Imagine wining an election, and being on your way to City Hall to be sworn in as the new Mayor of your city, only to hear on the radio that opposition parties have crafted an agreement that would give the Mayorship to someone else? That is what happened this weekend to Xavier Trias in a surprise turn of events that led to Jaume Collboni of the Partit Socialista de Catalunya (PSC) to be sworn in as Mayor of Barcelona.
It is said that ‘politics makes strange bedfellows’ and this was certainly the case this weekend as the ‘unnatural’ coalition of Left (Barcelona En Comú), center (PSC) and Right (Partido Popular), took the Mayorship away from Xavier Trias (Junts) and gave it to Jaume Collboni instead. Barcelona en Comú and the Partido Popular (PP) both voted for Collboni but for radically different reasons: the PP to ensure that Catalan parties would not govern, while Barcelona en Comú chose Collboni over a Trias team who had promised to undo eight years of progressive planning. While others may comment on broader political implications of this move, such as the further fragmentation of the Left (see Palà & Picazo 2023), here I want to think through the short-term implications for the city.
How will Mayor Collboni govern? What are the risks and opportunities of a PSC government? To what extent will we see continuity with the existing program or will the new team distance themselves from the innovative urbanism led by the Colau administration? What signs should we be looking for? And how will we know where the city is going?
As I have described in my previous post, I have not been impressed with the agenda and political program put forward by the PSC. Both Trias and Collboni had proposed similar political programs, especially on mobility topics. Both presented unimaginative and under-ambitious programs that end up favouring the status quo. And yet they harness support from a different political base. While Trias overwhelmingly won the wealthier neighborhoods, Collboni fins his support from the working class.
In Collboni’s first speech as Mayor he emphasized that housing would be his number one priority. On this topic the Colau Administration pushed for reforms at the national level that would give cities greater power to regulate rents, which Collboni’s own party refused to support. So it is hard to see what the new administration will do, and his promises feel like political rhetoric. You can hear Collboni’s speech and watch the full swearing in event here.
My prediction is that very little new and innovative urban planning will emerge from Barcelona in the next 4 years. True, we will see the completion of projects already underway, but will we see something ambitious at the scale of the Superblocks or Green Axis? There is no doubt that Barcelona has entered the post-Colau period, and the old order has been restored.
It will be important to see what happens in key posts such as the City Architect, currently held by Xavier Matillas, or the Director of Barcelona Regional, Josep Bohigas. I hope that both might stay in their posts to consolidate projects underway. One would expect that high level of leadership to be replace with a political transition, although there is a small chance they could stay. Yet if they do stay, they will be constrained by a much more conservative political environment, and councillors that are risk averse. The challenge will be to find spaces for innovation with a City Mayor and leadership that is highly resistant to removing parking spaces, and interfering with vehicle traffic. Until city leadership accepts that motor vehicles are killing us through the air we breathe, the space they occupy or through direct collisions, we are unlikely to see the change we need.
Of course, Barcelona has a long history of creative and bold urban design, planning and change. Even with the watered down leadership of the entering socialist party, I am hopeful that the city can rise to the occasion and lead the innovative urban transformation that is urgently needed.