This year, Barcelona came in fourth place on a ranking of Europe's Smartest Cities
. As a Barcelonan, I credit this city's successes to its mayor and city council.
Since he took office just two and a half years ago, Mayor Xavier Trias has been restructuring the way Barcelona uses new technologies, managing the massive collection of data under one agency, and defining the concept of Smart Cities worldwide. At the recent Journalists' Association, Mayor Trias shed light on the issues and initiatives that are front-and-center for Barcelona this year, which all focus on improving quality of life and make Barcelona one of the best European cities to live in. After his presentation he answered questions about mobility, unemployment, the environment, education, pedestrian precincts, tourism, and more.
Video of full event (in Catalan):
One point he emphasized was the effort to make Barcelona more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. The city has been converting some streets to pedestrian and bicycle areas and expanding the "Zone 30," where bikes are free to share the road with cars and can't be overtaken. In major multiple-lane road arteries, some lanes have been converted for bike use and pedestrian boulevards.
I see those policies at work in my neighborhood, where most streets are now Zone 30. What this means for me as a citizen is that I can take one of the Bicing bike-share bicycles and go all the way from Gracia to the city center, sharing the same lanes as cars. Many motorists have complained that the city is anti-car, reducing the speed limit everywhere and making parking more difficult. But the mayor doesn't see it that way.
"I'm not against cars, I'm against heavy traffic and pollution. Cars are not the problem and [in a few years] pollution won't be a problem because we'll all be using electric vehicles," Trias said during the interview.
Talking about Smart Cities, he renewed the city's commitment to make Barcelona a reference point of innovation and technology, but most importantly "to help people to live better," and "share our experience and programs with other cities around the world, under the City Protocol Society, started in Barcelona last year." He was especially proud of the new Center for City Technology and Innovation that the World Bank is establishing in Barcelona.
One of the biggest problems Barcelona faces today is unemployment. While the overall rate is lower than the national average, there are still over 100,000 Barcelonans looking for jobs. The city is trying to make sure that everyone has access to social services, enough food and decent living conditions.
"No one should go hungry, whatever the cost," said Trias, confirming the city's commitment to continue providing subsidies for school lunches, and meals for the elderly, children, and unemployed, without limit.
The city is negotiating with banks and other financial institutions to make available vacant apartments -- unsold during the financial crisis -- for social use at low monthly rents. Mayor Trias says he plans to fine those entities possessing empty apartments in the city if they don't help.
Some of these policies may seem extreme, or likely to cause a stir, but that's precisely why Trias has proven himself a global leader where future cities are concerned.
In his concluding remarks, the mayor emphasized again that "culture and knowledge" are the most important tools to create wellness and better living, which are the real keys to having successful future cities. While true, it's also essential for a city's leadership to be brave enough to veer from the standard course. Fortunately for Barcelonans, that's exactly what this city government is doing.
ó Pablo Valerio, International Business & IT Consultant