In addition to the history and culture covered by Thomas, there are some more interesting aspects of Bilbao, that make it an excellent choice for professors who teach the history of Spain or Spanish history. Bilbao had a noticeably controversial evolution in moving form an industrial city that was slowly falling apart and losing its appeal, as well as productivity. Instead of using the population of Bilbao’s money to try to reinvest into the industry, a decision was instead made to spend 228.3 million dollars on the creation of an art museum, which happened to be the aforementioned Guggenheim Museum.
The reasoning behind this situation came from a desire to use innovation to fix the ongoing economic issues going on in Bilbao around the 1990s regarding their huge unemployment rate and uncertainty due to industry not providing enough for the city. With an unemployment rate of approximately 25 percent, accompanied with the floods that destroyed parts of the city as well as jobs in 1983, and a lack of efficient public transport, the city of Bilbao was left with little choice but to take a gamble to increase the quality of life and satisfaction of its citizens, as well as a solution to the economic problems present. Along with the development of the Guggenheim Museum, an airport was built, a brand-new subway line to help improve public transport, and leisure/business complexes were added to the city to help promote economic diversity. This was just the start of the plans the government of Bilbao had that led to the city being nicknamed “the city of services.” To put into perspective, about 67 percent of all economic activity that occurs in Bilbao can be attributed to the service sector, with only 24 percent coming from industry, despite Bilbao previously being an industrialized city.
Part of the draw that makes the history of Bilbao interesting, is that cities and mostly countries, will resort to far more drastic changes to their way of operating to fix economic decline or unemployment. It has been seen a multitude of times throughout history, that oligarchies, communism, fascism, and other methods or shifts of ideology have been used when a country is in rapid decline and needs a way to get back on its feet. While this is not a one-to-one comparison, since Bilbao is a city and not a country, I still think the risky decision to diversify the city to be a tourist attraction rather than a city of industry should be appreciated as being a rare choice (especially a successful one in terms of putting their bets on an art museum) in history. Bilbao has kept its ideals of providing a satisfying experience and healthy environment for its people form its transformation to a tourist city to current day. For example Bilbao’s implementation plan that spanned from 2011-2015 allocated 10 percent of the budget for promotion of programming, strengthening of business/public facility networks, and cultural events to encourage creativity and to help make all manner of artistic endeavors profitable. It would prove challenging to find a city with a more interesting history to choose for your study abroad program, especially when it comes to Spain.