Practice Details

Title of Practice: Pontevedra. A model for the city centred on people
Year: 2014
BPTag: Award Winner
Reference Number: ESP344-14
City / Town / Village: Pontevedra
Region: European Union
Country: Spain
Has this practice been submitted previously? No
Previous Title:
Address: Council of Pontevedra
Rúa Michelena, 30
+34 986 804 302
+34 886 212 843
Name of Contact Person: Dr Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores (Mayor)
Email of Contact Person: Not provided
Summary: This has been a 14-year-long practical experience in which the two main objectives were a remarkable improvement of the urban environment and the achievement of a high urban quality for the city in all its aspects.

Environmentally, the aim was a dramatic reduction of air, noise and water pollution. Socially, a key issue was the transformation of the city into an inclusive, integrated area where social, physical, or disability barriers could be mitigated or eliminated, in the same way as age, gender or any other kind of discrimination. In the mobility aspect, suppressing the dangers of traffic and encouraging non-motorised mobility, establishing a completely new set of priorities where walking becomes the centre of urban mobility. A transformation of urban public spaces, into a centre of socialisation, intended for diverse integrated uses.

Results show that more than two thirds of daily trips take place walking or riding a bicycle, and that physical barriers for wheelchairs and children’s push chairs have been suppressed. A 30 km/h speed limit has been put into effect citywide. Liquid waste, previously dumped directly into the streams and watercourses, has been cut by approximately 70%. Traffic noise has been equally reduced. Most children now walk to school alone, and the streets have become alive and are filled with people. Traffic risk has gone down dramatically, with no road deaths or severe injuries; it has been so for many years. In addition, public spaces and green areas have been expanded, as happened with footpaths and cycle paths. This has gone hand in hand with the recovery and rehabilitation of the Historic Centre and other degraded urban areas.

These achievements have not gone unnoticed, as the city has received a number of awards in recognition of its urban recuperation, among them the European Intermodes Award for the promotion of pedestrian mobility.
Key Dates: 1999: Pedestrianization of the Historic Centre. 2005: Cleaning of the river and its estuary. 2008: Footpath and cycle path along the river Gafos. 2010: Speed limit for the entire city - 30 km/h. 2012: European Intemodes Award.
Norminating Organization Details
Name of Organization:
Contact Person:
Type of Organization: Local Authority

There are no partners defined yet.

There are no categories defined yet.

