World Mayor 2020

Bratislava Mayor Vallo
Mátus Vallo
Mayor of Bratislava, Slovakia
answers your questions


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


Matús Vallo, Mayor of Bratislava, Slovakia, since 2018


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THE INTERVIEW

Question by Jan V., Bratislava:
What made you enter politics and run for Mayor of Bratislava?

Mayor Vallo replies:
I was born in Bratislava 40 years ago; I live here and love this city. I care for its problems, just had no power to change it from the position of an architect and activist. That was one of the reasons I decided to become a candidate a few years ago for a position of the mayor of the city. My dream came true on 7 December 2018, when I officially became the Mayor of the capital of the Slovak Republic. I live under the rule “There are no problems, only solutions”. That´s why I created a platform Plan B for Bratislava in cooperation with 60 professionals. I brought together experts on various urban topics to find reasonable solutions for making Bratislava better place for living.


Question by Mária D., Bratislava:
What are your priorities for Bratislava. How have they changed since you became mayor in 2018?

Mayor Vallo replies:
First of all, I realized how important is to design functional solutions in the city with a perfect team, rely upon right people at their positions and be inspired by good examples from foreign cities.

Two things remain sustainable for me. The first is transparent Bratislava. INEKO (Institute for Economic and Social Reform – nonprofit organization in Slovakia) recently evaluated our two tenders as the top of the ranking of all state and self-governing tenders. I am very proud of that. The second priority is public space. My wish is that people feel comfortable in high quality public spaces like in other European cities. I think, that even small changes can have a big impact on urban space.

Therefore, as one of the first things as a Mayor, I wanted an institution for urbanism and strategic planning. Following the example of Prague, we manage to create/establish our own strategic and planning institute – the Metropolitan Institute of Bratislava (MIB), which already in two years of its existence confirmed its importance. The MIB is the first metropolitan “think tank“ in the history of Slovakia. Its task is to create public policies that have the ambition to fundamentally transform the city. In addition to experts, the MIB involves the public in its projects as part of participatory planning. The MIB has also prepared Manual of Public Spaces, thanks to which Bratislava is given clear, meaningful and conceptual rules on how to renew and create public spaces.

Another problematic issue in Bratislava is an enormous car traffic in the city. Our aim, therefore, is to reduce it. As in many other cities before us, we see the solution in getting people from cars to public transport or bicycle. We want people to use public transport on regular basis, but people will only do so on the condition of cleaner, safer and quicker public transport. As we want to motivate people, we introduced a 25% discount for the one-year tickets for our public transport. Improving the traffic situation in Bratislava requires the whole package of complementary solutions – to support smart and multi-modal mobility along with regulated parking policy. Regulation of individual car traffic contributes to reduction of emissions that the city is struggling with as part of its plan to adapt to climate change. We see innovations in mobility sector mainly in electro-mobility and shared mobility.

At the same time, the city is preparing several large infrastructure projects, such as the comprehensive renovation of its public lighting system, retrofitting of its public buildings or upgrades of its waste and water management infrastructure.

Among other priorities are green solutions, fight against visual smog, the transformation of city´s social policies and affordable rental housing.


Question by Claus v. S., Munich, Germany:
Together with the Mayors of Warsaw, Prague and Budapest you formed in 2019 the so-called ‘Pact of Free Cities’. What has the pact achieved so far?

Mayor Vallo replies:
The Pact of Free Cities is an active platform, with cities coordinating several joint initiatives and policies. By becoming a member of the Pact, Bratislava transparently declares values, such as democracy, freedom, tolerance, or protection of rights, as well as rejection of any forms that threaten these values. Protection of democratic values and democracy itself is becoming an increasingly important issue today.

The cooperation of cities within Pact allows for stronger voice for cities and a coordinated approach towards EU institutions – emphasizing the need to involve cities in the development of legislation and policies that directly affect cities. By joint actions it is possible to acquire stronger competencies, broader opportunities, resources and more space for a better governance of the city for the benefit of citizens.

We communicate on regular basis, exchange experiences not only between mayors but also on the city administration level (working group at the level of coordinators for each city meets every two weeks), we are trying to define some common problems and create the task forces to address them, we coordinate our positions on European level and prepare a few collaborative projects.

The initiative and its goals have become very popular and well-known worldwide and we have been receiving requests from cities and mayors from all over the world who want to join the Pact and support this value-based project.


Question by Thomas K., Salzburg, Austria:
How closely does your administration cooperate with a government that does not always share your political views?

Mayor Vallo replies:
Compared to the ‘big; politics at the national level, people are closer to their elected representatives. There is more opportunity for direct contact, which makes it easier for citizens to keep politicians accountable for their actions and demand that they abide by their promises.

