“The more quality education there is for all, the more resilient society becomes, the more responsive it.”

Francisco de la Torre has been Mayor of Malaga since 2000. Under his mandate the Andalusian city has experienced a cultural development of international visibility that has multiplied in a vertiginous way the tourist figures of the city. Its commitment to sustainability throughout these almost 20 years has placed the city at the forefront of this matter on an international scale. A firm defender of the Sustainable Development Goals, it has been a pioneer in adapting to the local sphere a series of indicators that allow it to measure the achievement of the 17 SDGs.

Weeks before re-validating his mandate at the ballot boxes, during this interview we talked to him about his professional and personal career, the task of urban leadership, resilience and the transformation of the city of Malaga.

For more than 20 years you have been the mayor of the city of Malaga. In a few weeks he will stand for election again to validate his mandate at the ballot box. But her trajectory in public life goes back much further. How did you become a city leader?

At the end of the 60s in Malaga, in 1968 an Association of Friends of the University of Malaga was created because at that time in Spain three new universities were created: the Autonomous University of Madrid and the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Autonomous University of Bilbao. And for many decades in Malaga there was a feeling that justice had not been done to the city. It was the largest city in Europe that did not have a university and there was a great citizen movement in relation to this issue. In 1969 I returned to Malaga to stay. I had already finished my studies a few years before, I had been in France studying Regional Agrarian Development. And the Association of Friends of the University invites me to be part of the Association. This was a leadership exercise shared with the association’s Board of Directors. That also formed me, it helped me to train myself in that sense.

I had an opportunity to develop myself when I was young, at the end of the 70’s, beginning of the 71’s, thanks to the public projection that the Association of Friends of the University gave me. They invited me to show myself in public. They invited me and pressured me to enter the political life of that time, imperfect political life, not democratic at that time, to help from the institutions of that period to the creation of the University, and to facilitate the arrival of the University to Malaga. And in fact I spent a few weeks in the Malaga City Hall at that time. It was the end of the 70’s, the beginning of the 71’s. The current governor spoke to me so that I could accept to be President of the Provincial Council. I set my conditions, that Spain has to move towards a democratic and European society. I had been to France, I knew what a fully democratic society was, that Spain was not. I said that if Spain did not go down that road it would not continue. But after reflecting for a few days, I accepted the invitation.  And that time, from 71 to 75, was very formative for me in terms of learning to govern for all. At that time, it was not usual to have a global vision of society as a whole. And in a very participative way. It was a very intense moment where I also learned how to exercise not only leadership, but how to achieve objectives in a way that people accompany you in it, which seems essential to me.

From your point of view, what requirements must an urban leader have? How would you describe an urban leader?

I have never felt, how would we say, called to be a leader of the masses or of large groups, but rather, I believe that there is intercommunication. You try to influence others, they also influence you, and that’s a leadership that’s a bit shared by everyone. It’s the way I’ve conceived personal development. But it’s not something I think about coldly. I try to do what I think is most convenient at any given moment.

I believe that one learns, improves, perfects oneself, but not in a way, I insist, coldly, premeditated, but by working in good faith, convincing people that what is proposed is good. How do we invite people to decide these objectives together? That seems very important to me.

From where did you get inspired? Who has been your reference?

In the 1960s, in the last century, in the years in which I was studying in Madrid in Agricultural Engineering at the Escuela Superior de Ingeniería Agrónoma Madrid and also in Sociology at the Instituto Social León XIII, depending on the Universidad Pontificia de Salamanca. Above all in this second centre of studies, I learned a lot, I identified very much with the idea of the Common Good as a service that from the public sphere of politics we must have.

And that motivates you, especially when, from an agro perspective, you also have a vision that there are many inequalities in the world. The problem of world hunger was the motivation, when I was 14 years old, to decide to study Agricultural Engineering, inspired by what I read about René Dumont, a French agronomist who worked on these issues from the FAO.

But I have always had this motivation for the Common Good very much in mind, in relation to what I saw in the agrarian world of my own province of Malaga, in those years with problems of development, of underdevelopment, of lack of education, especially in the area of opportunities, of equality of opportunities. And that motivates you to work to boost, to try to change things for the better.

What have been the most difficult challenges as a leader?