Situation Before the Initiative Began:
Pontevedra was a city where the population was ousted by cars from public spaces, where people with mobility problems could not move freely, as there were plenty of physical and architectural barriers. Approximately 70% of urban sewage found their way directly to the riverbeds, with no previous waste treatment, with baleful consequences for the natural environment. Noise and air pollution were also excessively high.
Establishment of Priorities:
The main focus was to prevent the urban dynamics of the city of Pontevedra to be irreversibly degraded. It was necessary to empower citizens by giving them back their public spaces so that they could enjoy them and make use of them without exception, to give a new life to the streets, to foster autonomy, to eliminate traffic risks, to reduce air, noise and water pollution, to recover degraded areas, as well as to promote healthy and non-polluting urban methods of transport keeping in mind the importance of the connection between the city, the estuary and the rivers. These have been, and still are, the true priorities of the present project. The measures to be taken were compiled and set in the Government Programme of the local council, after listening to the proposals and initiatives of local residents’ associations and environmental, disability, cultural, women and professional groups.
Formulation of Objectives And Strategies:
The aims and priorities of the project followed a common process. As regards strategies, they were used flexibly and they were appropriately adapted to the situation. A compromise was reached with social agents affected to achieve a gradual pedestrianization. Contacts with local associations were promoted, as well as meetings and open, collaborative assemblies. As for the recuperation of degraded urban areas, a programme of grants was agreed with property owners in the Historic Centre, which, in turn, led to the improvement of public spaces and encouraged privately funded initiatives. In all these cases, the affirmative vote of the members of the municipal authority was merely the last step, after the important decisions were made by consensus.
Mobilisation of Resources:
Other cities went down the path of large-scale building works and events to plan for their future. This needs plenty of effort and considerable resources. Pontevedra focused on one overarching project by means of which the existing local resources, as well as those coming from other administrations, were channelled into making urban quality better. EU funds, resources allocated by the central State, the autonomic and regional governments, and part of the city’s budget were pooled. No additional economic strains were placed on the citizen. The city had to establish a clear set of priorities: urban living and the environment. The private sector participated through city planning agreements and the actions taken in the built heritage.
The process of implementation and execution of a model for a city centred on the people went hand in hand with a wide-ranging social debate during its stages. Each step forward made local residents more and more aware of the future of their city, and so they were given a voice through their active participation in the decision-making process. Without this keen participation, the process would not have been set in motion or perhaps it would have failed completely.
There was intense collaboration between the social agents, both directly and indirectly. New spaces were recovered and quickly put to good use by the people, who could finally enjoy them. New regulations were put in place and the corresponding sanctions were established. Both the local police and the local residents enthusiastically defended the reforms that were brought about. This was the key to the success of the whole project.
Resistance to these changes being made, very low from the start and almost negligible as the project started to take shape, had two sources: immobilism and fear of the unknown. It tends to be true that people who show an initial rejection to a new idea end up defending it shortly after. Moreover, an uncompromising defence of the use and abuse of the car seems to defend a naïve ideal of modernity. Preconceived ideas such as these were certainly challenging at first, as evidence clearly suggests that a dysfunctional city is far from beneficial for the drivers themselves. Fortunately, this sector of the local population constitutes a shrinking minority, although it still remains very committed to its ideological principles.
To celebrate the recovery of the city for the people, a diversity of public events were organised. The Feira Franca, a mediaeval festival, is the epitome of self-managed public participation. Cultural and local residents’ associations have managed to reach the 14th edition of this celebration of public spaces with a historical tint. The latest editions attracted up to 100,000 people to the city, more than the population of Pontevedra itself, currently in the order of 83,000 inhabitants. The Festa da Calidade Urbana (Celebration of Urban Quality) gathered tens of thousands in those spaces where more than 50,000 vehicles transited through every single day.
In a nutshell, this is a city where citizens participated, collaborated, implemented and executed their own model by the people and for the people, by the citizens and for the citizens.
Results Achieved:
Financial: No extra burden on the taxpayer was necessary for these plans to become a reality. Building works permanently present in cities and towns. If each and every one of them eliminated mobility barriers, created public spaces for all, reduced the dangers and inconveniences of heavy traffic, and improved the water and sanitation networks, city life would certainly improve.
Social and economic: All people, regardless of their physical condition, age or gender should be allowed to use and enjoy their city by facilitating sociability, non-segregation and social inclusion. What is more, cities have become a focal point of social life and economic activity.
Cultural: The Historic Centre has been recovered, and the same goes for buildings of heritage value, which have been put to new and modern use. The city is, with its renovated spaces, a place for cultural and recreational activity.
Environmental: Sources of sewage and water pollution have been virtually eradicated, and both air and noise pollution have been dramatically diminished. The predominance of pedestrian mobility and cycling has led to a remarkable reduction of CO2 emissions.
Institutional: A large numbers of the policies being enforced correspond to current legislation, which, despite being in force, tend not to be observed in other places. For instance, the Law on Accessibility forbids the presence of physical obstacles, mobility barriers in public spaces, and establishes the obligation of cleaning the riverbeds. Other policies are mere ideas, proposals, and desiderata that have not been included in the appropriate legal texts. Nevertheless, the city of Pontevedra has put them in practice even though there was no legal obligation to do so.
Lessons Learned:
First: Cities, at times chaotic, unpleasant, polluting, always complex, can undergo processes of transformation and become welcoming, environmentally friendly, sustainable, comfortable, safe and inclusive. This can be done in a relatively short time as long as there is the will, the collaboration and a clear set of well-defined priorities.
Second: Each city has to decide on an appropriate model for itself. This model is a means to achieve a particular end. The hastened transference of borrowed ideas would only produce mediocre results at best.
Third: All theoretical proposals and experiences should be put in practice and must be taken into account to produce a model: traffic calming, autonomous living, the city as a centre for socialisation, urban planning, child safety, mobility and accessibility, local trade, etc. The existing situation, urban dynamics, the local idiosyncrasies and the collective aspirations must define the project on the basis of the social agent’s contributions.
Fourth: It is the strong, one who enjoys certain implicit or explicit privileges, finds it hard to share and reach a compromise. Drivers versus pedestrians, physically able versus disabled and impaired, adults versus senior citizens and children, those who have access to recreation facilities outside the city versus those who do not; public spaces mean plurality, integration and equity. These questions are real challenges for the model of a city for the people. It is this resistance the model must overcome.
a) Transferability
In order to define and compartmentalize a model for the city of Pontevedra, it was necessary to be aware of several different issues, such as previous experiences in urban planning, pedestrianizations and traffic calming, whether to incorporate some elements or to outline their limitations. On this basis, which dates back to the 1950s if not earlier, the subject begins to overlap with contemporary theories to do with urban environments: the Dubai Declaration, Habitat II and the Istanbul Declaration. The disability rights and independent living movement also made remarkable contributions to this debate, as did the theories in favour of child autonomy, on which our model is inspired. We have been gradually incorporating new policies, as happens with Camiños Escolares (A Safe Way to School), an initiative to encourage parents to teach their children how to go to school alone but safely with the help and guidance of local volunteers from the city of Pontevedra.
As this model has a considerably long history already, it has been going on for 14 years, many of its basic points are new, or, rather, pioneering, as is the case with 30 and 20 km/h speed limits, pedestrian expansion beyond the Historic Centre, multifarious use of public spaces, structural measures of traffic calming and restriction, pedestrian areas with no physical limitations (security bollards), flexibility and adaptability of the solutions, intermodality, walking promotion schemes (Metrominuto), etc.
There are several ongoing projects all around Spain that are trying to transfer the Pontevedra experience to other regions and municipalities. It was back in 2001 when a particular urban action was reported by ONCE (Spanish National Organization of the Blind) as beneficial for accessibility in one of its regular publications. Our take on urban planning has been shared in numerous forums, both institutional and private: Lisbon, Madrid, Porto, Aveiro, Almada, tens of Portuguese councils, Gijón, Seville, A Coruña, Munich, Bastia, Valencia, Málaga, Donostia, Huesca, among others, as well as national and international congresses and cultural exchanges, some of which we could not attend due to prior commitments, as in the case of Lima and others. The Metrominuto walking scheme was replicated in many cities: Carballo in Galicia (Spain), Paris (France)…
Visitors to Pontevedra are very keen on witnessing how the model works in situ. These are numerous and frequent: Aveiro, planning consultants, CENEAM, Francesco Tonucci…
Related Policies:
This model has found an invaluable support in numerous pieces of municipal regulation, edicts and ordinances where different measures were compiled to provide the project with a legal basis. The pioneering character of citywide 30 km/h speed limits, enforced from 2010, and the Public Space Ordinance established a clear set of priorities for the consideration of public spaces as key elements for a serious city model. The Provincial Council (Diputación) of Pontevedra adopted these ordinances for their application to its 2,000-kilometre road network.

