Carlos González Serna, the Mayor of Elche/Elx, Source: Ajuntament d'Elx

Carlos González: We are now working to become the European Green Capital in 2030

Carlos González: We are now working to become the European Green Capital in 2030

An interview with the Mayor of Elche, Spain

Carlos González (Elche, 1965) had practised law professionally until he was elected Mayor of Elche in 2015, at which moment he changed his status to a non-practising collegiate. He was a councillor in the City Council of Elche between 1995 and 2004, assuming different responsibilities. Specifically, he was in charge of the areas of Human Resources, Finance, Contracting and Purchasing, Citizen Security, Traffic, Tourism, Economic Promotion and was also vice president of both the INTESA Municipal Society and PIMESA.

First, in 2004, and then in 2008, he was part of the PSOE's candidacy for the Spanish Parliament from the province of Alicante. He was deputy spokesperson for the Socialist Parliamentary Group in the Interior Commission between 2004 and 2011. He also actively participated in the Justice, Development and Road Safety Commissions.

Mr. Mayor, how would you describe Elche in your own words?

I like saying that Elche is a city of deep contrasts. It is a city steeped in history, and where we treat our traditions with care and dedication.

At the same, time we strive to be an open, dynamic and cosmopolitan municipality. We foster an open and diversified economy that supports its socio-economic development based on the traditional footwear industry, agriculture, services, tourism and sustainable construction.

And we are also a city with a deep ambition for improvement. That is why we are now working to be the European Green Capital in 2030 - a commitment to transform and modernize the city, from the perspective of sustainable development. In short, we are a modern and dynamic city that values ​​its history and traditions.

This is a town of many unique symbols, such as the palms and the Mystery of Elche - recognized by UNESCO. What can the city do to make them better known to an international tourist audience?

We proudly treasure our three valuable World Heritage Sites: the Palmeral, the Mystery and the Museum of Puçol. We are known worldwide for being the place where the masterpiece of Iberian art - the Lady of Elche – was discovered. We also have unique natural landscapes such as El Hondo, El Clot, El Pantano or our nine kilometres of paradise beaches.

In other words, we have an unmistakable tourist appeal that places us among the cities with rich natural and cultural heritage, ready to share it with the rest of Spain and the European Union. To this end, we are promoting a Smart Tourist Destination Strategic Plan, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and committed to sustainable tourism development. It will make Elche one of the main tourist destinations in the Spanish Mediterranean Basin.

What are the main economic sectors in your municipality and how have they been affected by the Covid crisis?

Elche’s economic engine par excellence is the footwear industry. Here, around 45% of the footwear made in Spain is manufactured and we are also one of the main producers in Europe.

The pandemic has slowed the good moment the sector was going through and there has been a drop in exports of more than 30 percent. This means a very considerable reduction in business volume that will have an impact on income and employment.

Tourism, services and construction, which are very dynamic sectors, have also suffered a considerable reduction in their activity as a result of the fall in demand experienced during the different phases of the pandemic. Our expectations are that, with the vaccination rollout, a return to social normality will ensue and that this will lead to vigorous and sustained economic and employment growth in the fourth quarter of the year.

Speaking of Covid, your administration has introduced innovative COVID air and water detection systems. Can you tell us more about these?

Thanks to the collaboration of this City Council with the Miguel Hernández University (UMH), we have installed meters in streets and squares of the city that can detect the presence of coronavirus in the air. This is an innovative project, born in the Valencian universities, that has aroused the interest of private investors.

In addition, since the summer of 2020, together with the Aigües d’Elx joint venture, we have analyzed the municipal wastewater to detect remains of the pathogenic virus. These analytic measurements had to be updated in January to enable the detection of the British variant.

Are there projects or initiatives underway that seek to introduce a more sustainable lifestyle in Elche?

The projects to make Elche a more socially just, supportive, diverse, inclusive and sustainable city, as set by the SDGs, are transforming the urban landscape like never before. We have avoided the emission of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere by restricting motor vehicle traffic and pedestrianizing the streets of the central area. We are committed to sustainable mobility by investing in hybrid buses, extending the bike lanes and expanding the bicycle loan service or helping the introduction of the electric car here.

In addition, the slope of the Vinalopó riverbank serves as a great green lung - a healthy area for the recreation of the residents. All these actions, which include a Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan, are in no way isolated but are part of the municipal government's commitment reflected in the Elx2030 plan. That plan aims to transform Elche into a more environmentally friendly town, in addition to aspiring to be the European Green Capital in 2030.

Finally, how is the wave of vaccinations going in your municipality?

Elche is demonstrating its extensive preparation to develop large-scale operations, such as the mass vaccination campaign, in coordination with the Valencian regional administration, to inoculate thousands of people a day.

From the first moment, we offered numerous sports facilities so that the municipality could speed up the process as much as possible. Once the vaccination of the most vulnerable people of this pandemic has been completed, such as nursing home residents, dependents and those over 60 years of age,

Of the 234,765 inhabitants of the municipality, approximately 140,000 have already been immunized with at least one dose, (this data is correct for the end of May). The majority of these received their shots at the Alicante Fair Institution (IFA), converted into a large vaccination centre with direct and free transportation, where citizens are called in according to their age group.

If everything goes as planned, at the end of July we calculate that it will be the turn of the people aged between 30 and 39. And although we have the capacity to immunize 20,000 people per week, which would allow the entire population to be vaccinated in less than three months, we do depend on the supply of the vaccines.

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