How did Bilbao continue to transform itself over the years despite changes in its leadership? The answer lies in an institutionalised process through a private non-profit entity known as Bilbao Ria 2000. This case study takes an in-depth look at how this unique urban governance model helped Bilbao get to where it is today.
||Ongoing since 1992
Bilbao Ria 2000 © Bilbao City Hall
- Bilbao Ria 2000 is a publicly-funded private firm comprising of several public shareholders, namely the government, ministries, several public agencies and private enterprises.
- It coordinates and executes projects related to town planning, transportation and the environment, focusing on the urban directives drawn up by the planning authorities.
- The non-profit entity has, since 1992, taken a lead role in the redevelopment of the metropolitan region and continues to support current and proposed initiatives for the city’s future.
Key issues faced before the implementation of the project
Bilbao’s waterfront – before and after the transformation © Bilbao City Hall
- Decline of mining, steel and shipbuilding industries, which conditioned the urban structure along the river.
- Rising unemployment of about 22.5% in the 1970s and 80s, due to deindustrialisation and disinvestment both from abroad and other parts of Spain.
- Negative environmental impact on the river from industries and port activities.
Leadership and governance
Ownership structure of Bilbao Ria 2000 © Bilbao City Hall
- Bilbao benefited from successive mayors who saw through the urban initiatives that transformed the city. Bilbao Ria 2000 was initiated by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport and the Environment (currently Ministry of Development), and established by the late Dr Inaki Azkuna (mayor of Bilbao from 1999-2014) in 1992, who assumed the role as chairman, during his appointment as Health Councillor of the Basque Government.
- The ownership structure comprises the Housing Ministry (25%), Bilbao Port Authority (10%), Railway companies (15%), Basque Government (15%), Biscayan Provincial Government (15%), Bilbao City Council (15%), and Barakaldo City Council (5%).
- As stakeholders, they are represented by high-level board members. The agreement by consensus is institutionalised as a process to mandate land development, which will be affected less by political inclinations, and thus ensure long-term plans.
- For development process, Bilbao Ria 200 consolidates land, transfers the stakeholders’ developmental rights, prepares the land, lays out the infrastructure, and sells the land for development.
Creativity and innovation
Re-routing of train tracks allowed the development of Bilbao’s waterfront © Bilbao City Hall
- The city and its metropolitan area are transformed by co-operation between institutions, creativity and the search for excellence in urban planning and architecture.
- There are three phases of developments in Bilbao:
- 1980s to 1990s – Restructuring of city and economy
- 1990s to 2000s – Consolidation of regeneration efforts and diversification of economies
- 2000s and forward – Reinvention; focus on innovation, research, knowledge based economy
- Bilbao Ria 2000 provides strong public-private partnership and a platform for key decision-making, allowing alignment and conflict resolution for land development.
- The urban transformation of Bilbao is closely tied to its funding mechanism and Bilbao Ria 2000. Financial gains obtained through land sales are reinvested in recovered areas or spent on strategic urban initiatives, which includes development of the new port and industrial areas, restructuring of railway lines, rehabilitation of the
historic district, Abandoibarra (waterfront promenade) and new urban parks.
- The railway tracks were re-routed around the city to allow development of the waterfront. Major arterial roads were downgraded and buried underground to create a more pedestrian-friendly urban environment.
Impacts of the project
Unemployment rate halved from 22.5% to 11.5% (1983-2010)
GNP increased from $18,750 to $38,600 (1996-2009)
Public transport usage increased from 23% to 33% (1997-2007)
Green and public space per resident increased from 6m² to 24.5m² (1999-2008)
Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com
- Bilbao effectively extended its influence beyond its area of 350 hectares and population of 350,000, reaching a population of 2-3 million within a 200-300 kilometre radius. The extension of the subway enhanced the connectivity of Bilbao and the metropolitan area.
- The city faces zero sum gain in its population, albeit with an 8% immigration rate, due to its ageing population. The metropolitan area has a population of 870,000 and an increase in the proportion of the middle classes.
- The proportion of the manufacturing workforce decreased from 46% to 22% in 1975, implying a marked shift in employment from industrial towards service sector.
- The average income has almost doubled from €10,500 (approximately USD $11,700) in 1997 to €19,000 (approximately USD $27,100) in 2008.
- The unemployment rate halved from 22.5% in 1983 to 11.5% in 2010, which is below the national level of 16%.
- The gross national product (GNP) per capita rose from €15,000 (approximately USD $18,750) in 1996 to €27,000 (approximately USD $38,600) in 2009.
- Public transport usage increased from 23% in 1997 to 33% in 2007, with an increase in the average number of journeys made per day from 100,000 in 2000 to 140,000 in 2008.
- The amount of green and public space increased from six square metres in 1999 to 24.5 square metres in 2008 per resident. The provision of bicycle lanes increased from 9.7 kilometres to over 16 kilometres.
- No longer a physical and social barrier, the river is now bridged across both sides with different income level, political orientation, cultural background and diverse geographical origins. The infrastructure investments such as the distribution of city services and underground subway system have contributed to the city’s social integration.
- High standards of design in the architectural and infrastructure works has greatly improved the quality of life and self-esteem of the people.
- Successful urban development and regeneration require integration of strategic visioning with systematic implementation of key infrastructure projects at various levels.
- There is a need for effective institutions and processes that bring on board the right stakeholders to ensure alignment with sustainable funding mechanisms, so that the long-term vision can be sustained and implemented. O