Pollution: the urgency of changing the urban model
published on 25.03.21
Yesterday the UNIR debate “Pollution, give us a break!” took place, intending to address the issue of pollution in Barcelona. The event was attended by Guille López, from the Eixample Respira neighborhood platform.
Eixample Respira was born out of the concern of a group of residents of l’Eixample, but over time it has been extended to other neighborhoods of Barcelona. “More than streets we have urban highways, we have been living with this model of city for a century and we have more and more evidence of the serious consequences it has for our health”, explained Guille López.
The World Health Organisation calls pollution “invisible killer” because we do not see its immediate consequences. López quoted the researcher from the Barcelona Global Health Institute, Jordi Sunyer, to give some alarming data about our city: “If in Barcelona we had the levels of air quality recommended by the World Health Organisation, 1 in 3 strokes, 2 out of 10 heart attacks, and 2 out of 10 lung cancers would cease to occur”. He also explained that since 2010 there is a European air quality regulation that Barcelona systematically fails to comply with, in fact, 2020 has been the only year that has not been breached due to the confinement.
The airport, industry, or the port emit a lot of pollution, but in these cases, the source of emissions is some distance from where people live, because “we don’t live right above the Besós chimney”, he explained. On the other hand, we walk very close to car exhausts daily. “Traffic accounts for 40% of emissions alone, but it is what affects our health the most. In Barcelona, there are no major peaks or specific episodes as in other cities, but we are exposed to a great deal of pollution every day. “The impact on health is so great that we must accelerate change.
“If Barcelona had the air quality levels recommended by the World Health Organization, there would no longer be 1 in 3 strokes, 2 out of 10 heart attacks and 2 out of 10 lung cancers”.Jordi Sunyer
The urgency of changing the urban model
The platform is sure that in 10 or 15 years it will be solved, but they insist on the importance of speeding up the measures, measures that would prevent many deaths. “A few years from now we will look back and we will be very surprised by the model of the city we have now”. He compared it to tobacco and the debate that was generated when smoking was banned in restaurants, “it seemed like the end of the world, but over time there has been a change in mentality, now it seems barbaric that teachers smoke in classrooms for example”.
Mobility with cars and motorbikes has been encouraged for years. “Margaret Thatcher said that a 26-year-old who rides public transport is a failure”, these ideas have taken root socially, we have been led to believe that every house needs a car.
He insisted on the urgency of making a shift towards active or shared mobility, investing in public transport improvements, and promoting urban transformation. Another important change would be to electrify delivery vans, which spend hours working on the streets.
Attendees were able to discuss some of the measures that are on the table to reduce pollution in the city. Among them, the superilles or the low emission zone. They also talked about the shortcomings of public transport and the need to improve it if we want a real change in the urban model. Many people who previously opted for public transport, for fear of the pandemic, now use the car. “The problem is that we still don’t have the right infrastructure, if we did, many people would be using public transport or cycling. He added that this is a political problem and that pressure must be put on administrations to prioritize these changes.
Another issue that was touched upon was the shift towards electrification. “From Eixample Respira we believe that the solution does not lie in the transition to electric cars; although they pollute less, this only encourages a change of fleet. The change involves leaving cars to one side, changing the city model and giving more space to people”.
Actions carried out by Eixample Respira
The Eixample Respira platform has been very active for two years. They carry out awareness campaigns in schools, talk to families, stop traffic in front of schools, publicize on their website… All of this to “make the invisible killer visible”.