Society 17/10/2021

Ada Colau: "The data do not say that Barcelona is in decline"

10 min
Ada Colau

BarcelonaMayor Ada Colau answers Diari ARA's questions in a context marked by criticism of the city's dirtiness and the controversy over the airport expansion. The city is also awaiting the European Next Generation funds, which could give a boost to urban transformation.

Is Barcelona in decline?

— It is clear that Barcelona is not in decline, as the data show. On the contrary, I believe that Barcelona has many reasons for optimism. The unemployment figures have come out and Barcelona has recovered better than any other capital city in Spain. There are other indicators, international recognition that we have had very recently. Right now we are the world capital of sustainable food. We have also been chosen to host the Manifesta Art Biennial in 2024 and to be the world capital of architecture by 2026. We are leaders in social investment, we are the city that is creating the most public social rental housing at the moment. The data says exactly the opposite. This does not mean that there are no problems, like any big city and coming out of a pandemic. Neighbours have reason to complain. There are specific issues, such as cleanliness, on which we are already working with a shock plan. We must always listen to citizens, but I believe that talk of decline responds to other interests that clearly have nothing to do with objective data.

What are these interests?

— Unfortunately, there are those who have already entered the electoral campaign. There is still more than a year and a half to go before the municipal elections, but Junts per Catalunya has clearly taken up this discourse of confronting the model of transformation that we are promoting. Also some economic lobbies that I think are taking up the banner of decadence precisely to prevent any change and any transformation. The city of Barcelona has to change to become a healthier, greener, more humane city, to have people in the centre and not cars, to protect schools, to gain more parks and more green areas, to have more public and affordable housing. I believe that the majority of citizens want these changes.

Cercle d'Economia denounces that "Barcelona could be trapped in a spiral of economic irrelevance and a slow but inexorable decline". Are you referring to this lobby?

— Well, there are some economic lobbies. Foment, the Catalan large companies' employers' association, has also taken a very belligerent position in opposing any of the changes we are proposing. But I sincerely believe that beyond these generic proclamations and statements, what we have to do is look at the data. What I would propose is that we talk on the basis of the data, and the economic data for Barcelona at the moment are very good.

The document says that the apology of degrowth is irresponsible.

— What does "degrowth" mean when Barcelona is the administration that is tendering the most public works in Catalonia? More than the Generalitat, which has ten times more budget. Is this degrowth, when we are building more public housing for social rent? Housing is the responsibility of the Generalitat and this year we have more than 2,300 public flats under construction, in addition to others that we are building in collaboration with cooperatives and private companies. The Generalitat is doing 36; therefore, well, some institutions have perhaps been more paralysed in recent years for political reasons. This is not the case of Barcelona City Council. What I would ask above all is that those who really love Barcelona should make positive proposals, and secondly, that we talk based on data, not headlines that we do not know exactly what they are based on.

Should the airport not be expanded, or should it not be expanded in this way?

— The approach to airport expansion has been nonsensical for several reasons. One was the way it was done. Aena has made a big mistake, and so has the government of the Generalitat, and specifically Junts per Catalunya, which made a strange pact with the Socialist Party in the middle of August. Without any kind of transparency, they made an agreement with their backs turned to the citizens and the Catalan institutions, because we had agreed with President Aragonès to set up a Catalan round table to hold this debate. But there is also a question of content. All the experts we have consulted, environmental and aeronautical, have told us that nothing supported Aena's thesis that this expansion was necessary to achieve more continental interconnection. This famous hub did not have a single company that would have committed to making one of these interconnections. We want reports, we want data and we want to be able to debate calmly and not with threats through the media.

There is a general feeling that the maintenance of the city is failing. Cleanliness, outdoor seating without permits... Do you agree?

