Janet Sanz (Tamarit de Litera, 1984) graduated in Political Sciences and Administration and Law from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. She has been a councillor for the ICV party at Barcelona City Council and on the board of directors of Área Metropolitana (AMB) since 2011, where she specialises in urban planning and environmental policies. Since 2015 she has been Deputy Mayor for Barcelona en Comú, heading up one of the areas of municipal government with the greatest capacity to transform the city. The implementation of ‘superblocks’ is one of the most recent examples of the urban planning concept towards which the Catalan capital intends to evolve.
Should the Environment, Urban Planning and Mobility be seen as indivisible concepts for the future of our cities?
Janet Sanz. Yes, they are inseparable concepts, especially if we’re trying to view the city as a single entity, as they are overlapping layers of the same urban structure and are also very closely connected with each other. Mobility policies are determined by the city’s land management and urban planning strategy, while environmental and ecological initiatives determine the urban planning strategy.
Should housing be put on the same level of importance?
J.S. Housing occupies a central role in the rehabilitation of a city, and should be guaranteed by its urban planning strategy; in turn, it is determined by, and determines, areas such as mobility and ecology. The quality of life of a city’s residents is the result of the relationships established between housing and public spaces, and all the services and the facilities that make it possible to live in a city.
Is the lack of social housing one of the big problems facing cities like Barcelona? Where might the solutions lie?
J.S. This municipal government is making a concerted effort to boost social housing. Barcelona is a city with an evident need for this type of housing, and so far we have been building at a rate of 300 apartments per year. We need to remember that public housing represents just 2% of the total housing stock, while the European average is between 15% and 18%. There is a long way to go, and in this respect we are working hard to build 4,000 social apartments during this mandate, half through public-funded developments and half by private developers. We’re also pushing forward transfer-and-purchase agreements (more than 500 to date) and transfer-of-use co-habiting policies (we have seven projects underway with 140 apartments). In the private sector, we are exploring formulas to boost cooperative housing, which is being tackled by a specific committee within the framework of the Barcelona Social Housing Council.
Is there an imbalance between the public attention paid to public spaces and the amount of attention given to housing?
J.S. We’re emerging from a period during which the focus has been on a more showy and iconic type of urban planning that is very far removed from local initiatives and needs and without any kind of cross-cutting, holistic vision of the urban, environmental, social and economic problems and deficiencies of the city. The aim of this government team is to make a 180º turnaround in these policies and develop urban planning and housing policies that are geared towards building an egalitarian ciudad and actively promote people’s quality of life. And we’re doing so by putting all our efforts into achieving high quality, free, clean and sustainable public spaces through structural urban planning, environmental and mobility policies as well as through strong housing initiatives like those we used to have many years ago.
A large number of the strategies for recovering public space for the people entail a kind of progressive expulsion of private vehicles from the city streets. What resistance needs to be overcome to change the hierarchy between vehicles and citizens that has been mentioned on several occasions?
J.S. This resistance to change is natural and understandable, which is why it is so important to understand why we need to change these habits. Right now, everyone’s health is at risk, including those who travel by car. We have a very serious pollution problem and we need to take serious measures to combat it. At the same time, the public administration has an obligation to offer more mobility alternatives in the form of non-motorized or public transport, or more efficient transport options. And this is what we are doing – almost tripling the current network of cycle lanes, completing the roll-out of the new bus network and spearheading the commitment to high-capacity public transport such as the tram and Metro, amongst other measures.
How would you rate the start-up of the ‘superblock’ pilot scheme?
J.S. We rate the start-up of this pilot scheme very positively; it has enabled us to gather information on the implementation of the project while at the same time getting requests and suggestions from ground zero that will help us to adjust and improve different aspects. It has been a very important learning curve which is helping us with the start-up of definitive implementations in other areas. The superblocks are the solution for a greener, safer, more sustainable and more liveable city, and are a great opportunity for the future of Barcelona.
Are you planning to implement any new superblocks in the next few months? What is the approximate timescale?
J.S. Looking to the future, we’re working on rolling out the whole superblock project from 2017. We’re very much aware that we are looking at a profound change in the configuration of urban space and mobility in the city, and the process is going to need time, education and a lot of commitment from local residents.
Is there a balanced model of coexistence between public transport, private vehicles and pedestrians?
J.S. The model of coexistence is enshrined in our Urban Mobility Plan (PMU) 2013-2018. This document, which was given the green light by Barcelona City Council in May 2015, should be used to determine our roadmap and balance over the next few years. The PMU has set the objectives of achieving more sustainable and safer mobility in the city of Barcelona, and this entails modifying the current distribution by prioritizing more sustainable modes of transport, such as walking, cycling and public transport, and reducing the use of private vehicles by 21%. This 21% is what would enable us to comply with the legal requirements for urban pollution levels from mobility that have been set by the European Union. The model exists, but we now need to have the courage and everyone’s support to implement it.
Can a city like Barcelona continue to grow in terms of occupied space?
J.S. In terms of construction, there is practically no space left in Barcelona’s municipal area. Consequently, if we want to change Barcelona and make it a city for living in, we need to rehabilitate it in every aspect and on every level. This includes buildings, housing, facilities, public spaces, infrastructures, etc. This means that rehabilitation is an absolute priority in this mandate. That’s why we presented a government measure along with the rehabilitation strategy that envisages an investment of 236 million euros between 2016 and 2019 in the renovation of buildings, housing, energy efficiency and the integral rehabilitation of public spaces. As part of these actions, I should mention that for the very first time we are including grants for the interior renovation of housing to help improve people’s living conditions.
