“San Sebastian is a city that has great potential in many areas beyond tourism.”

by Aitor Azurki

Donostia / San Sebastian. Capital of Gipuzkoa, one of the provinces of the Basque Country. This year the city has acquired a special importance since it was named European Cultural Capital 2016. Basque Tribune has set up a dialogue between Eneko Goia and Mikel Alonso about the city.  Eneko Goia (Donostia, 1971), graduate in Law and member of the PNV (Basque National Party), has been mayor of San Sebastian since 2015. He had other political responsibilities prior to this. Mikel Alonso (Tolosa, 1980, resident of San Sebastian), with a degree in Economics and a professional football player, is a member of the Advisory Council at Basque Tribune. The journalist, publicist and writer Aitor Azurki (Donostia, 1983) has accompanied them during the meeting as a witness and notary, in the beautiful office of the mayor in the Donostia City Hall.

Eneko Goia and Alonso

Eneko Goia shows Mikel Alonso an old painting in his office. Photo: Rubén Plaza

Mikel Alonso: As an icebreaker, what is it like being mayor in a year as special as this one? How do you feel?

Eneko Goia: If you have to use or choose one word, being mayor is intense; in all the senses of the word, because you are mayor twenty-four hours a day, with a very high level of public exposure. Quite high in comparison to things I might have done before, and with compete dedication; very hands-on, having to know thousands of subjects all very different from one another, and having to be very communicative with people.

M.A. Are you feeling comfortable? Because it has to be different when you first begin than when time is moving along and you find yourself more comfortable with that relationship with a city full of all kinds of opinions. I’m sure that people come pat you on the back, but I bet they come tell you not-so-good things too, as in any public position…

E.G: I think that it’s very important that you’re accessible, that you know where you are, that you’re familiar with the problems facing the city, and that people can share them with you without much difficulty other than the challenge of not being able to attend to all of them.  What I mean is, I think that you have to do it. If something comes with the job, this is one of the things, along with many others, but that is obvious and trying to do it is important, although it’s exhausting sometimes, because you’re not always in the right mood, or with the same morale. And if you take ten negative contacts in a row, well, it gets to you, because we’re all human.

M.A. Yes, sometimes I’m sure you feel the pressure, but I guess you enjoy it too, don’t you?

E.G. I sure do enjoy it, because I feel very much from San Sebastian, and I care a lot about it. So, of course, being the mayor of the city that matters the most to you is an incentive that I don’t really know how to describe.

M.A. It’s a very special year with the European Cultural Capital. I have a feeling that there is, maybe not a shift but a deepening in the path that Donostia has been on for some time. I mean that it seems like there is kind of a willingness for being more open to the world, isn’t there? An attempt to tell the world that here we are, obviously, taking advantage of this status as cosmopolitan. It seems obvious that we are trying to take advantage of the exposure and explore the potential of the city and attract visitors, which we are already noticing.

E.G. Yes. I don’t think the goal is about attracting visitors, it’s actually a result. For me the objective is, first of all, that the city is doing well, no doubt, and then it would be to project that image of the city, don’t you think? With all the benefits that this can bring and one of them is visitors, and that’s good too, because it generates wealth, etc. With moderation and respect, but it’s a good thing. So, I do believe that there has been a kind of change surely due to all of these factors. I don’t like to scrutinize anyone let alone past leadership, but I think that it had to do with a series of factors, which if resolved, Donostia could have a huge impact. For me the disappearance of the violence of ETA is a fundamental element, it’s very clear to me. I think it was the main burden that we carried, because we’re doing quite well in other areas. It’s a city that has great potential in various areas, and not just potential in only tourism attraction, as you can see in things like knowledge and innovation. It’s a powerful city, however, the violence was a dark cloud. And the disappearance of this baggage, together with the fact that in 2016 you are given a label associated with positive values, I mean, they are identifying the city with culture, not with something else. That’s a real opportunity. So, we have wanted to support all that. I think that in a world like the one we live in, you have to get out there. Get out and show who you are to the rest of the world just being yourself and finding your place.