Another, equally important factor that plays into the democratic development of the city is political participation. Greater involvement of citizens in the democratic governance of their city makes the politics and politicians better, both in the sense of heightened public scrutiny and the subsequent trust that exists between people and their representatives. It creates a sense of shared responsibility for the future of the city and healthy diversity of opinions and discussions.

We all promised to our voters more open, more professionally governed cities which will be the good places to live as an opposition to corruption, populism and bad governance which is the everyday experience of many people in CEE.

If people experience the feeling of trust on communal or local level, if they see credible and transparent public institutions and policies in their cities, if they can identify with democratic leaders in places where they live, that is the best we can do for the future of democracy and the general level of trust towards the democratic institutes. Where governments are failing, it is the cities and regions who can still stand with people and democracy. We as cities still call for giving more voice, competences and funding from government in order to fulfill our commitments towards our citizens. With this in mind, we are trying for an open and practical dialogue also with all relevant institutions on national level.


Question by Andrea Z., Bratislava:
What have your learnt from the Covid pandemic and also what should be all have learnt? What was the most difficult decision you had to make?

Mayor Vallo replies:
The CoronaVirus pandemic has inadvertently become the dominant theme in the Bratislava City Hall’s activities in the first half of 2020. It made us adjust many decisions as well as the direction of our urban policies. The struggle to protect the most vulnerable groups of the population while ensuring the running of the city was very demanding in terms of our efforts and funding.

The corona crisis has shown how much reliance the inhabitants place on the towns where they live. The helping hand of the state proved not to be sufficient in Slovakia. We admit that both the new government that took office a year ago and all of us were facing an unprecedented situation. We had to deal with the problems we had not been able to prepare for in advance, but we must always lay emphasis on the importance of information and its timely delivery to the people.

We have learned three important things:
• to focus on protection of the public and vulnerable groups of residents,
• to communicate transparently and openly towards our citizens,
• to focus our attention on development of electronic services.

In terms of how the city hall works, everyone knows now how to deal with digital meetings and work from home. This showed to be quite effective, and everybody was working even more as we did not spend time travelling from office to office/home.

We learnt that in the times of crisis we can count on volunteers - many people from the general public are still willing to help. We had the Quarantine Village volunteers who decide to help in this very difficult time and put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. They worked shifts of seven to eight hours a day in full protective gear. If you are not a professional nurse or doctor, this can be challenging.

At the beginning of the covid crisis we had only little information about what we are facing. Because of possible risks and the need to protect the inhabitants in the situation of rising numbers of infections, self-governing authorities at the local and regional level assumed the responsibility and decided to close the schools in the Bratislava Region temporarily. I consider this to be the most difficult decision, which ultimately proved to be one of the best decisions that helped to slow down the spread of CoronaVirus.

I believe that we are going to emerge from this crisis as a much more self-confident city with a much stronger city hall. Of course, now we are working on keeping the good things and not the bad things. For example, we introduced a new system of cleaning the streets. And we introduced a 25% discount for the one-year tickets for our public transport - measures, which we will keep. This is a lot of money, but we want to motivate people to use public transport more. We are emerging from this crisis with an understanding that nothing is guaranteed. That we need to be ready for everything.

For me personally, the best thing was that I now know that I chose a good team. Because in a time of crisis you really see what kind of team you have. I saw that these people are capable of finding comprehensive solutions and making tough decisions.  


Question by Adriana V., Bratislava:
How do you achieve greater transparency when awarding city contracts?

Mayor Vallo replies:
The City of Bratislava promotes transparent public procurement. We have set the goal to build Bratislava as a strong, self-confident city, which can prevent non-transparent procedures and promote the best interests of the city and its citizens.

We want Bratislava to save more money. Our effort is an efficient management, thanks to which the residents of Bratislava have a better service for less money.

We open competition to a larger number of providers. We use more appropriate public procurement tools with the benefit of better value for money. We also try to perform more demanding tasks internally, instead of paying unnecessarily to an external supplier. We are also starting to use the so-called Brazilian Auction, that works on the well-known principle that companies with rising volumes have falling costs, and we started with the first responsible and green public procurement. We also support the employment of people with disabilities or otherwise disadvantaged in labour market, as well as the purchase of products and services with minimized impact on the environment.

In October 2019, the city launched a new transparent website of the municipality opendata.bratislava.sk, whereas the external costs reached several tens of thousands of euros less compared to a similar project, which was procured on national level.

In January 2021 we created a department responsible for more efficient operation of municipal enterprises – for the first two years we stabilized the situation in municipal enterprises like the Transport Company Bratislava (DPB), Waste collection and disposal (OLO), the Bratislava Water Company or Metro Bratislava – ensured their management through transparent tenders and got rid of interest groups with strong influence. The aim is to select quality experts for the management of municipal enterprises, which will ensure transparency, quality of management and at the same time are able to offer better services to citizens.


