KEEPING RENTSDOWN

Spain 2020 | GREEN ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

Decarbonizing mobility is arguably the single-greatest task of city governments, especially Barcelona's.

Damià Calvet i Valera
BIOGRAPHY

Holding a degree in institutional relations and public marketing by the UAB and in technical architecture by the UPC, Damià Calvet i Valera is the current Catalan Minister of Territory and Sustainability. He has been professor at the UPC and responsible of institutional relations of the United Nations University in Barcelona. He was also board member at the Chamber of Commerce of Mallorca, vice president in the Real Estate Promoters Association of the Balearic Islands, and urban manager at Banc Sabadell. He started his public career in the office of the minister of territorial policy and public works and was general director for architecture and housing, secretary for territory and mobility, and director of INCASOL.

What is the scope of action of the Ministry of Territory and Sustainability?
The Department of Territory and Sustainability manages the classic policies of territorial planning, urban planning, infrastructure, and mobility together with the environment and sustainability. This means the department is the first layer of everything that involves planning, execution, and management of the territory. It has public companies on its perimeter such as Railways of the Generalitat, Catalan Water Agency (ACA), Catalan Waste Agency (ACR), Catalan Housing Agency (ACH), and the Catalan Soil Institute (INCASOL), among others. We want to fit these competencies within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals and the new urban agenda, both concepts developed by the UN. In addition, there is the incorporation of the recent concept of climate emergency.

What are the logistics of the low-emission zone in Barcelona starting in 2020, and what benefits will be obtained?
We came to this decision because there is a real concern over air quality, especially in the metropolitan area of Barcelona and partially in the metropolitan area of Tarragona. We also reached the decision because we are facing a climate emergency. Under this umbrella, we developed a set of concrete and urgent actions to face this climate emergency focusing on energy transition, circular economy, and decarbonization of mobility, from which the low-emission zone emerged. We established a geographically important and ambitious area that shares territoriality with five municipalities of the metropolitan area and will prohibit vehicles that do not have the qualification of zero emissions (ecological, mixed, hybrid, A, B or C vehicles, depending on their level of emissions) by the General Directorate of Traffic. Those vehicles that do not meet these criteria cannot drive on certain days or certain times; however, that said, we cannot fail to meet the basic needs of people or companies that do not have vehicles with these characteristics, so the prohibition is not total. Given the above, we will need more and better public transport to accompany the low-emission zone.

What steps have been taken to ensure bicycles play a role in promoting safe and sustainable mobility and decongesting the city?
We have presented a bicycle strategy in line with the cycling user and town hall's sections. This document follows efforts to decarbonize mobility, which means reducing the share of private transport that emit greenhouse gases and increasing public transportation. We have seen an increase in daily bicycle trips, but want to reach 5-8% of all trips. Currently, that figure is just over 3%. This can be achieved with more infrastructure, more bike lanes, intercity facilities, planning and road reports, and better governance on the use of bicycles, which has had a difficult relationship with vehicles and pedestrians. Finally, the promotion of bicycles will help promote certain areas via cycling tourism. Municipalities and regions are interested in implementing this bicycle strategy.

How is the ministry working to ensure affordable access to housing?
Housing is one of the competencies of the Department of Territory and Sustainability that we share with city councils. There has been a sustained crisis in access to housing for many years because of the market price and rental price. There is greater demand from foreigners to settle in the metropolitan area of Barcelona, and there are many expatriates who come to Barcelona to work for multinationals or launch their start-up in an attractive ecosystem such as Barcelona's. We must face this reality and welcome them while avoiding the gentrification of neighborhoods and Barcelona in general. The affordable rental housing stock must also be increased, and the government of the Generalitat and municipalities must promote public housing with various vehicles such as Incasòl, the Housing Agency of Catalonia, and the Municipal Housing Board of Barcelona. There must be assistance in financing and maintaining this public housing stock for affordable rent.