Interview with Conxita Marsol, Mayor (cònsol major) of Andorra la Vella
'It is time to continue developing urban projects that improve our citizen’s quality of life, transforming our city in a more open and liveable one.'
Addressing urban inequalities is essential to ensuring that the COVID-19 response is inclusive. What measures is your city taking to mitigate the social and economic impact of the pandemic, particularly on the most vulnerable?Andorra la Vella, which is mainly a touristic and commercial city, has supported businesses from the very beginning of the pandemic. As the capital of the country, we allocated a significant amount of money, several million euros, to meet the needs of citizens. We took special care of shops, restaurants and hoteliers who have suffered the economic effects of the crisis. One of the most important measures was the exemption of taxes on commercial activities during the confinement. These exemptions were applied again this month of November as the neighbouring areas were imposing new restrictions on mobility. Therefore, most of the tourism businesses were affected significantly.
We also approved, during the second quarter, a generalised 50% reduction on water bills, both for citizens and companies, and we have increased the allocation for social assistance in anticipation of potential future demands.
Furthermore, we are betting, and more than ever, on the Christmas campaign, a shopping dynamization project that is now fully consolidated and is an attraction for tourism, which was severely affected by the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19. It is also a way to generate hope among people in these difficult moments. We are organising again outdoor activities, although having in mind the pandemic issue and the need to prevent the normally expected concentrations of people.
How is your city ensuring that the COVID-19’s recovery is also a green recovery that meets climate change goals?We have the immense privilege of living in an urban environment although totally integrated with nature: in just a few minutes we can walk up into the mountains and breathe clean air. Our forests surrounding our homes are one of our main attractions for bringing unparalleled quality of life to our citizens and to our visitors in a safe environment.
Furthermore, we want to promote promenades, making it easier for citizens to walk around in wider spaces and thus, encouraging healthy habits. A policy that we have been promoting for five years in Andorra la Vella focused on giving priority to pedestrians before the vehicle. We are still committed to the pacification of urban areas and to promoting public transport. In this regard, we have lowered our fares to make it practically free.
Improving our quality of life must be ensured with our commitment to the sustainable development goals.
What long-term investments are required to increase your city’s preparedness to future pandemics and boost its resilience to shocks?In line with my previous comments, it is time to continue developing urban projects that improve our citizen’s quality of life, transforming our city in a more open and liveable one.
It is also time to take actions that contribute to the reactivation of the economy, so severely affected by this very strange 2020. The time has come to promote public works from the public administration. We must give support to our citizens and stimulate the economy to generate wealth. This is a good thing for everyone, because it encourages the creation of jobs while promoting economic growth.
In the case of Andorra la Vella, we took the decision to foresee some urban planning projects so as to socialize public spaces, to make wider sidewalks, connecting different areas through uniform pathways... and so promoting pedestrian mobility in wider public areas. It is a good time to invest in promoting and fitting out mountain paths and viewpoints and, above all, to educate and disseminate on the need to respect nature. The fact that new generations have been able to raise awareness on this matter gives us hope.
Partnerships and collaborative efforts are critical to support local leaders in the COVID-19 recovery. What do you expect from the cooperation with national and European actors?It is important for politicians, especially in these difficult times due to the pandemic, to apply uniform and coherent policies so that citizens can feel that we are taking care of their needs. In this regard, the cooperation between different entities is key.
Andorra is in the process of negotiating an association agreement with the European Union which will determine some of the fundamental aspects of our daily lives.
The initial confinement and subsequent limitations on mobility of the territory have shown us how dependent our country is on borders and tourist entry.
It is therefore essential to work closely together to establish alliances that will help us overcoming certain weaknesses the pandemic has obviously exposed.