M.A. In addition to visitors, I see that the visibility of the city has increased with international media and on the Internet. But at the same time I see that there is a debate facing many cities around the world. On the one hand, it is thought that this exposure is inevitable, positioning themselves as a model city is something that all cities would like to be, I mean, sold as a city brand, but do you think that this also has its dangers and that balance is important? There are discussions that you hear on the streets here in San Sebastian, but also in many cities like Madrid, Barcelona… I think that there are a lot of people who feel a resistance to that ‘inevitability’, to that globalization or ‘wild capitalism’ using the term of those who don’t like the idea.

eta Alonso

A moment during the dialogue between Mayor Goia and Mikel Alonso.Photo: Rubén Plaza

E.G. I don’t care for the term wild capitalism either, not at all, what’s more I think that is one of the biggest problems we have, that the political structures probably are not capable of facing the economic globalization that is already taking place… Globalization is an unstoppable phenomenon, so moving towards more closed positions, including theories of downsizing which are being supported in some places, I just don’t think are appropriate. But, clearly, within the scene of globalization, there are opportunities and there are dangers, as with everything in life. There are opportunities, because nowadays cities surely can do many more things on their own, without having to rely on the country to which it belongs. The former mayor of Barcelona Xavier Trias is someone who I’ve always heard defending the idea that he didn’t need a country to give him permission to collaborate with and working together, networking with other cities. So, this is a reality today and an opportunity that globalization offers you, but then as you say, there are risks. There’s the risk of loss of your identity, if you don’t have things extremely clear, because in this situation a wave can come in and just sweep you away. So it requires a commitment to identity, and then everything you mention about investors and speculation to which we are subjected, is a real risk. To me this is one of the aspects that worries me the most in regard to Donostia, because being in the center of focus as an attractive city, etc., is already generating certain tensions that do not benefit us as a city. It creates consequences derived from expulsion of inhabitants due to the increasing price of housing, etc., that are very dangerous, because the configuration of the whole city can be changed from one day to the next without even realizing it. We see experiences and situations in the world where this is carried to the extreme.  Take central London for instance, what is happening there is an outrage. We are not there yet, and I hope we never get there, but we already have examples like it. Or what happened in Barcelona with exacerbated tourism, reminding us what the dangers are that we have to try to fight against.

M.A. Yes, sometimes it seems like a double-edged sword, because I see the international publications, and somehow it’s true, Donostia, is able to comply with all of the parameters for being ‘five star.’ For instance, nature, water, food, now culturally potent, safe, clean, with mobility, environmentally correct… I truly understand the faces of amazement of outsiders when they first come to our city and I understand the desire to exploit this, but I believe that we have to be aware that this is a double-edged sword, in the sense that it is advantageous to generate a lot of things, but at the same time, you have to be able to take advantage of what the city offers without getting overwhelmed.  I guess that is the challenge of management too.

E.G. You have to try to fight this risk. If we project an image of the city and want to project an international image of the city based on real things, the first most important thing is that the key features used to define us are true and reflect reality. That does not necessarily have to result in the attraction of people physically coming here; but somehow we always associate it with that… What I mean is if we manage to have the image and city brand at the top, people who live in this city and have the name of our city on their business cards will have international prestige associated with the city which is going to help make them more competitive in the world.  So in this case, nobody really has to go anywhere. In today’s world, it’s not always necessary to say: “It’s because people are coming here.”  It’s not only about that.

M.A. Yes, for sure, it’s not only about people coming, but also about generating opportunities. I’ve also read in many places (you commented on this before and it seemed interesting to me) the role of mayors around the world in which somehow, the country, the old politics or certain ideologies are disappearing or are in a crisis situation. To some extent, a mayor, can have a political orientation but in the end, as the mayor of New York said: “Here, to fix a broken pipe, political orientation doesn’t matter.” I think that in the new movement of politics with more of a bottom-up than top-down style, mayors have more opportunities to do more things that can also establish alliances between their own cities without dependence on countries. For example, some months ago there was a G-70 for cities to reduce pollution emissions. I mean proposals in which countries and the European Union are not in consideration.  Cities were organized according to size. I find this very interesting that mayors or cities have some freedom.

E.G. It’s moving that way. The reality is shifting this way more and more. What you’re proposing, the entire strategy against climate change is a very clear example. In the end, regardless of what the countries do, cities, mayors, come together, set goals to achieve and then one develops policies with the oldest and most practical technique I know, which is the copy-paste technique [laughs]. It’s the truth.

