María José Catalá is the Mayor of Europe (Green City) for June 2024, Source: Ajuntament de Valencia

María José Catalá: the Green Capital mindset is transversal to all action levels and will continue in the years to come

María José Catalá: the Green Capital mindset is transversal to all action levels and will continue in the years to come

An interview with the Mayor of Valencia, the 2024 European Green Capital

María José Catalá (1981) became the Mayor of Valencia in May 2023. Her passion for justice and freedom led her to pursue a career in law, believing that it is a powerful instrument for creating a better and more resilient society. She holds a doctorate in Public Law from CEU-Cardenal Herrera University and is also a member of the Bar Association of Valencia. María José Catalá holds a master's degree in Business Administration and Management (MBA).

Throughout her political career, she has held various significant positions, including Mayor of Torrent, member of the Congress of Deputies, Minister of Education, Culture, and Sports of the Generalitat Valenciana.

Madame Mayor, how would you describe this year for Valencia? Is this a Renaissance time for your city?

This year represents a great opportunity to showcase Valencia from a sustainability point of view and to position ourselves as one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean, making the most of the Green Capital status. For the city of Valencia, the year 2024 means being able to make plans for the future, to complete ambitious environmental projects around the city and expand, for instance, its network of parks and gardens, creating new green spaces in the city so that residents can enjoy them in their daily lives.

What kind of responsibilities come with the European Green Capital 2024 title?

This recognition is a responsibility without a time limit as well as a source of pride. And the recognition should not just expire at the end of 2024. Meaning that the Green Capital mindset is transversal to all action levels and will continue in the years to come.

For the city of Valencia, the Green Capital status touches all areas of the city's government that deal with environmental policies: from areas such as parks and gardens or waste collection to education or the municipal facilities themselves, with the implementation of energy-saving policies or the commitment to electric and hybrid buses in the city's public bus fleet.

97% of Valencia’s inhabitants live within 300 metres of green urban areas. How was that achieved, over what period of time, and is it applicable to most Mediterranean cities?

Being able to enjoy urban green areas in the city has been a long process and, in many cases, we can now enjoy these spaces due to residents’ demands in the 1980s. Thanks to these mobilization initiatives the city now has two important green spaces.

One of these spaces is the Albufeira Natural Park, which has one of the largest lakes in Spain and the El Saler forest. We are currently working so it can be declared a Biosphere Reserve. The other space is the Turia Garden, our old river converted into the largest linear urban garden in Europe (12 kilometres long), which traverses the city.

In addition to these two large green areas, there are other large historic parks such as the Viveros Garden or green areas that have been created by reconverting existing urban spaces. For instance, the transformation of the military headquarters into Parque del Oeste, or the creation of the Benicalap Park or the Ayora Garden decades ago.

In addition, all the city's urban expansion areas include green zones, such as the new PAI del Grao, which will include more than 160,000 square metres of green zones, becoming a green delta that will join the more than 100,000 square metres of the Desembocadura Park, the new, developing connection between the Turia Garden and the sea.

Staying on the Mediterranean topic, what are the challenges of staying green and verdant in these times of climate crisis and chronic drought?

Valencia has made an important commitment to the rational and efficient use of water, which is why we have a double water network: the drinking water supply network and the low-pressure network of non-potable water for the irrigation of parks and gardens of more than 157 km. We are also constantly improving the pipes to prevent leaks.

Likewise, the plant species that we use in our parks and gardens are adapted to the Mediterranean climate and the characteristics of the area. We also have an extensive catalogue of protected monumental trees that are monitored to prevent their deterioration.

Can you give us an example of making traditions “greener”? What had to change to make the iconic Fallas festival into Fallas verdes?

The Fallas have been working for years on new materials to make traditions more sustainable. The idea is to move away from cork and return to wood and papier-mâché, more traditional materials. In addition, Valencian universities are studying the viability of new materials, such as the use of rice straw and rice husks to make ninots (ed. the traditional floats used in the fallas).

In addition, the Fallas are much more than a cultural monument and a great effort is being made to ensure that people recycle on festival days, that single-use cups are replaced by recyclable cups, and that rubbish is correctly separated. In the pyrotechnics part of the festivities, we are committed to eliminating plastic from the casings.

Part of this year’s Green Capital programme is the organising of the 11th edition of the European Urban Resilience Forum (EURESFO) together with ICLEI. What should the public and stakeholders expect from this event?

They will be able to exchange experiences to improve their cities, to give participating European cities an opportunity to learn about the pioneering programmes they are carrying out and to be able to see which of these can be applied locally to improve the quality of life of their residents.

And, of course, I hope everyone will enjoy the city of Valencia, its gastronomy, and its hospitality. We are a city that combines history with modernity, and I invite participants to set aside a few hours to stroll through the Turia Garden, walk around the city centre or discover Calatrava's City of Arts and Sciences. Past, present, and future of the city - all in the same space.

More sustainability ideas from Valencia:

In Valencia, RIP means using cemeteries to produce renewable energy

Valencia has Spain’s longest urban park

EU Green Capital Valencia will host 2024 edition of European Urban Resilience Forum



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