To be able to understand why Bilbao is a great example of sustainable urban development, the Indian Leaders needed to situate the city both geographically and historically. The City Council’s Urban Development councillor, Asier Abaunza, gave a detailed account of the city and its industrial past, linked to iron and steel.
The crisis the city suffered during the 80sand 90s, with the disappearance of most of its industry, made it necessary to carry out a radical transformation around two main goals: maintaining industries which might still be viable and improving citizens’ quality of life. The estuary became the backbone of change and the goal was for the project to be carried out seeking sustainable development, efficient management through adequate planning, commitment to quality urban architecture and a tight budget so as to not generate any extra charges.
The Leaders were interested to know the opinions of people who were against the project and how those barriers were overcome, since the renovation of Bilbao was a long-term project (25 years) carried out by several public institutions that supported the project over the course of time in spite of the political changes.
The importance of the Guggenheim Museum for Bilbao as it is today was also discussed at the meeting. AsierAbaunza explained that this museum is essential, especially abroad where the city’s background is not known. In response to questions from the participants in the Programme, the councillor clarified that Bilbao has not changed because of the Guggenheim Museum, but that the museum has served to present it as a global tourist and leisure destination. Before the possibility of building the museum was even suggested, the plan just featured an empty space and a preference to devote it to cultural purposes. “We’ve spent ten times more on cleaning the river than on building the Museum, but the cleanliness of the river is not the reason why we’re known worldwide,” Abaunza stated.
The port was another core element in the transformation of the city. It was remodelled and taken out of the estuary. By getting rid of the railway connecting the port to the factories by the river and replacing it with a promenade, the city, which had been living with its back to the river, became reunited with it.
The Indian delegation showed special interest in the financing system of such a massive project. Asier Abaunza explained the differentforms of participation depending on the institution in question, such as transferring land or waiving the right to collect certain taxes to invest in the project, among other solutions.
One of the aspects of the city the participants in the Programme were most interested in was public transport, including the metro’s current state and expansion plans, its relationship with other transport systems, and to what extent it is financed through transport fares, as well as how the use of public transport is encouraged. According to the councillor, the metro has been the most important project to unite people in the metropolitan area, which was initially designed with the factories in mind and now focuses on the well-being of its citizens, one of the main factors of sustainable urban development.
5th Indian Leaders Programme report.
Indian Leaders profiles.
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