World Mayor 2020

Braga Mayor Ricardo Rio
Ricardo Rio
Mayor of Braga, Portugal
answers your questions


World Mayor invited participants in the 2021 Project to put questions to Ricardo Rio. From the questions received, a representative selection was forwarded to the Mayor. He replies with candour, thoughtfulness and in detail.


Ricardo Rio, Mayor of Braga, Portugal, since 2013


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THE INTERVIEW

Question by Francisco B., Braga:
What made you enter politics and run for Mayor of Braga?

Mayor Rio replies:
As I used to say, it was almost a “child’s dream”. Not for the role in itself but for the opportunity it provides to serve the community and to impact on the daily life of fellow citizens.

My grandfather Moura Machado was also a member of the City Council and someone who was civically very engaged. Those “seeds” have always pushed me to be very active in many dimensions, as I always looked up to him.

Afterwards, this desire grew as I realized the urgent need for change felt in Braga, a city that had the same mayor for 37 years and that was ´stuck in time´.

So, even so I had a very successful professional career up until 2013 (as an university teacher and as a consultant linked to several organisations) I decided to make myself available to serve my community and to foster my city development.

I was politically engaged since 1997, I was elected to the Local Assembly in 2001, I ran twice for Mayor and lost (in 2005 and 2009) and finally was elected to my first term in 2013.


Question by Carolina P., Braga:
What are your priorities for Braga? Have they changed over the years?

Mayor Rio replies:

The economic dimension was my top priority when I was elected in 2013. Portugal was facing a huge crisis, with high levels of unemployment and there was this feeling that we were wasting so many resources and opportunities.

The investment in the region's economic dynamism, in attracting investment and in the creation of jobs was assumed, from the beginning, as one of the main priorities of the City Council, having given rise to the creation of InvestBraga, a municipal company whose main mission was to identify and leverage new investment and new businesses.

On top of that, we also thought there was much to do to increase the social responses, to boost the cultural dynamics of the city, to safeguard our vast heritage, to protect our environment and to promote a vast regeneration plan of public spaces and city buildings and venues.

As the city recorded continuous successes in all these domains and as it grew significantly throughout these years (just recently, we were acknowledged to have the biggest population increase in this period in the whole of Portugal), new challenges arise:

Sustainable mobility; control of living costs; renewal of many infrastructures in the whole territory; together with new ambitions (becoming European Capital of Culture in 2027, for instance).

In any case, the focus is always on people’s needs and ambitions and the provision of high standards of quality of life. If possible, we want to improve on the results of the latest Eurobarometer in which 97% of our citizens stated that they were happy to live in Braga.


Question by Ruy G., Braga:
How can the lessons learnt from the Covid pandemic help Braga prepare itself for the future in terms of health care and job protection?

Mayor Rio replies:
From the point of view of public health, as soon as we were faced with this new reality, we began to make efforts to prepare and minimize the impact of this virus on the community.

The city of Braga, like many others, was and still is at the forefront in combating the spread of this pandemic and the mitigation of its effects. Our innovative and proactive approach was even praised by the UN and the OECD.

The priority was, in the first place, to guarantee the health of all people from Braga and to prevent further spread of the virus. Then, associated with this enormous effort, came that of working to mitigate the strong economic impact of the crisis on our population.

During the pandemic, cities assumed a prominent role, with increasing responsibilities in the response to this crisis, both in terms of prevention, healthcare, testing and vaccination, and in terms of immediate support to citizens and institutions, with initiatives to support the resilience and recovery of the business fabric.

In this sense, this experience shows the importance of local and regional authorities, which must be given a stronger role in the definition and coordination of these policies. Providing these entities the necessary financial resources is the best way to allow them to react to a similar situation that may occur in the future.

As for the economic dimension, our ability to bounce back quickly from the crisis is strongly connected with the resilience of our economic agents (with a diversified basis in all the economic sectors) and with a proactive approach of our economic development policies.


Question by Alexandra G., Braga:
Thousands of people from more than 100 different nationalities have successfully settled in Braga. How can this success story be further advanced?

Mayor Rio replies:
Braga is a cosmopolitan and multicultural city, where we welcome those who want to work here and establish their personal life. The best way to ensure that Braga continues to be an appealing destination is to provide the conditions for people here to study and have opportunities to easily find jobs and progress in their career.