The end of 1975 for me was a shock in a certain way, a trauma because the deputies called elections, at that time very theoretical, to elect or confirm the President, the Councillors or the Mayors of the provincial capital cities. It was then, from the administration, from certain sectors of the administration, a maneuver to place in the Cortes of that time those responsible for stagnation. In the case of the Provincial Council, the deputy head of the Movimiento Nacional was elected, who was evidently a very stagnant man, who voted against the political reform law. He was tied for nine votes. I lived that moment of pressure, of what is pressure on the deputies and this marked me. The so-called bunker, an extreme right-wing political movement, was attributed a greater force than perhaps it had, but this motivated me very much to be on the side of democratic change, to commit myself to pushing with all my strength to change towards democracy in Spain. And then I was from 1983 when the life of the UCD party ended, until 1995, outside political life, working as an agricultural engineer in the service of the public administration, first central administration and then regional administration. I was transferred with the competences of Agriculture. And indeed, already in 95 the mayor invites me to go on the list as independent, as number 2. Then I join the Popular Party, a more centered PP, in the 1990s. And I lived the year 2000 as mayor when Celia Villalobos went to the central Government that was formed after the 2000 elections. And I lived through that hard moment of the shock of the murder of Martín Carpena. That also marks you a lot and you see that it is worth defending a democratic society, defending it by all means, from democracy, from the strength of the democratic state, as we put it in words that I transmitted to the people of Malaga who protested against the assassination of ETA by José María Martín Carpena.

How should an urban leader be? What her/his role is in city governance?

I think the first thing is to be clear about the idea that you are in politics to serve the general interest, the common good, not the particular interest of anyone  or even the interest of your party, I don’t know if I’m explaining. You have to be loyal to the party to which you are affiliated as is logical, but if there is opposition of interests, the general interest and the common good is above. And the general interest and common good of the city.

And you have to transmit that to your team. And what is very important is to transmit pride and satisfaction for a well-done job. And that well-done work is your motivation. And try to ensure that quality always accompanies all actions. And to do as many things as possible at the lowest possible cost, that means, to manage resources well. Be very aware that the resources belong to the citizens. Be aware that citizens are like the shareholders of this great company that is the city and always provide them with good information.

Today it is more normal to talk about transparency, about participation.  But a few years ago it was less common. But this has to be very clear from the beginning and this must permeate the whole administration, from top to bottom and from bottom to top. These concepts of Quality, to service to the common good, to manage resources well, equal opportunities, merit and ability are the entry mechanisms in all administration, not only for civil servants, but also for municipal companies. This is more or less how I see it so that this leadership can be well exercised.

What role has citizen participation played in the governance of your city?

We have tried to facilitate to the maximum the participation in the territorial scope through the 11 districts. We have created more districts. There were 6 when we came into government. I started as Deputy Mayor of Urbanism and Spokesman in 1995. And from 6 districts we have gone to 11 in an evolution to make it easier to participate, because those districts have territorial councils, district councils where in the District Plenary there is a participation by associations to define objectives at district level, but also influence the objectives of citizens. And on the other hand the sectoral councils created at the global level of the city. On Education, the Social Council which is also important, or the Accessibility Council…

In short, the Sectorial Council where the associative movement that exists in the city or the business world have the opportunity to participate. The whole structure of the associative system and the representative of the civil society would say: Entrepreneurship, Chamber of Commerce, Trade Unions, Neighbourhood Associations, etc. And then the structure of public administrations at all levels. I think it’s key: governance without participation is impossible. They have to help each other. The synergy is very clear.  And when you consider the objectives of Good Governance you have no choice but to do so. What is more, it must be so. There is no doubt about it. Progress has to be very much shared by all.

What importance does local decentralization play in the good governance of a city and citizen participation?

I have always defended, because of Andalusia’s size, population, surface area, the network of cities that Andalusia has, that we should have become a decentralised region as there is in Europe. We have converged on many issues in order to join the EU, of course. First in Democracy, if we had not joined the EU, and then also in Economics to reach the Euro, etc. But when it comes to local decentralisation, we have lagged behind, and today the Spanish municipalities are the weakest in Europe, measured in Euros per inhabitant per year. There are many regional competences received from Madrid that should have been transferred to the local level, applying the principle of subsidiarity that in Europe has been coined by the Council of Europe for thirty years. The European Charter of Local Self Government makes this very clear. It says: What a City Council can do, that is the principle of subsidiarity, do it the City Council and not the Region. What the Region can do, do it the Region and not the State. In other words, to bring power closer to the people, from the bottom to the top.

And that facilitates participation, it facilitates it when there is Transparency, and now there is more transparency in general than before. Where transparency is most effective is at the local level, because people can understand the local level, but the regional level understands it less and the national level much less.  Understanding the accounts of municipality is very easy, explaining them well, honestly and clearly. Understanding regional accounts is obviously more complex. And this participation at the local level would have been much more fruitful if the City Council had had more competences, more budgets to respond to competences. Even in education policy. Education is key. Primary education would have been transferred to the local level as well. I miss, and this is one of my frustrations as a Mayor, not being able to influence on the quality of education in the city of Malaga, because that is the future of the city, the human capital. That is the fundamental resource that a people has, that it has a territory.

How has the transformation of the city of Malaga been promoted?