Question by Miro R., Bratislava:
Question:
In the past, the Bratislava municipality has operated remotely from its citizens. What will you do to bring the city closer to the people of Bratislava? Is the use of social media one of your tools?

Mayor Vallo replies:
Bratislava is an open and transparent city, as well as our administration. To communicate, what people are interested in, is our alpha and omega. The worst kind of information is rumour and misinformation. The opinions and reactions from public is the most valuable source of information for us. We try to use all possible tools besides social media and keep the citizens updated about all our activities.

We most often use the mayor´s FB, Instagram and official website to communicate our activities and important city topics. We use extensively information boards, where we explain specific changes in the area which are being made, whether it´s a road reconstruction, green restoration or public spaces revitalization.

The closest contact with citizens lies in direct meetings with them. Before Covid, the so-called town hall meetings with the Mayor, during which we discussed various topics with citizens (including parking policy, interventions to public space, rental housing, etc.), took place in various city districts. In this way, I also presented what I have done during my first two years in office. We stand for a decent discussion. The Covid pandemic brought the meetings with citizens to online space. But we are slowly starting to discuss offline again and to meet citizens across all Bratislava´s district.


Question by Sarlota P., Bratislava:
What should your and future administrations do to make Bratislava a truly ‘green’ city?

Mayor Vallo replies:
The City of Bratislava is currently taking various steps to develop its green agenda. The city started plenty of new projects and is planning to continue to elaborate them in the future. We are planting more than ever before; our goal is to make Bratislava greener and more pleasant for life.

The city adopted several green projects that are set to continue despite the budget restraints caused by the pandemic. These include the initiative of 10,000 Trees for the City implemented in partnership with the private sector and the city’s residents and communities, and a programme of public spaces regeneration led by a new organisation, the Metropolitan Institute of Bratislava (MIB), established specifically for this purpose. In the coming years, the city’s streets, squares and parks will be redesigned to become more environment and people friendly.

Bratislava has a lot of public spaces that tend to overheat during the summer, and our solution is planting trees in these areas to cool it down. The most convenient air conditioning in the city is trees. The city planted a unique 12-meter plane trees (platanus), which are contributing to beautification and cooling in one of the important public spaces. The city also started planting in the premises of Bratislava schools and kindergartens. We support biodiversity in the city, we turned grassy areas into flower meadows, we changed the mowing regime and new beds of ornamental flowers blossomed through Bratislava.

This autumn we are planning planting events and activities with volunteers. We will plant mainly in the urban area, and gradually move to the extra-urban area. We also try to reduce the economic function and strengthen the recreational character of urban and state forests. We need to protect our green wealth.

Cities play a key role in climate change issues, and that is why these projects and activities are important, their job is to reduce the negative impact of urban life on the environment and adapt to climate change. The city’s management is acutely aware of further investment needs to increase the city’s resilience towards the effects of climate change, already manifesting across Bratislava’s neighbourhoods in the form of recurring heat waves, declining rainfall or torrential rains and floods. Bratislava has developed an Action Plan for Adaption to the Adverse Effects of Climate Change.

The department of the Chief Architect of Bratislava prepared the Atlas of Assessment of Vulnerability and Risks of Adverse Consequences of Climate Change in the Capital City of the Slovak Republic, Bratislava. In the future, local governments will have to deal more and more with climate change risk management and be able to warn their citizens in case of extreme weather conditions. The Atlas is therefore suitable as an information material for various types of strategic decisions.


Question by Matei K., Bratislava:
Question:
What does your administration plan to provide housing for low-paid residents and homeless people?

Mayor Vallo replies:
The interest in city rental housing has long exceeded the available amount, so the city is working to expand the fund of city rental apartments.

In total, Bratislava has about 600 applicants for rental housing. Depending on the form of rental housing, citizens must wait up to 7 years to get one. Right now, the city rental apartments represent only 1% of all flats in the city, and we plan to increase this number. With affordable housing, we also want to motivate the representatives of important professions, such as police offices, nurses, teachers and others, to work for the city.

The unavailability of city rental housing has several causes – lack of city owned land, insufficient city capacity, unfinished land reform or a long process leading to necessary spatial changes. We already started processes regarding the reconstruction of apartments and buildings that the city owns and are unused or in poor condition. At the same time, the city will build its own rental housing.

Bratislava has to work on improvement in these areas, because Bratislava is a city for everyone. People with an average or lower income, or those who cannot afford to own real estate should have the opportunity to live in dignity. As part of the care for the socially weaker, we have started a transformation of the city´s social policies. We have a proxy for homeless people and social housing, who systematically addresses this issue. Bratislava is the first city in Slovakia to launch an affordable housing project with the housing first approach, which is implemented with the support of non-governmental organizations. 