In this aspect, we became the third-largest exporter in Portugal. The companies in Braga, like Aptiv and Bosch, are an example of innovation and collaboration between universities and companies due to the projects they have carried out. We now say “things are not produced in Braga; they are invented here”.

It is also very important to make sure that Braga continues to ensure high standards of quality of life for its citizens. This is an absolutely crucial factor for attracting and retaining talent and human resources from outside.

As I mentioned before, this week, the National Institute of Statistics (INE) released the results of the country’s Census: Braga was the city with the biggest increase in population in the country (12,000 people, around 6,5% in 10 years) while most of the bigger cities saw falling populations.

We always need to balance this increase with the safeguard of our high quality of life patterns and to remain as a very inclusive community, open to the world.


Question by AISP, Braga:
Braga has been successful in achieving an increasingly inclusive civic society. But a minority of immigrants, particularly recent arrivals with low professional qualifications, have been left out. How do you propose to integrate them into society and the labour market?

Mayor Rio replies:
The municipality has been working closely with all representatives of immigrant communities in Braga. We also created the Municipal Council for Immigrants, Integration and Interculturality. This body aims to promote citizenship, participation and the values of human rights, contributing to the creation of policies for welcoming and integrating immigrant people into our society.

Just these days, this initiative was awarded the “Aristides Sousa Mendes Prize” by the national governmental institution that deals with local authorities (DGAL).

Over the past few years, we developed a set of policies aimed at combating social exclusion, asserting human rights as a driving force for citizenship and building an open, diverse and intercultural City. The municipality is committed to the fight against poverty, social and territorial exclusion and racial discrimination.

As a result of this work, in recent data provided by Eurobarometer, Braga is recognized as a good city for migrants, the elderly and families, which reflects our ability to create conditions and quality of life for different audiences.


Question by Cristina Fernánde D., Spain:
You, as Mayor of Braga, have collaborated with cities of the Atlantic Axis (Eixo Atlántico) and others in Europe on issues such as the environment and sustainability. How important do you think is the provision of green public spaces for cities?

Mayor Rio replies:
Braga suffered, for many years, the consequences of some “savage urban growth”, which didn’t account for the safeguard of the quality of life in many neighbourhoods.

A greener Braga requires the creation of these green public spaces both at the micro-level, as part of each of our urban expansion zones, together with creation of vast green zones, in which the citizens may enjoy the contact with nature, practice sport or participate in many other activities.

That was the main reason for the investments we have been making in the expansion of Rodovia’s Sport Park; the creation of the Sete Fontes Eco-Monumental Park; the rehabilitation of the margins of the Cávado River; and putting in value the Central Park (the connection between Picoto Hill, the Camélias Park and S. João da Ponte Park). Altogether, we are talking about very many public green spaces that improve even further this type of space in the whole city.

Also, in the most densely populated areas, we are also humanizing the public space and improving the wellbeing and quality of urban life, creating spaces with the conditions for all citizens to have a social life in the community. We are going to give back public space to pedestrians, making the areas accessible to everyone and giving people priority over cars, while at the same time seeking to reduce traffic speed and increase road safety.

This is also aligned with our concept of using “the city as a stage”, valuing the public space with the development of many cultural, social and sports activities throughout the year.


Question by Olga F., Braga:
How do you propose to make Braga a more eco-friendly city?

Mayor Rio replies:
For us it is very important to achieve the goals of sustainable development and sustainable urban mobility, therefore creating a greener and less polluted city with better living conditions for the population.

We have been investing in clean energy sources and many of the municipal services are already powered by solar energy. In terms of mobility, we have developed projects aimed at giving priority to pedestrians, soft modes and public transport, with over 30% of our bus fleet being made up of electric or natural gas-powered vehicles by the first half of 2021.

We have made a strong and recognized commitment in the sustainability area. Internationally, Braga was listed as one of the 88 best cities in the world in the fight against climate change and awarded “Class A” by the Carbon Disclosure Project.

For the first time, Braga was awarded the Green Flag ECOXXI award. Also at the national level, Braga is at the forefront of achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, with an execution of around 70%, according to the independent project CESOP Local of the Catholic University of Portugal.

In order to achieve the goals set by the European Union, the collaboration between institutions and citizens is crucial to prepare a consistent approach to these issues and everyone is committed to the proposed goals. We are working to build a smart and innovative city, in line with environmental concerns and measures we must follow to ensure carbon neutrality.


