Interview Ms. Ana Olivera Mayor of Montevideo, Uruguay
Which are the major areas of action of your government? Our main objective is to build a suitable city for all. We face three major operational challenges, which must be viewed from the perspective of renovation of the challenges of government: we are building a city for the 21 st century. The governing idea of our activity is to foster the right to the city. To install the third level of government by encouraging the broadest, most intense and effective participation possible, to foster permanent improvement of environmental quality –which is expressed both in better operation of the city cleaning and final waste removal systems and the extension of the sewage system and water treatment to cover the entire city– and to ensure the development of the metropolitan transport system, so as to multiply the capacity for mobility and access of all the inhabitants of Montevideo to all points in the city; these are the objectives that we are committed to for this period of time, which form part of a long-term effort that began 20 years ago that has made numerous achievements, but which must broaden in scope. The objective is still public happiness. To what extent can the idea of the “Educating City” contribute to meeting these challenges? The Educating City is crucial. There can be no possibility of improving and permanently transforming a city without a better informed and educated citizenry committed to the daily city management and to driving changes. 1
What are the main achievements and difficulties found in the process of decentralisation in favour of the districts that make up the city? The main achievement is to have set up the third level of government, a project that has been almost realised and which has been promoted for a long time, which, in this term of government, will be put to its first management test. The difficulties were numerous, but they mainly involved the resistance generated –and which will continue to be generated– by the real transfer of decision-making power and resources. How do these district councils promote citizen participation in the management of public policies? There are many mechanisms. Firstly, through the process of the election of mayor and councillors itself, and the debates around public policy connected to this process. Secondly, through the existence and functioning of the neighbourhood councils. Thirdly, by means of the open district councils. Fourthly, thanks to the promotion of the participatory Budget. And finally, through a permanent presence in our neighbourhoods in order to inform, debate and listen. Specifically, could you explain what the experience of the open district councils is about? They are an example of popular participation, a projection of activities and rendering of accounts that each municipality must organise annually, notwithstanding all the other activities that can take place to this same purpose. They are encounters with a consultative, participatory institution that is part of our history: the open councils were an extraordinary form of meeting that played a decisive role during the independence process. The topic for discussion for this year was the five-year plan of activities for each district and its budget. In respect of the government’s decision to improve environmental quality, could you explain some best practices that are taking place in this area? We have consistently argued for a policy of investment in an environmental sewer and water treatment system which today covers more than 80% of the city, and which will cover 100% by the end of the programmes that we have begun in this stage, which have already been financed. This is a major financial and organisational undertaking that has been carried out for decades and will continue to be carried out, and has impacted not only the general health of the population but also, for example, our beaches –one of the main public resources we have– which have received an environmental certification and which are an important popular recreational space and a tourist attraction. 2
To what extent does the urban mobility plan underway contribute to improving public spaces and winning them back for the citizenry? The best policy for the management of public spaces is to promote their intensive use by many people. The collective public transport system makes it possible to access public spaces: the beaches, parks, squares, centres; therefore strengthening it is one of our essential objectives.
Montevideo Independence Square © Tomás Jorquera Sepúlveda
Mobility is a right. Access to the enjoyment of public facilities in the city is a right. In order for everyone to be able to exercise these rights we must build a series of infrastructures, services and policies that encourage their use. This is the Mobility Plan. It is a plan oriented to strengthening and organising the mobility of people and goods in the city. How can being aware of the educative aspect of different policies and municipal actions contribute to city management? It enriches city management; it challenges it to constantly improve, and it gives it value and makes its protagonists feel they are of value. How do you promote transversality in the municipal actions? There is a permanent tension between the integral nature of problems and the real challenges involved in the daily management of a city and their traditional sectorial treatment, usually reinforced by the sectorial or departmental organisation of our institutions. In order to overcome this inertia we have organised operating cabinets through which various sectorial departments work together and simultaneously in the resolution of a problem or the definition of an institutional policy. Likewise, we promote this style of coordinated action jointly with other bodies. And we especially ensure that policies on gender, childhood, youth, the elderly, the disabled and on fighting discrimination are present as a necessary dimension of all our actions, because building a city is not only a physical activity, it especially involves building a complex network of economic, political, social and cultural actions of which the physical works are but the material support. Could you briefly explain other best practices that are being carried out in Montevideo aimed at building a more educating city? We have set up a programme of transparency, access to information and production of open information, which is an instrument that strengthens the quality of the information available and the facility of accessing it. We have a network of institutions –theatres, museums, zoos, planetarium, libraries, cultural and educational programmes linked to the environment, science and life in the city– which support educative activities fostered by the city government and by other public and private organisations, and which are a source of pride and a platform of services for the entire country. Moreover, we have organised specific educational programmes, such as the Our Children Programme, Classroom Theatre, or campaigns for ensuring that our workers finish primary or secondary school and specialise in issues related to our management responsibilities through the Training and Studies Centre, or educative communication programmes involving characters aimed at children, such as Tía Libbi. Beyond all this, life in the city is a lifelong educative experience that has to do with the construction of the project of coexistence that defines us. All public policies must bear this point in mind. 3