In 1966-1967, when I was in France, I read a book by Servan-Schreiber, director of L’Express, a prestigious opinion magazine in France. And he wrote a book: “The American Challenge”, “Le Défi Américain” and told that the Americans were then creating the bases of Silicon Valley in California, he saw that it was a path of innovation and progress and that France should do it. And he came to the conclusion that something similar had to be proposed in France towards the Blue Coast as a kind of French California. And I thought, in Spain it’s Malaga, it’s our California. And I’ve always believed in that potential. But you have to know how to take advantage of it and how to use it. We have a good climate and good landscape, a city with history and good heritage. We have to rehabilitate it, we have to take care of it, we have to take advantage of being a city of the sea, a seaside city, facing the sea. And then, obviously, to dedicate spaces to the most comfortable and comfortable life, as it is to pedestrianize.

The potential that we can have in terms of culture. The first strategic plan already talked about Picasso and this is the result of everyone’s action. Picasso as an asset of the city. The Birth House had been created in the 80s. We reinforced it from the government. And all this helped in the creation of the Picasso Museum, an initiative in the Picasso family, by Christine and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso. But we were already creating the Contemporary Art Center at the Old Wholesale Market. We have to take advantage of buildings and give them a new utility in a cultural sense, because that allowed us to have strength in city tourism, in congress tourism, because the other conditions were given. And at the same time improvements in gastronomy, which is a very natural process throughout Spain, here has not been an exception. And at the same time this capacity to attract talent, which I had already sensed in the 1960s, to reinforce it to the maximum. The University did not exist in the 1960s, but then it has existed and gives us a strength that we did not have before.

This transformation therefore has many elements, cultural element, innovative element, environmental element. Reinforcing the use of electric cars, reinforcing public transport, clearly supporting commitments in environmental matters, social inclusion, accessibility in which the city has been a model, a city for all, with much inclusion in this matter. This is a bit like the axes in which this urban transformation has taken place. Plus the governance that we have tried to improve as much as possible.

Highlight a project that you feel especially proud of

In 2005 was installed a water treatment plant, simply a desalination plant. We can desalinate water up to 7 or 8 grams of salt per liter. Then it arrives to the plant where it is mixed with others that have better conditions already with 1 gram, or little more, 2 grams, but it is necessary to remove of salt, and in addition you remove the lime also. This process generates water of a quality that, for a Mediterranean city, which has limestone waters all of them, is frankly surprising. And it is good for the health of the people of Malaga, for the health of the pipes, and their conservation, and of the electrical appliances, and also for the industries that need water. This project, very unnoticed, has been very important.

And I could also mention the pedestrianization projects that have been magnificent and the project of the city port that has been very nice, Pier 1 and Pier 2. I promoted the city port integration model, I changed and improved what there was in the 90s, and already in the first decade of this 21st century we managed to develop a project, moderate in height, which did not create a visual barrier and which had sufficient sustainability components. And we introduced a powerful cultural element, the Pompidou at the corner of quays 1 and 2.

Malaga is currently participating in a Deep Demonstration of EIT Climate-KIC, a systems innovation experiment created together with other European cities such as Amsterdam, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Helsinki, or Madrid, where deep transformations will be attempted in a short time to help address climate change and other problems related to the habitability of cities, such as air pollution, welfare or energy poverty.

Why tackle Climate Change from a systemic approach?

I deeply believe that an ambitious action, such as climate action, must be very holistic, and must be based on all the mechanisms we have to reduce the contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere. It is the key element. When we try to be sensitive in terms of climate, to stop climate change, it is what we have to do, from the reduction of electricity consumption, by means of flow reducers, intelligent public buildings that save energy, installations of renewable energy plants or projects such as Smart City Endesa. In short, all actions. The promotion of public transport is essential. The bus replaces 60 private vehicles, so we strengthen the buses, the bus lanes. Cycle tracks. There are a thousand ways to do it. With savings in water consumption, not only do we save a resource that is scarce and must be taken care of carefully, but we also save energy because water consumes energy in its initial treatment to eliminate salinity and to eliminate lime. Therefore the less water is consumed the more energy savings. And we have achieved a great sensitivity in terms of water consumption, and we have lowered the consumption ratio considerably. We are one of the cities with the lowest water consumption per inhabitant/day. This is the direction in which we must continue working.

In my opinion, it is a very global action, where all the elements for saving energy, in the functioning of the city in general and especially in mobility, are operative.  By means of intelligent traffic lights, by means of the impulse, I insist, to the use of bicycles, or the electric scooter. If it is well regulated, it can be an opportunity that we can take advantage of and it does not have to be a problem. By promoting circular economy, waste disposal and reuse. Taking opportunities out of what is a challenge and a problem, I think. And to advance in the application of technology also, in data handling, in applications for mobile devices, to improve the use of public transport, to make better use of the car parks in the blue zone, and so on. They are business opportunities, small, but they can become more developed elements when applied in other cities while responding to the challenges we have in this field.

