Helsinki and Barcelona scooped second and third place respectively. A special mention went to Porto for improving the accessibility of its train stations
Luxembourg City is the winner of the European Union Access City Awards 2022 for its outstanding efforts to become barrier-free and accessible to all people with disabilities. Around 87 million people in the EU live with a disability.
The announcement was made on December 3rd at the annual European Day of People with Disability event of the EU Commission.
Helsinki and Barcelona scooped second and third place respectively. A special mention went to Porto for improving the accessibility of its train stations.
Judges also awarded Leuven for its actions in “mainstreaming accessibility and inclusion in the digital area” and Palma for “improving access to the physical environment, including beaches and parks.”
A total of forty cities, all with more than 50,000 inhabitants, competed this year to demonstrate how accessibility has become a priority and has been integrated into their plans.
Before winning the top prize this year, Luxembourg City received a special mention in 2015 and placed third in the 2018 edition of the European Union Access City Awards.
For Patrick Goldschmidt, the Alderman in charge of Integration for People with Special Needs in Luxembourg City, integration and inclusion are pillars of the municipality’s accessibility policies. “Inclusion is one of the bedrocks of our urban planning,” he told the audience at the award ceremony.
Luxembourg City’s free-for-all public transport is a way to remove economic barriers, Goldschmidt said. The municipality isn’t limiting its actions to new projects but is also adapting existing infrastructures to respond to specific needs, he added.
People with a visual impairment can more easily access public transport in Luxembourg City thanks to Bluetooth and other digital technologies that allow them to receive messages with live information such as approaching a bus stop. The concept of accessibility for all extends to urban planning, roads and other infrastructures.
When it comes to urban planning, the Finnish capital goes a step further by incorporating accessibility to all its projects, starting from their early phase. “People with disabilities can talk beforehand with architects and other planners who are designing buildings,” Anni Sinnemaki, Deputy Mayor for Urban Environment at Helsinki’s City Council, told the audience last week.
Sinnemaki highlighted the importance of including natural and green areas and how Helsinki completed a long natural trail, fully-equipped with accessibility features.
The city’s overall goal is to to be accessible to everyone: citizens with disabilities, the elderly, those suffering from long-term sicknesses as well as people using walking frames or pushing child strollers.
Barcelona’s detailed analysis of accessibility in its public spaces is one of the reasons the Spanish city was awarded third place.
Joan Ramon Riera, President of the Municipal Institute of People with Disabilities in Barcelona, said the city “has a strong commitment to accessibility policies and has developed several initiatives to implement it.” Actions include equipping four of the city beaches with bathing aids for people with disabilities and making accessible 92% of Barcelona’s metro stations, he explained.
“It is indeed with great satisfaction that we see that all the efforts of the municipality to endow Porto with the best accessibility conditions have been recognised,” Ricardo Valente, Councillor for Finance, Economy, Employment, Tourism and Commerce said in his speech.
Porto wants to be a city for everyone, he added, in spite of nature making that goal particularly challenging because it forces to “bypass the natural and morphological conditions of the ancient city,” which lies near the sea and dates back to 275 BC. The municipality is nevertheless determined, promised Valente. “We never surrender and we turn adversities into opportunities,” to ensure accessibility for senior citizens and people with reduced mobility. “Above all, we want to guarantee a more equitable and inclusive quality of life in the city. Fortunately, this has been recognised,” the city official said.
Cities for a more equal society
According to the EU’s Equality Strategy for the Rights of People with Disabilities 2021-2030, 52% of people with disabilities feel discriminated against. Against this background, municipalities’ efforts are essential to create a more equal society.
Since 2010, the European Union Access City Awards have been working toward raising awareness of the challenges faced by people with disabilities and promoting initiatives in cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants.