The economic situation, public health and education, citizen security, mobility… So many questions that are on the table as the central axis of the next municipal and regional elections on 28 May. But in politicians’ speeches and at rallies, there is virtually no reference to a problem that affects virtually everyone: air pollution.

With the aim of correcting this imbalance, several environmental organizations presented this Thursday in Madrid the awareness campaign #EspacioParaRespirar. With it, they want to draw the attention of the various candidates for mayor of the various municipalities and demand “that the transformation of cities be placed at the center of municipal action”. For their part, those responsible for the proposal demand that all political parties “integrate into their programs clear and effective measures to improve air quality, mitigate climate change and reclaim public space”.

Behind the initiative is the Clean Cities Network, which includes, among others, ConBici, ECODES, Ecologistas en Acción and ISGlobal. It is a European initiative made up of more than 70 NGOs, environmental associations, grassroots movements and civil society organizations whose objective is zero-emission urban mobility by 2030. And, as they recall, “the air pollution kills 300,000 people in Europe every year”.

As the organizers point out, “urban planning centered on private transport not only results in a deterioration of air quality, but also leads to effects derived from the infrastructures themselves, such as heat islands or lack of green space in the towns”.

Faced with this situation, the public space can be a major ally. “Cities need this space so that people can walk, socialize, play, be. Also to accommodate natural spaces that mitigate the heat and the effects of climate change and pollution”, point out the organizations that have promoted the campaign.

“Reorganize” the public space

“At ConBici, we have been measuring air quality since 2022 with the Cycling with Clean Air project,” explains Laura Vergara, spokesperson for ConBici. “We realized that a high percentage of the population is exposed to pollution levels above those recommended by the World Health Organization. We want to obtain the commitment of the candidates to reorganize the public space and start effective measures that guarantee spaces without smoke, noise or cars. Especially in sensitive environments, such as schools, health centers or centers for the elderly. Everything, with road safety at the centre”.

From ConBici they are clear about the vehicle called to star in this model change. “We believe that the bicycle is a great ally for building these spaces to breathe and, ultimately, to reclaim public space. The goal is to make cities more livable places for everyone”.

Carmen Duce, coordinator of Mobility and Transport for Ecologistas en Acción and the Clean Cities campaign in Spain, adds: “Between 65% and 80% of urban public space is occupied by cars, machines over one ton that spend more than 90% of the time at a standstill. City councils should implement measures such as low emission zones and other policies to reduce the use of private cars”.

Cristian Quílez, head of public policy and climate governance at ECODES, concludes: “We need local governments that are at the service of public interests, with the vision, audacity and courage transform their cities. An adequate urban policy is essential to promote changes in habits and customs among citizens, while allowing to deepen the development of new models of cities: prosperous, resilient and respectful of people, the environment and biodiversity. “.

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