Transforming Barcelona by imagining the future

Photo Credit : Xavier Jubierre

By Gerardo Pisarello, First Deputy Mayor of Barcelona 

Our city can be the torchbearer of a fairer economy and a new, progressive urbanism.

The 21st century, it’s been said, won’t be the century of empires or states, but the century of cities. Large cities and metropolitan regions will be on the front line of responding to global phenomena like the tech revolution, climate change, inequalities and urban speculation.

In the past year, the population of Barcelona has grown by 3%. The employment rate is at its highest since 2009, and new businesses, exports and investments are also growing. Many of these changes are being actively supported by the municipal government. But the benefits aren’t always felt by the whole city.

That’s why, over our two years in office, we’ve taken bold steps to guarantee social cohesion and justice. We’ve increased social spending by 50% and quadrupled the housing budget. We’ve increased benefits for families, school dinner subsidies, and support for young people and the long-term unemployed. We’ve introduced progressive taxation that’s fair on the self-employed, local businesses and the people worst affected by the economic crisis. We’ve invested 150 million Euros in a pioneering local development plan for Barcelona’s poorest neighbourhoods.

And that’s just the beginning. Over the past two years we’ve opened up debates on the need to regulate tourism to guarantee the long-term sustainability of the sector, and on the need for a minimum city wage of 1000 Euros a month. But we know that’s not enough; governing Barcelona means laying the foundation of an innovative, exciting project for the next ten years.

Many people are worried about the changes we’ll see in the future, such as the technological revolution. Our challenge is to demonstrate that we can promote robotics and artificial intelligence and, at the same time, build the capacity of our citizens so that no-one is left behind. We want Barcelona to be a warm and welcoming digital city, not a technocracy. A city that uses open source technology and that puts it at the service of people, not the other way around. We’ve got leading research centres and great talent that we can harness to make this possible.

We want digital innovation to be at the heart of all public policy. Take the case of mobility; we’ve made the fight against pollution and improving air quality a priority. In a short period of time, we’ve bought back neighbourhood buses and proposed extensions to the tram and metro networks. But we must go further. We want Barcelona to be a model of technological innovation and sustainable mobility, as well as of the energy transition and the green and circular economies. In 2018 we’ll set up the largest municipal energy company in Spain. We’ll have created 40 hectares more green space by 2019, and 165 hectares more by 2030. These are essential measures to guarantee environmental justice. But they’re also great opportunities for businesses and citizens.

Many of the challenges we face require us to rethink urban planning; to repair, restore and renew the city. The neighbourhoods of Glòries, la Sagrera, Besòs and Llobregat are already places of social, cultural and environmental innovation, but Montjuïc and the city coast also have great potential in this regard.

Barcelona can be the torchbearer of a more diverse economy and a new, progressive European urbanism. An urbanism based on proximity to people, that has a gender perspective and is both innovative and inclusive. Achieving this means tackling our greatest challenges at metropolitan level. It also requires us to seduce many partners: small, medium and large businesses; the social and cooperative sector; workers and the self-employed; researchers and scientists; neighbourhoods and other cities around the world. It’s a genuinely colossal project. But if we’re capable of imagining it together, we’ll have the power to make it a reality.