City of rights

20 September 2015

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Accountability , Municipalism

Exactly one hundred days ago we formed Barcelona's new city government. These three months have been particularly busy: we have had to immerse ourselves in the dynamics of power while pressing ahead with our programme, to overcome the paralysis the city had found itself in and heal the wounds inflicted by the crisis on our social and urban fabric. We would have been hard-pressed to do so without the collaboration and help of the municipal staff. Our thanks to all of you.

Our priorities were clear, we had to change direction and make the institutions work for the people, offering immediate solutions for the sectors worst-hit by the crisis; revive the economy on stronger foundations than in the past by opting for a diversified, sustainable and co-operative model; and develop a new agenda based on rebuilding the trust of our citizens in the public sphere by involving them as the main force for change. In short, to build a city that would take in, look after, and empower its citizens.

What and how

To do this, we didn't just have to change the "what" of politics but also the "how", and we have done that by incorporating participation and transparency mechanisms such as limiting salaries and terms of office, publishing diaries and providing public access to the appointments, CVs and salaries of municipal officeholders.

On the road to building a city of rights, the fight against inequality has been our number one priority. We had to respond immediately to the housing emergency, child malnutrition and poverty that was fracturing our community. So we are negotiating with the banks to get them to hand over their empty flats, we've increased rent subsidies, school meal grants, employment plans, and child benefits. Perhaps the most important measure has been altering the budget to free up €96 million that will mainly go towards increasing social spending and equipping facilities, without adversely affecting the municipal coffers.

Anti-crisis policies

But these responses to the social emergency would not be enough without anti-crisis policies that will allow sustained economic growth over time. To achieve this, we have developed a series of measures designed to boost sustainable growth. These range from kick-starting big projects in the city, such as rail access to the port, La Sagrera station, completing Sant Andreu Comtal station and linking up the tram system, to measures aimed at boosting the retail trade in the outlying neighbourhoods, which run the risk of becoming commercial deserts. Taking care of the city also means taking care of its urban metabolism.

Energy and water

Despite all this, studies are under way on setting up a municipal energy operator, which would offer us cheaper energy by opting for renewables, and we are making progress towards the municipalisation of water, to bring down the cost and make it a public good again. We have also decided to develop a responsible way of running tourism, which will allow us to regulate the sector and avoid another speculative boom. The effects of that on the property sector are, unfortunately, all too well known.As the municipal government we remain committed to developing Barcelona as an international magnet for tourism, but spreading this around the city to avoid the creation of monocultures and to look after both the tourists and residents, as well as workers in the tourism sector.

Finally, we have pushed a new urban agenda based on the sustainability of life and care for people. And, as we know we can't do it alone, we've started to work with other cities on setting up a network against domestic violence to put an end to this plague, which has already cost the lives of more than 70 women this year, as well as a network of refuge cities to take in the thousands of people fleeing from the wars in Africa and the Middle East.

Where nation states are failing, cities have the potential to overcome adversity and create protection and assistance networks. The new forms of urban leadership no longer rely on marketing strategies but on championing values that help to develop a new urban agenda, a collaborative agenda based on solidarity, with people's lives at its heart.

History teaches us that collective challenges bring the best out of Barcelona, allowing it to reinvent itself. We have an opportunity to make this city stand out, not just as an international benchmark for creation and innovation but also for solidarity, justice and the defence of human rights. To make the city of marvels, more than anything else, the city of rights.

On the blog

This blog features ideas, thoughts and reflections on my daily life as the Mayor of Barcelona.

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