M.A. Yes it is.

Concha Donostia

The overcrowding of tourism is currently one of the topics for discussion and reflection in the city. Photo: Rubén Plaza

E.G. Because you’re going to see examples, and see the decisions that other cities have made, and the consequences they have had… and in the end, the role of the country is becoming increasingly smaller, it’s more of a condition that you have to keep in mind to do what you want, right? And at another level, the European Union, at a given time may even be collaborating on projects that you want to do. This is the case of the ‘Replicate’ project, for example, which is one of the projects Donostia is onboard with at this time with Bristol and Florence. If you think you know what you want to do, and how you want it to do it, it’s up to you. In the end, you don’t have to be waiting for someone from above you to say, “Here is how.” Sometimes that’s the way it is, but you can have your own initiative. And in many cases, you can have your networks of cities and contributors and develop projects. This is something that is clearly increasing more and more.

M.A. I hear a lot that policies are directed more towards cooperative government.  Not so much in pyramidal structures, but as a government of networks and bridges. I mean, how to understand government not just as you or your team, but as people outside the government who also govern. I think they call it ‘new governance’, right? It means being much more prepared to associate and I guess this is something happening to you now, isn’t it? You’ve been in politics for quite a while, but I guess that you’re seeing more of this all the time.

E.G. I come from a basic foundation: that is the case with the city and the territory and of this country probably too, that, in the end, the protagonist of a city is the citizens and their organized society. And if many things have happened in this city and if it is a successful city, why should we deny it? If there are things that work well, it’s because of their citizenship and their civil and organized society has been able to promote projects, developing many things. As city hall, what you have to try to do is try to fit well there, I mean, not substitute anything, or try to take limelight away from anyone, trying to design the city your way. From this point of view, I am a fervent believer in public-private collaboration in the broad sense of the word. I mean, I’m not talking about companies and institutions, but companies and agents of all kinds, and the government. I think that they have to have a strategy in which they are aligned and go hand in hand. Because there are other ways of thinking that I’ve seen from both from the left and the right which I think are obsolete.

M.A. Yes, and possibly in social networks, all that is technology, are also in some way influencing this, transforming politics as well. With respect to culture related to identity, with the Basque issue or the Basque language… I think that identity is defined by the culture of the peoples, but I have a feeling that in all of the events where difference, or the culture of differences is celebrated, it’s as if our cultural uniqueness was dying, as if we were almost celebrating its burial more, as if they are things of the past and are now in a world which has moved on. They are things that define us, but things that we no longer do: they are trades that are dying, or stars that are disappearing.  I think that nowadays a person from San Sebastian, one from New York and one from Copenhagen seem more and more alike. I get the feeling from not seeing that diversity in many cultural events and celebrations. Maybe we’ve come to that moment now of: “We’re going to create a new difference.” And also related to that, what is to become of culture as an industry, which seems to be important in making cities attractive and, in addition, so that culture can survive. But which culture are we talking about? Is this the death of a certain type of culture?

E.G. That’s a difficult question and a very timely reflection. I wouldn’t say both a shared identity, and a new one, that are being created, in that the differences of one from Copenhagen and a Basque are less visible, although that is also true. You see I don’t know whether it’s shared or if this new culture is a little bit alienating. I mean, we all see I don’t know how many things mostly produced in the United States and this somehow makes us more uniform in some way. This really is happening. You can go anywhere in Europe and young people increasingly look more alike in their habits, etc. But I also think that in this space, identity and culture have their place, which does not mean that you have to spend all your time resorting to the past, because then it generates the feeling that we are celebrating the death of our culture. You have to try (and it’s difficult); I think that the challenge facing Basque culture is to generate new content, new creation… To search for your place in the future and just not stay with the traditional Basque weight lifters, etc., which, in effect, are concepts that give this feeling. And sometimes we fall into making this mistake.

M.A. Yes, it’s a trend happening around the world, also because on a cultural level everything having to do with Internet is having a very powerful influence in what we think of as cultural creation. Everything gets converted into an event, a fair… Somehow, it’s said that creation brings about critical thinking, but it is as if it was the opposite. It really fosters homogeneity… There is a debate occurring today in the world of culture.

