Friday, February 17, 2017

Modelling The Green City

Let me say this. One, Palma is given too much attention. Yes, it is the capital, it has around half the population of Mallorca, it is the centre of the commercial and political universe on the island. It still gets a disproportionate level of attention, though. Two, its town hall councillors have an unerring capacity to unleash barrages of statistics designed to doubtless impress the citizens but which instead induce comas of numbed-by-number. Want to know the percentage increase in film shoots for adverts for the past twelve months, the rise in the number of passengers on a particular bus line, the budget elevation for rubbish collection, the percentage of full-time workers in the non-tourism sector in a certain quarter of the year? If you do, then there's a councillor (usually either Joana Maria Adrover or Neus Truyol) who will oblige.

Which isn't to say that Palma councillors are unique in this regard. Or that their utterances are of such a uniquely great abundance in order to ensure attention. As the third government in Mallorca - after the actual government and the one that would like to be, namely, the Council of Mallorca - it has a duty to follow the communication rules of its betters and numb the citizens into servile submission under the sheer weight of percentage points.

The follow-on from all this quantity is the quality. Increases here, rises there, and therefore things are better. More employment, more rubbish being collected, etc. There's nothing wrong with this, but too often the qualitative message is subservient to the quantitative announcement. What people really want to know is how are lives being improved, how is the city being improved. Not by numbers but by physical evidence of action and firm commitments to action that lead to qualitative enhancements.

I come, therefore, to praise the next mayor of Palma, Antoni Noguera. When he first landed the job as one of the plethora of the city's deputy mayors, there was less than clarity as to one of the responsibilities that had been assigned to him. Or rather, that he had assigned to himself. Deputy mayor for the model of the city. What did that mean?

We are now discovering what it means and also what pledges to improve "livability" are to do with. And we need look no further than the scheme for the urban forest to understand where Noguera is coming from. In essence it's about more green space, but it comes with the additional intention of offsetting the impact of rising temperatures by virtue of this very greening. Applause there should be for the scheme. Palma doesn't have enough green space. Providing more is desirable in different ways, not least because of the qualitative value in terms of quality of life.

Noguera has been making other contributions. There is the plan to cut lanes of traffic by two along the Paseo Marítimo. There are further ones in respect of the number of new restaurant and bar licences. In other words, there will be limits, and for once a town hall initiative affecting the city's business has been greeted with seemingly total approval. The thinking is to avoid there being ghettoes of bars and restaurants and little or nothing else. Create a mix of business, and a greater sense of civility is established.

Likewise, and although this doesn't come under Noguera, there are the changes to the use of the public way, the most controversial aspect of which has to do with terraces. It can seem as if certain councillors have it in for terraces (and they may well do), but the principle isn't wrong in wishing to create more space for people just to walk. In a sense, this is similar thinking to the urban forest and to the opening-up of the Paseo Marítimo by creating a real link between the urbanised city and its sea: the perception and reality of more space, of less clutter, of greater quality.

But is Noguera getting ahead of himself? The plan for the forest includes the velodrome and the Es Fortí military club. The town hall says it will expropriate the former. A desire to take Es Fortí out of private hands might prove more problematic. While one applauds what he wishes to create, the actual plan for the forest is still no more than a draft. Yet he says that it will be completed, along with the planting of thousands of trees along the Riera torrent, by the time the current administration finishes.

Has he been spinning as he moves towards the time when he succeeds José Hila as mayor, promoting his projects as means of guaranteeing - were there to be any doubts - this succession? One hopes not. His is a worthwhile project. Palma might just attract ever more attention, and in this instance it would be highly merited.

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