Is the spectacular boom in tourism the main reason for the change in the living conditions of certain city neighbourhoods?
J.S. The negative impacts of the uncontrolled growth in tourism that we have been experiencing to date are obvious. There are certain neighbourhoods today where local residents are being pushed out by voracious tourism. Of our 73 neighbourhoods, the 28 most central and most densely populated ones are where 92% of the city’s tourist beds are located, with an average of 16% between the floating and resident population. And the situation is completely disproportionate in districts such as the right-hand side of the Eixample and the Gothic Quarter, with a floating population of 61.5% and 60.8% respectively. In view of the impact that this completely unregulated tourism policy has had so far, the current municipal government intends to put things in order and achieve a greater balance in this respect. We want to protect these oversaturated neighbourhoods and opt for a more responsible form of tourism across the city. To do so, we are pushing through some very important measures such as the special urban plan to regulate tourist accommodation in the city, and an emergency action plan to counter the illegal renting of housing to tourists. The final objective is to guarantee a city fit for living in, upholding the right to habitability and social harmony and preventing local residents from being forced out, and we can only achieve this if we can guarantee a balance in the distribution of uses, activities, incomes, accessibility, facilities, etc.
Has the consolidation of Barcelona’s image as a successful urban model, especially from an international viewpoint, had any negative effects?
J.S. Yes, mainly in terms of the collateral effects of the mass tourism that the city has attracted, which has become overwhelming. Nobody could have predicted back then with sufficient foresight that putting Barcelona on the map with its huge Olympic success would end up inflicting the effects of mass tourism on us, which has become a tremendous physical pressure on local residents, leading on to the ‘gentrification’ of certain districts and hence the expulsion of residents as a result of tourist speculation. These very damaging effects are more evident in the neighbourhoods and districts in the city centre such as Gràcia, Poblenou, etc. For example, in the last four years the Gothic Quarter has lost 40% of its residents. The challenge, therefore, lies in preventing the expulsion of local residents from their neighbourhoods while maintaining the city’s international appeal.
You have said many times that the process of urban regeneration on which the current municipal government team is working also calls for a profound change in the intervention tools. What new tools does the Council want to equip itself with?
J.S. First and foremost, and leading on from the previous question, everything that entails regulating tourism with tools such as the Special Urban Plan for Tourist Accommodation (PEUAT) or the emergency action plan against illegal tourist apartments should help us to put in order the imbalances associated with tourism. I should also highlight the boost entailed by our rehabilitation strategies for housing and public spaces, which aim to improve the comfort and living conditions our citizens, from their own homes through to public spaces. For all of this to take place, it is essential to embark on a review of the General Metropolitan Plan, which is now forty years old and has given rise to several disputes over the land and the neighbourhoods, resulting in countless amendments. The plan has very little sensitivity and makes it very difficult to protect the city’s heritage or instigate rehabilitation projects, and as a tool it is inadequate to achieve metropolitan solidarity.
The city aspires to play an active role against climate change, becoming part of the solution – how do you want to achieve this?
J.S. Barcelona City Council has undertaken a series of initiatives in conjunction with more than 800 entities and citizens’ organizations associated with the Barcelona + Sustainable network, to the point of formulating the projects of the ‘Barcelona Commitment to Climate’. This agreement reflects the priorities, challenges and projects selected by these entities and the City Council to fight against the effects of climate change, expressed in the form of a roadmap for implementation over the next two years. This commitment will drive the measures necessary for us to advance towards a city that is more egalitarian in social and environmental terms, and much more habitable on a human scale. It also proposes a series of objectives for Barcelona to achieve by 2030. In terms of mitigation, we need to reduce emission levels of CO2 per capita by 40% compared to the 2005 figures; and in terms of adaptation, to increase urban green zones by 1.6 km2; in other words, one square metre per current inhabitant. For this commitment to be a success, we are calling on the different economic and social groups, administrations, companies, social agents and entities and the general public, each to the extent of their abilities, to promote, implement and spearhead actions that help to mitigate climate change and adapt our city to withstand the impacts.
You have mentioned on more than one occasion, as a concept for Barcelona, that “we’re going for a complex city made up of simple architectures”. How do you put this principle into practice?
By putting a priority on the projects and interventions that directly improve the quality of life of our citizens, and by prioritizing the order and everyday usefulness of these projects over their media profile. Issues such as the housing emergency do not call for bombastic gestures but for efficient actions that closely meet the needs of our people.
What parameters should identify a successful urban model in a city like Barcelona in the near future?
J.S. A more sustainable city with the minimum possible environmental footprint, with the optimum mobility and accessibility, from bicycles to public transport, and the maximum possible recovery of public space. And also guaranteeing the optimum solution to the housing crisis.
Do you think there are any valid alternative urban models for the future to what Barcelona City Council is currently undertaking?
J.S. It’s obvious that despite the fact that there are universal problems and solutions, each city and each place calls for specific solutions and hence these proposals cannot always be extrapolated elsewhere. However, we also learn a lot from many other cities. Barcelona has its own unique traits, because it is a city that cannot grow, it has a singular urban layout in the form of the Eixample and a very high-density population… for all these reasons, it has to have its own solutions. Even so, there are ideas and strategic lines of action in other cities which we share and from which we learn mutually.