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Arial view, 2004

The Forum district was made for the international cultural event organized by Forum Foundation. The first Forum was held in Barcelona from May 9 to September 26, 2004. The goal of this event was to promote dialogue on cultures. Debates and symposia on issues such as the road to peace and sustainable development took place. Concerts, theatre, music and dance performances and exhibitions were planned.

It was organized by Barcelona's local council, the Catalan government, the Spanish Government and UNESCO. It was conceived by Pasqual Maragall (then Mayor of Barcelona) as a way of promoting the city's burgeoning tourist industry in the wake of the 1992 Summer Olympics. The official aims of the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures included support for peace, sustainable development, human rights and respect for cultural diversity. Many NGOs (including Greenpeace and Amnesty International) criticized the event for failing to live up to these lofty ideals and boycotted it as a result.

The event was controversial, with critics pointing to the $2.3 billion price tag and commercial sponsorship by multinationals (Endesa, Nestle, Coca-Cola, Telefonica, and Indra) with dubious reputations in the Third World. Several groups also criticized the massive property and coastline destruction involved in building the Forum site. This may explain why the Forum fell so far short of its projected attendance figures for the 141-day event. The forecasts were progressively scaled back from the planning stage to 7 million and then 5 million during the event. The official final attendance figure was around 3.5 million, although even this figure is hotly disputed.