— There is a confluence of different elements. We have had a terrible pandemic and we were in lockdown for a long time. Now there has been a very intensive use of public space. As in other cities, we used tactical urban planning, for example, to expand bars' outdoor seating spaces and save thousands of jobs. I think it was a good action, which aesthetically is not the most beautiful but it had to be done quickly and, therefore, it had to be done with provisional elements. But it is true that this idea of provisionality was better understood during lockdown than now, that we are in the transition until the definitive outdoor spaces are in place. This has coincided with a more intensive use of public space and we have seen this with the street drinking parties as one of the most extreme phenomena. This has increased the amount of dirt. We have listened to this, we have detected it and we are making a 70 million euro cleaning plan. Improvements will also come with the change in the cleaning contract, which is the largest in Barcelona City Council and represents almost 10% of our budget.

What can you do as mayoress to improve the feeling of insecurity caused by the street drinking parties?

— This is a complex phenomenon. This has happened all over Catalonia and all over Spain. It has to do with the use of public space, but it also has to do with the economy of young people, and we have to take this very seriously. The precariousness of some sectors of the population, which is aggravated by a situation of crisis and which requires positive responses. But then we have also seen small groups of delinquents, directly delinquents, who infiltrate these drinking parties to vandalise, to steal or whatever. In cases of crime, the police take action, let there be no doubt about it, and they have arrested many of those responsible for these robberies. 

And for these groups of delinquents, does the City Council need the collaboration of the Generalitat or the Spanish government?

— Obviously, we all have to collaborate always with all problems. Then there are other problems that are not new either; for example, recidivism in the area of robberies in the city centre. There are some people who have 100 or 200 previous offences, and when they are arrested by the Guardia Urbana or the Mossos d'Esquadra, they stay there for one or two days and then get out again... What we need to review is what happens with the issue of recidivism.

And at the moment your partners are in the Spanish government. Is recidivism something that can be talked about?

— Yes, I know that this issue is being discussed; that it is an issue that is on the table and that has been discussed with Home Affairs and with the different groups, and that in principle there would be a fairly broad and generalised agreement.

What role do the Next Generation funds have to play in the future of Barcelona?

— Barcelona is once again very well positioned. We have a lot of projects that have already been drawn up. Now I think we have to look up a bit, because all the administrations are thinking about subsidies for the energy rehabilitation of buildings, sustainable mobility, or helping large companies such as the automotive sector, which provides thousands of jobs in our country, to make the transition to the electric car. All this has to be done, but Next Generation also proposes a more ambitious transformation. It would be the moment for all the administrations to make a great alliance, a great pact, and place the Besòs area at the centre of these transformations that have to be made. The Besòs is the great forgotten area of Catalonia, it is the densest area and at the same time it is one of the areas with the highest vulnerability indicators. And it has enormous potential. Because it has the river, it has a new university centre, it has the old industrial estates. What cannot be is that the Next Generation funds only end up in the big companies and do not reach the population that really needs it. I call for us to go all together and put the Besòs as a priority in these funds.

Have you talked to the other administrations?

— Yes, I have had several conversations. What is scary is that we come from such a politically shaken cycle that there is still mistrust. Only in Catalonia are we now finally de-judicialising politics and starting a dialogue.

Why do some of Barcelona's citizens have this feeling that sometimes issues get bogged down and cannot be resolved? The Hermitage, the airport, the Clínic...

— yIt's good that you give me these examples, because there will be good news about the Clínic very soon. And it is also an example of a way of doing things because we have worked very discreetly, without making statements through the media. I believe that the airport was not done in this way and as a result of this the result was what it was. However, beyond the specific cases, there are many It is good that you give me these examples, because there will be good news from the Clinic very soon. And it is also an example of a way of doing things because we have worked very discreetly, without making statements to the media. I believe that the airport was not done in this way, and as a result of this, the result was what it was. But, beyond the specific cases, there are many yeses and noes. Barcelona is saying yes to many things. We are leading the response to climate change and Europe recognises this; we have just received two awards from the European Commission for innovation projects. That's a lot of yeses. We are creating thousands of jobs, we are leading the economic recovery with the biggest drop in unemployment in the whole of Spain, so that's a lot of yeses. However, it is true that there are also some nos. And I believe that the Hermitage is a proposal that does not measure up to the city of Barcelona and we have the possibility of much better projects and we are working in this direction.