E.G. Obviously, it’s very basic. I’m always given the same example and it’s true. When I go to Scotland, I’m expecting to see kilts and whisky drinking, right? Because, if I go and there are McDonalds, etc., why would I even go to Scotland? That, for sure, has a component of cultural tourism, making the most of the culture. Yes, it sure does.

Elena Arzak SS16

The European Capital of Culture 2016 has achieved international notoriety for San Sebastian. Rubén Plaza

Aitor Azurki: I don’t know if you want to comment on how new generations will see the past, now that violence has come to an end, but how will this be seen in the future?

M.A. What I see since the city has been named Cultural Capital 2016, is that during this time of political normalization we are taking advantage of the coexistence process and moving forward.

E.G. In addition, this is the reason for being of the Cultural Capital status. At the time when it was proposed (and the protagonists were others) the thinking was, what do we need as a city? We need to learn to live together. Then, the whole approach, all the talk about this status, and how difficult its management is comes from there, because rather than focusing on building a few new infrastructures, which is what other cultural capital cities have focused on, here we have focused on process. Obviously, processes are described easily but carrying them out is what becomes very difficult. That’s where their complexity comes in and their added value too.

A.A.  And has the message about the Cultural Capital been made clear to the citizens?

E.G. I don’t think so. I think that it has been difficult for them, and I include myself in there as well. When they tell you you’re going to be the European Cultural Capital, what do you expect with that as a first impression? Do you build a museum or a bigger auditorium and have forty concerts and I don’t know how many more things? Intuitively you expect that. We all expected things like this, in addition, being from San Sebastián we are a bit exhibitionist, happy to brag about how wonderful we are, so how could we imagine less? Well, it wasn’t the case. And explaining, and convincing people that it wasn’t the case was something else, it was really challenging. But all in all, I sincerely think that since the ball began rolling and the project started to take its first steps, everything has been running well thanks to a huge effort in getting people to participate, etc., and gradually it has settled in and I have the feeling that people finally are saying, “Maybe it’s not what we thought it was going to be, but it’s turned out just fine.”

M.A. I’ve been to many shows scheduled and people enjoyed them. Clearly, it’s very demanding to hold an event in a city with a high cultural level, where there has always been culture and in addition, must continually generate a lot of content.

E.G. Yes. The city is very demanding. Maybe I’m in a position where it seems even more so, but, objectively, San Sebastian is a very demanding city. I’m sure it has its own sociological explanation for this.

M.A. I’m going to read you a quote: “To be a politician nowadays is to begin again each and every day.”  How in this digital, global world, with such immediacy, it is a paradox that, having so much freedom of expression in politics, the opposite tends to happen. It’s as if there was more repression. The idea of more freedom of expression is sold to us yet sometimes there’s the opposite feeling. If someone says something that’s slightly outside of the expected, there is a very strong repression. I’m talking about the way we communicate, that everything is taken to social media, to have presence in networks, for political marketing… I think this is something that politicians experience often personally and it worries them.

E.G. I don’t remember which politician it was, but an interesting reflection was made. He said that we live with such pressure over everything we say and do (because it is all absolutely monitored and controlled in real time) that it leads to paralysis to avoid messing up. And he is right. I think that this is a real risk and we’re wrong. This is not more freedom of expression; it is more social control, but understood in a bad way. We are making a mistake; this is a demonized wheel and takes everything a politician does and gives it social control and this is unbearable. I say this sincerely; it just cannot be. But that is the trap we are falling into. I know that it seems like we politicians are guilty of all the curses and problems of the world, but I think that as society we need to do some reflecting about this, because it can lead us to some terrible consequences. I’m sure about that. Social networks are causing debates to become so perverted that, in the end, instead of politicians, what we have are actors. Sorry to be a bit extreme, but I think that, ultimately, this is subjecting them to such pressure that there is an obsession about image and, in the end, all movements and gestures are motivated by the reaction they will bring. That goes against all of what is, at least my conception, of politics.

