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Q&A – Manuel Valls, Former French PM, Barcelona

Born in Barcelona to a Catalan-artist father and Swiss mother but raised in France, former French prime minister Manuel Valls has returned to the city that he thinks of as home. And he’s hoping to woo Barcelona’s constituents with his eurocentric approach as he campaigns to become the city’s mayor in May’s election.

Monocle: Why did you decide to run for mayor?
Manuel Valls: Well, I was born in Barcelona and I lived in Paris. For me Barcelona is a unique European city and an incredible brand. Cities can invent the answers to change. What will happen in Barcelona at the municipal level will predict a lot for Europe. I think there is a change coming for Barcelona, Catalonia, Europe and democracy. I represent a new Europe.

M: What Europe is that?
MV: A Europe of citizens, of youth, values and democracy. There is a battle in Europe but it’s war in the United States: populism against liberal democracy. You think about France, Italy, Germany, the UK with Brexit and Spain with Catalonia and separatism: it’s the same debate about the idealism of the left and right.

M: Where does Barcelona stand on independence in the current climate?
MV: Barcelona has to decide whether it wants to be a great capital of Europe or the capital of a republic. The consequences of that decision are very important not only for Catalonia and Spain but also for Europe. The independence movement is very strong in Catalonia but things are different in Barcelona, where the movement can be part of the solution.

M: What needs to change in Barcelona?
MV: A lot. We must push the idea of the great metropolis of Barcelona as a first priority. We have to work with the people to solve the problems of mobility and security. I propose strong institutional reform with the Spanish government to improve relations with Madrid. In Spain you have two big cities: Madrid and Barcelona. The relationship between them is very important.

M: How can Barcelona be more attractive to international business?
MV: It’s the new California of Europe. As mayor I will prioritise the future sector: social information and communication and mobile technologies. I think the best of Barcelona is yet to come – but we need to be global. Populism and separatism are against globalism.


Late arrival

Jakarta — Transport

When Indonesia holds its election in April, a few lucky residents of Jakarta will be able to travel to polling booths by subway.

The sprawling and increasingly gridlocked capital is launching its first mass-transit railway after decades of feasibility studies. But Jakarta MRT’s inaugural line, which runs from north to south, is barely 16km-long. An extension has been postponed until at least the middle of the next decade and a planned east-west line is still on the drawing board. Jakartans might vote with their feet.


Walking the walk

Seoul — Urbanism

Seoul’s globetrotting mayor Park Won-soon finds inspiration in his travels. He brought New York’s High Line to Seoul in the form of Seoullo 7017; now he plans to recreate London’s Trafalgar Square in the South Korean capital.

Park has plans to change Gwanghwamun Square from a giant traffic island into a public space by permanently shutting one of the main roads that runs south of Gyeongbokgung Palace and alongside the sprawling Sejong Center. The winning redesign, submitted by professor Youngmin Kim of the University of Seoul, is set to triple public space at ground level come 2021 and link to a sizeable underground plaza.

The development is part of the mayor’s plan to make his car-focused city more welcoming to pedestrians. He has plenty of time: Park, Seoul’s mayor since 2011, won re-election last June for another four-year term.


Out with the old

Seattle — Urbanism

North American cities prioritised freeways in the 20th century but Seattle is about to shift gears. The Alaskan Way Viaduct, a double-decker freeway built in 1953 that separated the city’s urban centre from its waterfront, is being torn down to make way for new public spaces.

The project – led by mayor Jenny Durkan – will be financed in part by the city’s newest tax: property owners who live within the regeneration area will pay $160m (€107m) towards the 26-block park and promenade overlooking Elliott Bay. Designed by James Corner Field Operations, the space is due to open in 2023.

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