establishing communication / collaboration structures between the public and private sectors and the organised civil society (cultural and social associations)
  • integrating initiatives in a formal policy Local Action Plan that could provide institutional support to ongoing initiatives, and also constitute a roadmap for negotiations with higher administrative levels (e.g. County Council, Provincial Deputation and Catalan Government).

The approach was very much in line with European policies at the time, in particular policy proposals for stimulating rural and transition areas with declining agriculture, mining and industry sectors. The initiative focussed on the aims of diversifying rural economies (as stated by the 3rd and 4th reports on Social and Economic Cohesion), with special focus on the promotion of tourism activities (4th reports on Social and Economic Cohesion) based on the outstanding natural and cultural heritage of the areas (as suggested by the ESDP and the EU Territorial Agenda). It also stressed the need for upgraded infrastructure quality in line with aims by the EU Territorial Agenda and the Green Paper on Territorial Cohesion.

The Local Strategic Plan proposed three action lines, 1) transitioning to more attractive townscape by upgrading the general quality of urban space and addressing precarious housing conditions; 2) promoting a more vital and dynamic town, more diversified in terms of economic activities and commerce; 3) gaining in regional recognition and visibility, especially promoting tourism and attracting visitors.  

The process of elaboration of the Local Strategic Plan involved the active participation of all areas in the town council (economic promotion, architecture, patrimony, territory, environment, culture), as well as the main local economic actors (industries, restaurants, hotels, and retails), and the civil society, through a number of participatory activities, stakeholder interviews and expert workshops. At the end of the process, proposals were discussed with higher administrative levels, including the provincial deputation and the regional roads department, and with the Benedictine Montserrat Monastery.

Graphical synthesis of Monistrol de Montserrat Strategic Plan 2008-2020, including main strategies and projects, as well as local assets to be promoted. Source: Monistrol Strategic Plan (2008)


A decade after the implementation of the action, the analysis of this case study discovered that:

          > In broad terms, the action plan designed during the Local Strategic Plan development was implemented in high degree. Even if some of the most  complex actions are still under way or being negotiated with relevant agents, especially when decision-making involves higher administrative levels (e.g. finding solutions for better locally accommodating large transport infrastructure), most actions depending on local action were successfully implemented. Today Monistrol is clearly 1) more attractive 2) more dynamic and 3) working for being more regionally recognized.

          > The general mood and self-perception of citizens and institutions on the current socioeconomic situation of Monistrol seem to have improved to some extent, according to conversations with local agents, being now more positive than back in 2008. Obviously, this cannot be associated directly with the action of the Plan, but the Plan could have contributed to it to some extent.

          > The Plan itself did not become a steering force for local public policy until 2020. However, over time, in the mid and long term, the current political team in office considers it as a magnificent witness of the late 2000s pre-crisis political momentum and most relevant challenges existing at the time. In this sense, the Plan is now perceived as being useful for monitoring the evolution of local policy and political action over the last decade, including implementation of key projects and evolution of main challenges.

         > The lack of political anchorage of the Plan can partly be explained given a complex balance of political forces in office both at the time of drawing the Plan, and in the following election periods. Also because of the non-binding character of strategic planning processes. In this sense, we have to conclude that better governance arrangements ought to have been designed to facilitate political stability of the action over time, only if considering recurrent difficulties in this sense encountered in other local actions of the same nature.

        > The plan was a reflexive process involving social and economic actors of Monistrol, public and private institutions, and the citizenship in general. In this sense, the Plan allowed different agents in town getting to know each other better, a key element for local policy making. In many cases, and especially concerning the case of civil servants working for the town hall (and not necessarily being local residents), the Plan was the chance to better get acquainted with the diversity of local actors, establishing a basis for further future collaborations (public-private). At the end, the Action process was meant to transform the reactive attitude of the municipality towards more pro-active extroverted attitude, better anticipating future challenges and better serving the needs of its residents and businesses.

The Local Strategic Plan seek to generate a network of local stakeholders that could facilitate in the future more horizontally organised processes of local governance. Civic structures created at the time aimed at a continuation after the finalisation of the plan, both for monitoring action plan implementation and continuing midterm activities of strategic thinking. This objective, like in many other municipalities that undertook processes of strategic planning, did hardly stand over time, as stakeholder’s involvement ceased after the finalisation of the action.

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