Connected to Bloomberg Philanthropies, this non-government organization promotes architecture and urban planning solutions to foster more active lifestyles, fight sedentary habits and design open spaces to improve public health. The former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and the New York Department of Public Health are only two of the most relevant sponsors of this initiative.
CENTER FOR ACTIVE DESIGN
The Leadership in Active Design: Excellence Award given by the Center for Active Design that Pontevedra had the honor to collect recognizes the city as a pioneer in the use of a town planning approach focused on people rather than motorized vehicles, with a pedestrian based mobility model that fosters healthier lifestyles. A total of ten projects –including one from Istanbul and nine from the United States of America– were selected as finalists, but Pontevedra was the overall winner of the 2015 edition.
- Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores, MD. Family Practitioner. Mayor of Pontevedra.
- José Gómez Viñas, Civil engineer. Public servant.
- Daniel Macenlle Díaz. Lawyer. Main intendent of the local police.
- César Mosquera Lorenzo. Mathematician and pedagogue. Vice-president of the Provincial Council of Pontevedra.
- Anxo Velando. Architect. Public servant.
- Jesús Asser Fole Osorio. Architect.
- Xosé Manuel Tato Camiño. Lawyer. Public servant.
- María do Carme Abeledo Márquez. Nurse.
- Antón Prieto. Journalist.
- Carme da Silva Méndez. Chemist. Councillor.
- Luís Bará Torres. Philologist. Councillor.
PHILOSOPHY. Give the city back to its residents and visitors, regardless of age, physical condition or ability to move independently, so that they regain the spaces that motorized vehicles had come to appropriate. The main theme of pedestrian priority in the mobility hierarchy relates to the improvement of urban quality of life, social cohesion, as well as the promotion of environmentally friendly policies.
OBJECTIVES. Pontevedra is a municipality with a population of approximately 83,000 residents within a region of almost 250,000 people in a province 960,000 strong. The compact urban center boasts 51,000 citizens, while the rest reside in disperse rural areas of low population density. Back in 1999, a process of transformation was kick-started to make Pontevedra into a healthy and welcoming space with the highest standards of urban quality. This transformation is already a reality, despite having been conceived as a permanent work-in-progress.
The fundamental objectives of this initiative were transparently clear: giving maximum priority to pedestrians while guaranteeing their safety everywhere they went; reducing traffic density and excessive dependence on motorized vehicles; lowering the levels of atmospheric, noise and light pollution as far as possible; expanding green areas; fostering the autonomy and self-sufficiency of children, grandparents and people with limited mobility; promoting healthy habits, and advocating social cohesion.
Various concrete measures were adopted to achieve such ambitious goals: the introduction and enforcement of traffic calming measures (speed limits of 30 km/h citywide, single platforms, protected pedestrian crossings, roundabouts, free parking spots in the outer ring of the city); the withdrawal of motorized vehicles from the city center and the inner ring; the creation and conservation of almost 40 km of forest and riverside footpaths, as well as the thorough decontamination of municipal rivers and the promotion of open air public events both in urban and rural areas.
By increasing the number of opportunities to perform physical activities and dramatically reducing the levels of greenhouse gas emissions, together with noise and light pollution, urban quality of life in Pontevedra experienced remarkable improvements in a relatively short period of time. In addition, local authorities designed and disseminated the Metrominuto and Pasominuto maps, which were intended as instruments to raise public awareness about the benefits of choosing more natural forms of mobility and leaving the car home. These maps provide useful information about the times, distances, number of steps and calories burnt while moving around the city. In addition, they include insightful advice from the World Health Organization.
MANAGEMENT. The design and implementation of an alternative city model centered on people, rather than motorized vehicles, and the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of several different modalities, from pedestrians to cyclists to drivers, initially found a few stumbling blocks, although the lack of precedents that city residents might have taken as a point of reference was perhaps one of the key aspects that generated more distrust and required constant pedagogical efforts.
The advocates of this transformative initiative had to surmount reticence and strong criticism at first, but today the kind, healthy, cohesive, compact and inclusive city that Pontevedra has become appears to be very solidly consolidated.
Initial reticence had very much to do with an acute fear of the unknown, which partly explains why many Pontevedra residents who thought that the local authorities’ proposal was doomed to fail are now actively involved in the promotion of an alternative city model that has managed to withdraw motorized vehicles from the Historic Center and the inner ring without causing a negative impact on how the city functions.
Since the early 21st century, Pontevedra has placed pedestrians at the top of the mobility hierarchy and the size of the city has in turn contributed to boost the local economy as well as small businesses, to the detriment of alienating shopping malls in the outskirts.
A small minority of people, however, still defends that owning a car should grant drivers the right to use it anywhere and anytime, therefore privatizing public spaces for days or months on end and occupying the streets and squares that pedestrians have finally been able to make theirs, which indicates that still more pedagogy will be necessary in the future.
RESULTS. Open public spaces have been returned to pedestrians, who now vindicate them.
From August 1999 to December 2014, numerous transformations did take place. Those changes won the city of Pontevedra the prestigious Center for Active Design Excellence Award, presented to city representatives in New York City back in 2015.
As far as healthy mobility is concerned, 67% of urban displacements are made on foot and 5% riding a bike. A campaign focused on promoting bicycle use remains an outstanding issue.
In terms of traffic flow, density has gone down by 30.10% citywide and up to 70% in the city center, which has led to a dramatic reduction of 66% in CO2 emissions and up to 88% in the city center alone. For the last decade, Pontevedra has consistently met the strictest World Health Organization parameters regarding air quality, as part of its unrelenting fight against climate change.
The withdrawal of motorized vehicles from pedestrianized areas and the implementation of traffic calming measures explains the success of measures such as the School Paths, in which 81% of children participate. Almost 50% of children between the ages of 7 and 12 go to school walking on their own, as parents and grandparents feel they are well supervised by the local network of volunteers, who make sure that schoolchildren cross the street appropriately. After school, young children play freely in the streets and squares, as cars are no longer a threat for them.
Road safety levels in Pontevedra are extremely high. In fact, there have been zero deaths due to traffic accidents over the last 11 years. While 69 people were hit by cars in 1998, only 4 people were injured in 2013.
After the withdrawal of cars from the city center and the necessary restructuring of the transport network, traffic jams are very rare. Children playing and birds chirruping are now the predominant sounds that residents and visitors may hear when they go out for a stroll in Pontevedra. Young children use the streets and squares to play and adults have come to realize the marked differences between the city that was and the transformation it has undergone so far, which has made public spaces almost universally accessible.
The improvement in air and urban quality, together with extreme care for the environment, may be perceived in the presence of otters and other macroinvertebrates in the local rivers, and the existence of 223 different species of tree.