Question by Maria L., Lisbon:
You are known as an advocate for sustainability. What is your vision of sustainable tourism and what new industries could be attracted to Braga?

Mayor Rio replies:
Braga was in a phase of sharp growth in tourist activity and forecasts for 2020 were quite optimistic. In 2019, the City recorded growth above the national average, having reached a record number of overnight stays in that year. We know this is an extremely complicated period for tourism, but we are certain that Braga's attractiveness will make us have a quick recovery once we return to normality.

Braga is at the forefront in adopting policies that favour the sustainable development of the territory and tourism is an area that is no exception to this rule. The City is part of the “Tourism Friendly Cities” network, which aims to explore how tourism can be sustainable in medium-sized cities, reducing its negative impact on urban areas. To achieve this ambitious goal, the project creates integrated and inclusive strategies that maintain a balance between the needs of local communities, in terms of quality of life and available services, and the promotion of sustainable urban development at an environmental, social and economic level.

As for our industrial growth, we have been focusing in the attraction of clean-industries, which may take advantage of the city resources, namely in terms of knowledge production (in the International Laboratory of Nanotechnology, in the University of Minho, etc.).

That is why, together with the priorities of action of Startup Braga, we also want to attract further businesses from the IT, Biotechnology, Nanotechnology and Health Sciences sectors, which shall be hosted in new important industrial areas like the MedTech or the Innovation Eco-Village.


Question by Luis M., Braga:
How do you leverage the groundbreaking work done by the University of Minho to attract investment and new industries?

Mayor Rio replies:
Being one of the youngest in Portugal, the University of Minho is currently acknowledged as one of the most qualified, innovative and internationalised institutions in the country.

Braga has been benefiting a lot from the presence of the university as it is a continuous source of renewal of our population, a guarantee of the provision of enough talent to our companies and an important partner in many economic agents innovation process.

One of the best examples is the partnership between Bosch and the University of Minho, an example in the implementation of innovative projects that we want to make sure that it can be replicated by other companies.

It is an assumed priority of the Municipality to take advantage of the opportunities that the University of Minho has to offer the city. To achieve this goal, we have created attractive policies in terms of access to social, cultural or leisure infrastructure for students, as well as policies that facilitate the mobility of young people, urban regeneration policies that favour their updating in the city centre and that enhance all the local commerce.

The University of Minho (just like the Catholic University and IPCA) are regular partners in many local projects and they also belong to the Strategic Council of InvestBraga, our Local Economic Development Agency.


Question by Gerri B., Portugal:
How should cities collaborate nationally, across Europe and even globally?

Mayor Rio replies:
In my opinion, countries, the European Union and the world will be stronger if they value local and regional authorities. Proximity administrative entities convey credibility, trust and transparency. There is nobody with as close a contact with citizens as local government and its action can have a great impact. The more capacities and resources these local and regional structures have, the greater the connection with citizens and civil society and the capacity to realize the population's ambitions.

This pandemic period brought great responsibilities to local authorities and regional authorities and we all saw the demonstrated capacity to respond, often with limited resources.

To be successful, a multilevel governance model that involves the various institutions at the European, national and local levels, as well as civil society, is necessary. This is something we have been developing in Braga with companies, universities and other institutions, which are perfectly aligned with the municipal strategy.

We have also learnt that city challenges don’t have borders. No matter the city size or location worldwide, we all deal with similar concerns and ambitions, threats and opportunities.

That is why we believe so much in the city-to-city collaboration in all domains, may it be on a bilateral basis or a multilateral approach.

Braga is very committed to the regional development, through the transnational organisation of Eixo Atlântico. We have joined international organisations like EuroCities and the Global Parliament of Mayors (both in which I currently have a role in the Executive Committee), ICLEI and many others.

I am one of OECD Campion Mayors for Inclusive Growth since 2016 and an active member of the Committee of the Regions. I strongly believe it is very important to share experiences and best practices and to push toward common goals (may it be the attraction and retention of talent, the climate change adaptation, the boost of social innovation or valuing our common heritage).


Question by Rafael A., Braga:
What should be the main priority for the centre of Braga? New homes? Additional commercial developments? Or refurbishing and better utilising existing properties and facilities?