The Spanish Ministry of the Interior asked the local council of Pontevedra to produce a report with proposals to be incorporated to the General Traffic Rules of Spain. In its preliminary draft, to be adopted in the near future, the Traffic Rules already incorporate the following suggestions: a citywide 30 km/h speed limit, the recognition of single platform streets, and the presence of physical obstacles to promote speed reduction.

There is a European citizens’ initiative for the EU to enforce citywide 30 km/h speed limits, partly inspired by the work done in Pontevedra, which is supported by the city as well as the local council.

LA VOZ DE GALICIA. “Pontevedra, kind city.” Monographic published in Galician language by the autonomic newspaper La Voz de Galicia in which diverse testimonials are gathered through articles and reports focusing on the changes the city has undergone over the last few years. http://www.lavozdegalicia.es/publicaciones/especial_pontevedra/index/html

INTERMODES PRIZE 2013. PRESS RELEASE. Press release on the occasion of Intermodes Prize 2013.

INTERVIEW WITH NATHALIE LECLERC. Published in La Voz de Galicia, explaining the main reasons which led to Pontevedra being awarded the 2013 Intermodes Prize

EL TELEGRAMA. Diario decano de Melilla. Daniel Sola’s reference to Pontevedra as a model city to be followed by others, as part of a piece by Conbici

POLIS. A collaborative blog about cities around the world. This electronic publication refers the close link between the city and urbanism

COMMITTEE OF THE REGIONS. EUROPEAN UNION. Newsletter reference to the city of Pontevedra, paying special attention to its urban model after being awarded the 2013 Intermodes Prize

CITIZENCITY. A compilation and discussion of the changes contemplated, inspired and completed by the citizens of neighborhoods and/or cities around the world.

TELEXORNAL GALICIA. A dedicated piece on Pontevedra being awarded the 2013 Intermodes Prize for its urban model. This was featured in the Galician broadcast of the main current affairs programme of the Spanish National Television. This piece is echoed in all the other partner channels (Telediario, Canal 24h and TVE Internacional)

NOTICIAS POSITIVAS. This specialised publication includes a reference to sustainable development, healthy living and a solidarity-based economy.

ELTIS. THE URBAN MOBILITY PORTAL. Miguel Mateos, 2012. In the framework of an overall strategy to promote sustainable mobility, the municipality of Pontevedra has developed METROMINUTO, a “public-transport-alike” pedestrian map showing information on walking distances and travel times between the main locations within the city.

ACTA PREMIO SEGURIDADE VIARIA p. 33. Press release by the organisers of the 2nd Gathering of Cities for Road Safety, held by the Directorate-General for Traffic and the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces

PISE EL FRENO. New article in El País, a Spanish national newspaper, on the topic of speed reduction in cities and its relationship with road safety

CATÁLOGO EXPERIENCIAS SEGURIDAD VIAL DGT (p. 70). This publication mentions Pontevedra as an example of road safety to be imitated throughout Spain

CERMI PRIZE 2007. Press release on the occasion of Pontevedra being awarded the 2007 Cermi Prize by the Spanish Committee of Representatives of Disabled (Comité Español de Representantes de Personas con Discapacidad), which groups more than 7,000 associations across Spain, for the best national, autonomic or local-level action in favour of accessibility

LA VOZ DE GALICIA. Interview with Jean Picard, president of Stop Accidentes Galicia, on top speed reduction to 30 km/h

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