Toll at the entrance to the city: yes or no?

— I think we have to think long and hard. Barcelona is doing its homework and is gaining space for pedestrians and becoming greener, because we have an unacceptable level of pollution that is a threat to public health and is also in breach of European regulations. Obviously, we are investing much more in public transport, we have doubled the number of cycle lanes.... Now, this cannot be solved in one city alone. The problem of mobility is that there are many people who live outside Barcelona and come to work or do other activities in the city. We need a supra-municipal vision. We have done some successful collaboration with the metropolitan area and with the Generalitat, such as the low emission zone, but there are more pending issues, such as the parcs&rides, which is that in strategic points of Cercanías there are car parks so that people can travel part of the way by car and then by public transport. Or line 9, which the Generalitat has paralysed. The toll is one of the possibilities that need to be studied, but above all we need this global view and all the collaboration.

There are also problems in the internal mobility of Barcelona, in the coexistence of pedestrians, scooters, bicycles and cars.

— We are in a moment of transition and there are many changes in a short period of time. I believe that some improvements have already been noted; for example, when we arrived we found few cycle lanes and many on the pavement and with an ordinance that was suspended that allowed bicycles to ride on the pavement. We have already changed this and have doubled the number of cycle lanes and will continue to increase them. We are also working with the DGT on a new regulation, because I think scooters need to be dealt with separately. I think that we do need stronger regulations for scooters.

What do the comuns defend at the negotiating table?

— The first thing I want to remember is that now it seems that this new stage we are in has become naturalised and I am very happy about it. The comuns have been defending for many years that the quickest way to de-judicialisation was pardons and the negotiating table. And we have been slapped in the face by one side and the other. I think we should have a little patience. We have to complete the de-judicialisation and make positive proposals. And that one day some kind of vote can be held.

Does the solution involve a referendum?

— A vote for sure. The citizens of Catalonia must be able to vote on the resolution of this political conflict. What form it will take, we shall see. I insist, I do not want to draw red lines. There will be different positions, but all parties will have to renounce their maximum positions.

And could the conflict be resolved without an amnesty law?

— I believe that it is already being de-judicialised without an amnesty law, that is what pardons are. We have proposed what seems the most sensible and practical to us, which is the reform of the Penal Code.

One of your demands had been the Spanish housing law - does it threaten the Barcelona measure of reserving 30% of affordable housing for new developments?

— This housing law has cost a lot, and it is paradigmatic. I value it very positively because we have been calling for it for decades. The specific commitment of an agreement we had with the Socialist Party, which was to regulate rents, and which the Socialist Party did not want to implement - I suppose due to obvious pressure from a sector that is very powerful in Spain and Catalonia, which is the real estate sector - has finally been reached. It has taken a long time, but we really have to appreciate that it is a paradigm shift because we finally have a law for the right to housing that had never been done before. With regard to the 30%, I do not under any circumstances consider touching the measure as we have approved it in Barcelona. We have discussed it both with those responsible for Housing and with the Ministry of the Urban Agenda and everyone is in agreement. Under no circumstances is a modification of 30% as approved in Barcelona being considered.

Mayor, will you stand for election?

— I haven't decided yet. There is more than a year and a half left and I am focused on achieving results after the hard work we have done in such complicated years as the ones we have had to live through. I am very excited and optimistic about the city. And what I want above all is to see the results of all these policies of urban transformation, mobility, prioritisation of schools, housing, social investment... This is what I'm looking forward to now and what I'm committed to, and later on we will assess with the organisation whether it is appropriate or not to run for a third term. In any case, my commitment is with Barcelona.