Mayor Rio replies:
All over the city, the major projects we are developing are centered on the rehabilitation of infrastructures, giving them a new lease of life and adapting them to the development strategy we have for Braga. The municipality seeks to respond to the new challenges of tourist growth, demand for accommodation, economic dynamics and the need to introduce mobility in rehabilitation actions.

The Historic Centre has been experiencing, in recent times, a high dynamic of revitalization and heritage enhancement. It appears as a very stimulating space for real estate promotion, enhancing urban regeneration and the reanimation of the city centre, which must be developed with respect for the heritage, which has a strong common good aspect. Favouring restoration over reconstruction, we intend to safeguard and rehabilitate the Historic Centre, maintaining its authenticity, while monitoring the environmental goals that we are bound to.

In addition to this, we have a cultural dynamic that makes the city centre a meeting point for residents and tourists who visit us at all times of the year.

Our purpose is to assure this balance between all these sets of uses: residential, commerce, services and touristic infrastructures.

We don’t want to become a “theme park” and we believe that we shall be even more attractive if we value the authentic and energetic city that we are, as the local citizens are the first to enjoy the benefits of the city dynamics.


Question by Luis Manuel M., Braga:
Braga still seems to favour private cars over public transport. What will you do to improve bus services, promote safe walking and encourage other forms of eco-friendly mobility?

Mayor Rio replies:
We are working in this area with specific measures, starting with the creation of a network of cycle paths, interfaces between public and individual transport, the complementarity between public transport and the introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), a project that will have a transforming impact in terms of promoting more sustainable urban mobility in our City.

We invest heavily in the renewal of the bus fleet to improve service and meet environmental criteria. Since 2014, the number of passengers on buses has increased by 21% and sales of transport tickets by 18%, achieving positive net results for six consecutive years. This trend was interrupted by the pandemic but we hope it will resume once normality returns.

We have also carried out several interventions in the public space throughout the city in order to privilege pedestrians and gentle ways of transport.


Question by Pedro P. A., Braga:
Even though it is mandatory, most of Braga’s city streets are still not accessible to disabled people and there seem to be no moves to improve this situation. How do you plan to make Braga’s public spaces accessible to all?

Mayor Rio replies:
The truth is that we inherited a city with several mobility problems for people with disabilities. To answer this problem the municipality of Braga launched a project called ´I'm already passing here´, which aims to eliminate architectural barriers to ensure a freer, more comfortable and inclusive pedestrian space. We recently launched a public tender for a global intervention focusing on 81 crossings, foreseeing the creation of 61 raised and intelligent pedestrian crossings and the intervention in 19,000 square meters of sidewalks.

We are committed to increasing the road safety of the city's main facilities and this project is crucial to achieving that goal.

These initiatives shall spread all over our territory and not only in the city centre, as we have been working with Juntas de Freguesia (Portuguese smaller local authorities), citizens associations and other institutions to identify the needs of specific interventions and improvements in each zone.


Question by Paulo J. Portugal:
You have been Mayor of Braga since 2013. During your years in office what difference, do you think, you have made to your fellow citizens?

Mayor Rio replies:
Since 2013, in the various areas of Municipal action, there was a clear break with the past that is recognised by the society as a whole. Proximity, transparency, commitment and openness to society are the transversal vectors that guide our action. Our priority, assumed from the beginning, is people and their wellbeing, social support and quality of life, reducing needs and solving the problems of citizens and institutions.

Braga has been improving its quality of life in recent years and that is, probably, our biggest accomplishment. This improvement is recognized by residents themselves.

In the already mentioned Eurobarometer, published in 2020, 97% of our citizens considered Braga a good place to live and 56% said that their quality of life had improved in the last five years. The economic development, the attraction of companies and the creation of qualified jobs that have taken place since 2013 contributed greatly to this.

But the work is not finished yet. My project was designed with a 2025 goal in mind but willing to last beyond that date with who ever shall come after me.

Currently, this is the only way that public management makes sense, with a vision and a time horizon that allows us to add a set of policies, initiatives and investments that must be made in order to make Braga a city of excellence.

We are extremely proud of the work done so far and we are quite sure that we left a mark that won’t ever be lost: the integrated and collaborative approach between all local institutions and the continuous engagement of citizens.

Together, we are stronger. Together, we are happier. Together, we have been making the impossible… our reality. In the future, Braga shall be anything that we can dream of.