M.A. There has been a major change in this staging, in the political communication. There is also a social revolution taking place, a very important change in community development and in the way people feel politics. There is a political reactivation of people that could be defined as “opposing the neo-liberal flow.” Without sometimes entering into ideologies, but as a way to feel involved and say, “Look, we organized ourselves and changed the neighborhood.” There are many initiatives of this type in all large cities and, well, conflicts too, because sometimes these initiatives come into conflict with the people of these same  neighborhoods, with the people of the city and the people of City Hall. So, representing City Hall, I suppose that the position is: “Let’s try to channel that energy, that impressive associative framework, because if we can channel this, it can really help us a lot.”

E.G. Of course. You always have to remember that new technologies have become a part of the press. They serve to reinforce your associative fabric insofar as they allow possibilities for connection to happen in just a half hour, in what would otherwise take a month. That is a real virtue and you have to try to take advantage of that. I’m convinced of that. And I think that in the world there is an excess of examples to show that, clearly, many things have changed, thanks to Internet and social networks. Arab revolutions, unfortunately failed, but in their origin show how people can even overcome an undemocratic government and its impositions and limitations that it establishes in order to know the truth and react. It does have this very positive potential, but also has its risks.

M.A. On the other hand, there’s also the ‘Smart Cities’ topic, the technology within the city directly related to transportation, but also with Administration, citizen participation, social participation, entrepreneurship for young people who are in precarious employment situations… I suppose that in this area there is also a need for adaptation of businesses and management bodies. I read an article from an architect saying that all these technologies, in a paradoxical way, were going to result in cities seeming more like in past times: more livable cities, slower paced, with local businesses… Regarding urban spaces, there is an effort to have more urban spaces offered by the city to encourage a better relationship between the citizens and the City Hall.

E.G. The concept of Smart Cities has become one of those terms that covers a lot of ground and is related to many things.  It seems to be a positive mark of identity, and in the end, it’s so positive that everyone has adopted it. But, you have to ask yourself the question of exactly what it is you want and then use the technology, but sometimes we can get carried away with technology and we think we are creating a smart city by implementing a bunch of junk, and it’s not the case. One of the key elements in the function of City Hall is, precisely, using new modes of governance and citizen participation. More than just, for example, having smart lampposts that light up when a pedestrian walks by. If technology allows this, great, but it has no greater value. In this relational environment with citizenship is where we really have to work and we can really make a difference. Everything else is fine. It’s technology. But the real advantage is more in the other: new forms of governance and implementing them by using technologies that make the relationship and active involvement with the citizen easier. As I said before, public-private collaboration. I almost prefer to use the term ‘collaboration’ instead of ‘participation’.

The Technology Park of San Sebastian. Commitment to knowledge, innovation and research is a priority for the mayor of the city. Photo: Rubén Plaza

The Technology Park of San Sebastian. Commitment to knowledge, innovation and research is a priority for the mayor of the city. Photo: Rubén Plaza

M.A. On the other hand, I would guess that you’ve been in other cities, I don’t know if there are some other cities that inspire you, that you like, cities that might have aspects that you love for Donostia. Some of these aspects are not so easily changed, but there are always things to imitate.

E.G. Each city is very different from another, but if you ask me the one I like the most, I would say it’s Barcelona, with all its problems arising from mass tourism. I had the opportunity to get to know the city a little bit thanks to Xavier Trias, because we had a relationship during an earlier term of his when I was in the opposition in San Sebastian and he was the mayor of Barcelona, and there were things that I liked: the openness as a city, its ability to attract talent, its cosmopolitan character… Yes, Barcelona is much bigger than Donostia. Its positioning is different and maybe it’s very pretentious but we shared certain similarities with its internationalization strategy and brand image, which now I´m not sure how it has panned out after Barcelona’s change in City Hall. I believe that there are things that they have maintained after the change, more than what some think, but I think that Trias did have a pretty clear idea of what he wanted. And in part, acknowledging our differences, I liked it, and I identified with it.

And then there are cities which are currently examples: Copenhagen is one of them, from the point of view of sustainability, and the environmental commitment they are showing, public transport… It is one of the sites you look at which also has its negative aspects, for example, in the whole area of social services there is a reflection being made and we are warned by it: “We know that we are an example when it comes to social services, but have come to such a point that we have dehumanized it, with the idea that the one responsible for what happens to my mother is the government, and the family has ceased to be responsible. We have come to realize that it’s gone too far.” I say this so that we don’t idealize it, since regarding some things they themselves are still critical.