What do the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean for the city?

We have to feel the responsibility and satisfaction that by working at the local level we can contribute to the solution of global problems, and the best way to solve global problems is by working at the local level. Especially when at the local level, cities are going to have more and more inhabitants. In Spain we are almost stabilized, 80% of the population lives in urban areas, but in the world the process of urbanization still continues. Every year more millions of people move from rural areas to urban areas.

Cities must be able to respond to these challenges, especially cities that are growing. I am talking about Asia, Africa, Latin America… There we have to bring all the experience, all the baggage that we have in the most developed countries to be useful there, through action and public cooperation, through the action of private companies that can also bring expertise, the ability to respond to issues and motivate them to be the most operational in that way. The objectives are very ambitious and there are 11 years left before the goal in 2030, and if we do not hurry, and if we do not measure how we are doing, we will not achieve it.

We are now precisely adapting our entire strategic planning to be more proactive in complying with the SDGs. The CIEDES Foundation has developed 115 indicators for each of 17 objectives, to measure them when we have statistics. The problem is that many times you lack the adequate local statistics to measure them in a way that you are not mistaken. And we want everything to run at the green light. We have a lot of green lights that goes well. Orange light that goes half-well, walking. And others in the red light, that are not going well.  We don’t need to have all of them, it’s about measuring in an objective way, it’s not about cheating on your own, it’s about being very proactive in that direction. I invite other cities to follow these self-evaluation models and set objectives within the objectives, because our local action serves the global solution.

What needs do small and medium-sized cities have to improve their resilience?

In each of the 17 SGDs there is a place for our proactive action. Apart from being a resilient city we have to be able to resolve, respond well when there is a crisis, when there is a problem of heavy rains, an issue we have to improve in Malaga, so that the city isn’t so fragile in some areas. There is still a long way ahead in this area.

And we have to be resilient, especially on the social and economic level, where education is key, which is another SGD. Quality education for all. The more quality education there is for all, the more resilient society becomes, the more responsive it will be both in crisis and in non-crisis times. That’s the key. Of all the objectives, the most important is education because that gives you an answer to everything, to hunger, to everything, to responsible consumption, to a thousand aspects.

So, returning to the question, small and medium cities need to know more about what the SGDs are aiming at and what we can do. And above all, how can we transmit ideas, I am not saying exercising leadership, but we are capable of transmitting messages. And whenever there is an opportunity. I do it in relation to the importance of education. The education not only of the educational system is also the importance that families give to it. How to transmit from parents to children that the future is at stake in education, of them and of the society. And those messages of being proactive about climate change, how to walk more and use the car less, how to use the bike and not the car, how to use public transport where there is one. All that is constant. How to save water, how to save energy in your own city, at home. These are all issues that have to be in everyone’s culture. It is a matter of schools, of education, but it is also a matter of individuals, of families. These messages do not depend only on us, but we can help a lot.

Do you think that the threat of climate change can be approached as an opportunity to transform economic and social systems?

I believe that there is a source of opportunities, new opportunities are created.The circular economy is a very clear opportunity from the point of view of business models, including business opportunities. A thousand aspects that arise, how to eliminate plastics from life or substantially reduce the use of plastics, promote another way of transporting products, and so on. There are a thousand aspects where opportunities are created. Earlier we talked about opportunities for mobility. Technology is constantly looking for answers. Conventional cars have reduced their pollution effect a great deal, both petrol and diesel, to adapt to the demands of the population itself, the consumer wants it, there are many consumers who want their car to be non-polluting. But now there are electric vehicles as a new opportunity. And that is there so that the world itself, the car sector, which is a powerful sector in economic terms, can seek this adaptation. The batteries… New issues are being created. It’s like in the ICT field, what artificial intelligence, augmented reality will mean, these aspects also generate new opportunities. We should not look at the negative aspects but at the many positive ones. And it seems to me that this will also help this vision of opportunities will help to achieve the objectives of controlling climate change in a more effective way.

How can EIT Climate-KIC help cities in this transition?

In 2009 we were working with 2 KICs in Malaga, at European level, but we were not selected. The partners were not solid enough perhaps. It was about Renewable Energies and others about ICTs. And I am very excited about what Climate-KIC can help us because we can share many experiences, we can develop models inspired by those experiences based on the University and the European Research Centres linked to the KIC and the experience of other cities. We can also do concrete things in Malaga, some of it is already being worked in that direction. I am very excited that this incorporation to this KIC allows us to add, use, take advantage…A very positive synergy, I clearly see it this way.

 
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