Question by Slavo A., Bratislava:
Bratislava needs more cycle lanes. But they also need to be better planned and designed. How does the city under your leadership propose to achieve that?

Mayor Vallo replies:
The realization of bike routes is one of those that is being implemented slower than I expected. While we were looking around too long, we found that not a single project was ready to be implemented. I should have paid attention to this right from the first day at the office. It took us a while to build a team and decide which project to do. Gradually, more and more begin to appear. We made almost 17.9 km of cycling paths available by the end of 2020, of which 1.65 km are segregated. We are currently in the design phase of many more cycling routes, and we know that design and preparatory processes for the construction projects can take several months, even years.

There are 120 km of various cycle paths in Bratislava. As far as safety is concerned, we have a lot to catch up with and we must pay close attention to the rules and regulations. A campaign focused on cyclists’ safety on the roads awaits us at the end of this year or the beginning of next year. Now, we are preparing several segregated cycling routes simultaneously. The need of development of bicycle transport and infrastructure can be seen in the development of shared mobility, which is currently on the rise in Bratislava.


Question by Miroslav V., Bratislava:
Question: Have you got any ideas how transport connections between Bratislava and Vienna could be improved?

Mayor Vallo replies:
A hight-speed passenger transport project named Hyperloop was presented to Austria and Slovakia in 2016 as part of modernization of transport and smart transport solutions in cities. This project guaranteed passenger transport from Bratislava to Vienna in 8 minutes and to surrounding capitals within 10 minutes – this project is more a vision than reality.

Currently, there are train and bus connections from Bratislava to Vienna, as well as transportation by ship. At the moment, we are not considering another form of transport connection as part of the improvements.

First, we need to work on transport solutions within our city. In Bratislava we strive to improve rail transport and other alternative forms of transport compared to cars. The basic support system of transport in Bratislava is the tram. We innovate and modernize public transport to motivate people to use it more and repair roads and add bus lines so passengers can move faster. We plan to continue in our efforts to improve the transport system in Bratislava.


Question by Magdaléna M., Bratislava:
Question:
Pre-school kindergartens will soon become compulsory. Will the city be able to provide enough places?

Mayor Vallo replies:
In terms of the Statute of the Capital City, the establishment of kindergartens come under the original competence of the city districts in Bratislava.


Question by Daniela G., Bratislava:
Are you planning to run for a second term?

Mayor Vallo replies:
We are currently talking about this possibility with the team. When I make such a decision, I will immediately make it known to the public. It is possible that we will want to continue implementing our plans in the second term.


Question by Marek Z., Bratislava:
Question:
You have been Mayor of Bratislava since 2018. During your years in office what difference, do you think, have you made to your fellow citizens?

Mayor Vallo replies: At my office, I have a board with all my election promises. It is my intention to fulfil what I have promised. I am glad that several of my goals have already been met, even though Covid changed the order of our priorities. At the end of my term of office I would like to look back with a belief that we have done maximum of what we intended.

First of all, I think that we are closer to our citizens. We care that citizens are being informed and have the opportunity to comment on our city policies and projects. We involve them in important decisions of the city, we have supported the participation of residents in important projects. I have a great team of experts and we have brought a change to the office in the form of more open and transparent communication in order to raise awareness of what is happening in the city. Metropolitan Institute of Bratislava also includes the Office of Participatory Planning, where they collect data, monitor various city areas in order to find out opinions of Bratislava´s residents as a basis for strategic planning and development of the city. It helps us to better create a vision of Bratislava.

Apart from participatory processes, communication is crucial. If you want to stay clear from populism, but at the same time must make difficult decisions, communication between groups that have different but still legitimate interests is an important prerequisite for a functioning city. Finding common ground is key. I personally devote a great amount of time and energy to it. We are currently facing with many difficult and unpopular decisions such as limiting the number of cars, implementing parking policy and urban development regulations, which, however, are key to the future of the city.

We have changed the attitude to city property, we have started saving city money, as well as in city enterprises improving the public procurement processes, building affordable rental housing, transforming social policies, strengthening city safety and metropolitan police forces. We have a night mayor who coordinates nightlife in Bratislava. Since last year, Bratislava has a construction ombudsman whose task is to provide advice to residents related to construction processes and permits. We are improving the maintenance of roads; we have established a new municipal company responsible for this and also for winter maintenance, which was a real problematic issue. Also, we are working on building quality public spaces.

We shall continue our work with a clear aim, which is to improve Bratislava to become a better and more beautiful place for life for all of us.