M.A. In other words… that the government ends up taking care of the citizen.

E.G. Yes, and then you generate the total irresponsibility of the family, you see? As totally detached. And it shouldn’t be that way. Then Edinburgh is a city that I love. It has very interesting cultural activity; it’s doing very well. Apart from the political debates which appeal to me, it also has its attractions and is a city that I liked when I had the opportunity to visit there. Now, if you ask me which city I like, I like Rome, but not as mayor: I think it’s a spectacular city, but quite chaotic.

M.A: Beyond the administrative part, at the level of organizations, it’s perceived that when the Donostia citizen notices a problem, he or she does not stay at home and gets out on the streets. Whether it´s an issue related to housing evictions, immigrants… There is a huge mobilization, a great deal of solidarity, some very developed values.

E.G. Yes, that has to do with the way we are. I always say it. Here, when there are two people affected by the same disease, an association is created. You have many examples: people with Down’s syndrome, brain paralysis, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Autism, Alzheimer’s… Ours is an extremely active civil society, which is organized, and does not wait for “Father Administration” to give an answer, but rather seeks it. Then the administration is there with support, but the initiative arises from society itself, and that is invaluable. I don’t know if this trait is cultural, but it must be preserved.

Entrevista a Eneko Goia con Mikel Alonso para Basque Tribune

Aitor Azurki acted as notary in the extensive conversation between the two protagonists of this meeting. Rubén Plaza

Aitor Azurki: An important subject to consider, one you’ve just mentioned, the topic of immigration, for example. One is a more visible immigration, and another is one that´s not seen, but also exists. The Russians, for example, that come to San Sebastian, buying the best condos in the city. There are many types of immigration, some that are better accepted than others.

E.G. This has always been said, right? It depends on the purchasing power, that´s how we usually judge.  Apparently Arabs are thought of in a certain way, unless they’re in a Rolls-Royce and wearing a turban. In Donostia the thing is that we still have rates that are too low, and I think that we have not seriously faced this problem. I mean, you see other cases, another Basque city like Vitoria, without going further away. You have immigration rates much higher than Donostia, which has 7%, if not less, which is low looking at the current norm. Moreover, I believe that we have not had serious integration problems, to be honest. We’ll probably have them so it’s something we need to be attentive about and not lower our guard, because they probably will come and we will have the same situation that others have in nearby places. This is still to come.

A.A. Another topic that is getting a lot of attention for anyone coming from abroad is the Basque language. Many are concerned about it, but where is the Basque language in this society? I mean, what have we done with the Basque language? I don’t know if all the money that has been invested by institutions for the recovery of Basque has seen good results. I mean, is Donostia a city that knows and speaks Basque?

E.G. I’m sure that people know more than they did ten, twenty or thirty years ago, but do they speak it in proportion to their knowledge? Also I can tell you one thing: I know several people, friends of mine, and their immigrant children who probably have a very hard time acquiring expertise in Basque, and because of their personal circumstances, I understand that it will be quite complicated for them, yet their small children who are in school speak it divinely.

A.A. I’m referring to the role of the Basque language in the future above all, which perhaps would be due for a repositioning in Donostia, because you enter a neighboring town like Astigarraga, and everyone is able to speak it, but here in the city?

E.G. Yes, here we have a serious problem regarding usage. I have three children. I´ve lived a long time in Aia and my children have gone to the Ikastola (Basque language school) of Aia. And the change to Donostia is huge. Just huge. I mean, they themselves are still in shock, because of less use of Basque, the use is so much less, even in environments that know it and even if they are Ikastola students. When they leave the Ikastola, the language that those children use is Spanish; that is true and is a challenge that we are faced with.

A.A: We haven’t spoken about sports yet.

M.A. It’s clear that this is a city where sports are everywhere, which also makes Donostia a very attractive city with such a big sports culture.

E.G. And then with top category teams that we have competing here. We have a level of athletes that is unreal, both in team sports as well as individual. It is deeply rooted. We also have infrastructures that, although we complain quite a bit about them, if you compare, they are substantial.

