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Mar 10, 2018
by Helena Santos
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Miguel Lores - Bold Policies Propel Change

Spanish mayor shares how his city went car-free and gained the global spotlight Miguel Lores speaking during the Salzburg Global session, Nature and Childhood: From Research and Activism to Policies for Global Change (Photo by Sandra Birklbauer/Salzburg Global Seminar)

When Miguel Anxo Fernández Lores became the mayor of Pontevedra, Spain in 1999 he and his team had a very simple but concrete idea: create a new city model where the public space was given back to the people. That idea came to life with the concept of allowing citizens to reclaim parts of the city that had been occupied by cars.

Within a month, they pedestrianized the entire historical center, and 18 years later, Pontevedra stopped being a “car warehouse” as Lores describes it and became an internationally acclaimed city, winning awards such as the UN Habitat Award and the Active Design Award.

People still drive cars in Pontevedra, but as Lores explained at Salzburg Global Seminar’s Parks for the Planet Forum session, Nature and Childhood: From Research and Activism to Policies for Global Change, owning a car doesn’t mean owning a piece of public space. With his bold policies of using parking lots for other purposes and cutting the traffic in most streets, he managed to decrease the number of engines started every day from 52,000 to 17,000, with only 9% of cars entering the city, compared to 83% in 1999.

“After we went car-free and allowed only the necessary cars, the vital ones to make a city work, we realized, and we show that through our model, that for a city to work not a lot of cars are necessary and that’s perfectly compatible with a great urban quality […] Cars can circulate in the city and we solved it using loops, which means we make them leave through where they came from. So, unless someone needs to do something specific there, it doesn’t even cross their minds to do it since we don’t allow them to cross the city,” Lores explains.

This drastic decrease of cars circulating in the city improved not only the quality of life in Pontevedra but also its biodiversity. The city now emits 66% less of the CO2 than it used to do before the policies were implemented. It now has 223 different species of trees and 131 different species of birds. The city has also become more attractive and has grown economically and culturally. 

“One of the things we did was generate a lot of cultural, sportive and festive activities including in collaboration with local business to fill the public space with activity. When you empty the public space, and if before you could park there and now there’s nothing, you say ‘Why can’t I park my car if there’s nothing there?’ You have to fill it up with activity,” Lores adds.

The children of Pontevedra have especially benefited from this paradigm shift since it makes the city safer. Now, 80% of children walk to school without any adult supervision. The School Path project, which is a collaborative effort between the local police department, the school community, and business owners, contributes to this outstanding number. Through School Path, groups of volunteers monitor the traffic flows in the busiest streets and the business owners have a sign that lets children know they can go in and ask for help if needed.

School Path gives children the opportunity to speak directly to the authorities in the Children’s Council, but that is not the only way this generation of Pontevedra residents is involved in policymaking. In 2016, students from Barcelos Primary School, alongside their parents, presented a project to the city council to transform Barcelos Square into a playground since they felt the need for more space. They proposed taking 50 of 100 free parking spaces and changing the traffic to a one-way flow; the City Council supported them.

“We had to achieve an agreement with education [officials] and Xunta de Galicia [the regional government] to authorize children to leave school to go into the square with all the guarantees so that the teachers' insurance was covered and everything. The kids are delighted, and it’s a participation of children in the city’s design,” the mayor explains.

During his time at the Parks for the Planet Forum, Miguel Lores was very vocal about his idea that only through good policies we can achieve global change and that Pontevedra provides a positive example. He highlighted the idea that every city should find a different and unique project and discussed his pride each time Pontevedra is spoken as a success story.

“I’m very proud because Pontevedra was a city to which people paid no attention. When you talked about Galicia you talked about Santiago, Coruña and Vigo […] Now we are in the spotlight worldwide, and people know that Pontevedra exists, that it is a city, that it is a reference in accessibility, in urban quality.”

Download Issue 2 of Nature and Childhood: From Research and Activism to Policies for Global Change


Nature and Childhood: From Research and Activism to Policies for Global Change is the fourth session of the multi-year series, Parks for the Planet Forum. The Forum is hosted with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in partnership with the Children and Nature Network, the National League of Cities (NLC) and Outdoor Classroom Day. More information on the session can be found here. Follow the conversation on Twitter using #SGSparks.