M.A. As for libraries, there is also an amazing infrastructure. The public library, Tabakalera, culture houses… Very impressive. Anyone who comes here from another place sees it.

E.G. And on the subject of sports, just like with the issue of integration, something else comes into play: the associative potential is huge. In San Sebastian, you have everything. This forming of associations, groups and partnerships in our sports world is in good health and has enormous strength. It is another thing that´s going pretty well for us.

M.A. There is another thing that we skipped over before but it’s also a problem: housing. With the opening of the global tourism market, in the end, the influence that the real estate world has is also a problem. It’s a challenge too, above all because of higher prices and because of the situation of our youth… It’s a society that has many more people, but there are also young people. To create housing, urban planning… This is also a challenge, isn’t it?

E.G. This is a problem. When demand is so high that it makes your city which has three streets with the highest housing price per square meter of Spain, obviously, that has negative repercussions on people with a lower purchasing level. Obviously, a portion of these people are young people beginning their emancipation process, and that is a problem. Because as City Hall you can, assist and build, and this does take place, but it is very difficult to solve the overall problem, because you just can’t do it all. Anyone who says otherwise, is a demagogue. We have four thousand young people on a waiting list. Therefore, there is no way that City Hall has the capacity to give a solution to four thousand requests for housing. They will have grown old by the time you have the chance to give them an answer. So it’s a problem that we must try to respond to promoting leases for public housing, but it’s not the only way and the others are complicated, because the demand is so high that people pay whatever you ask for, and it is very difficult to try to prevent that from happening. The truth is, I worry a lot about this.

M.A. Yes, it’s what is happening in other cities. We talked about it before, the attraction and the gentrification, that double edge which we were talking about with the Capital of Culture status and the increase of level in services, infrastructure… but also making everything more expensive. So, in the end, you end up with certain areas of the city becoming more expensive and exclusive. And this is a problem especially for young people, because a gap opens. This is a debate for big cities, but also for Donostia.

Climate change and its impact on the city is reason for concern. Photo: Rubén Plaza

Climate change and its impact on the city is reason for concern. Photo: Rubén Plaza

A.A: Another topic to think about would be climate change, and that we could end up without the Concha beach in twenty years…

E.G. If the forecasts are met as projected… I don’t know if we’ll be without a beach, but there are things on the table, such as the impacts of the ocean on the coastline, which force you to introduce changes and reflections in the city. That’s for sure. We have two things to consider: one, how to deal with what is inevitable, and the second thing is how to contribute to not worsening it. You have two things to do. It’s true, and the data seem to corroborate, that in regard to flooding episodes and sea storms, we are going to be facing them with greater frequency each time, which forces us to have to make decisions.

M.A. Finally, we need to address the issue of young people, entrepreneurship, and management of new ideas as social innovation. Also I’ve heard you saying that there is a very important industrial fabric in the province of Gipuzkoa, which is now facing its challenges, but with an important part here, with its technology parks. So what is Donostia? The place for these people to live or a hospitality site? What kind of services will it offer? Will it become a shopping place?

E.G. It already is quite a bit. No, our destiny is linked to the industrial character of Gipuzkoa and the Basque Country. This is the case, because even though we have driven the industrial sector out of our city limits because we didn’t like it much and weren’t comfortable with it, it still affects us. I mean a person from Donostia works in companies of the province, many of them leading ones like CAF or Orona… And then, and above all, the four universities in the city have many study programs offered in relation to what industry generates and the advanced services needed by this industry in the territory. The city can also act as a showcase.

M.A. Fairs, summer courses…

E.G. And as a place that welcomes all the people that come. Hey, besides, we dedicate 3% of the gross domestic product of the city to research at the Miramón Technology Park, which shows they are accomplishing many things.

M.A. And I’ve seen that in a way, this awareness about the Cultural Capital status, creativity, new ideas, innovation… also tries to influence a little in that field to promote people undertaking this type of activity.

E.G. For me that is the main area in which we must focus as a city. Tourism, culture… all of that is very nice, I think that it is the second area. The first is all the activity of knowledge, research and innovation, applied to generate a product of added value for the industry of the province of Gipuzkoa and the Basque Country in general.

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Aitor Azurki
Aitor Azurki is a journalist and writer. @AitorAzurki

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