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A Conversation with Idoia Postigo, Director General, Bilbao Metropoli 30

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May 2, 2024

About a year and a half ago, I had the privilege of visiting Bilbao at the invitation of Bilbao Metropoli 30. Famed for the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao has been a global inspiration for the regeneration of former industrial cities.

Bilbao is the capital of Biscay, one of the three Historical Territories of the Basque Country. It is located in the Atlantic Arc of Europe, a confluence of two continents and an axis of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

The metropolis has many distinctive features, including one of the highest levels of quality of life, a high life expectancy, one of the highest security ratings in Europe, a high level of self-government and the promotion of an entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem. As I happily experienced, it also has one of Europe’s most vibrant restaurant scenes.

However, its rebirth was not easy. At the end of the last century, Bilbao and its region, Biscay, a thriving industrial region based on shipbuilding and iron and steel, faced a severe crisis resulting from the collapse of its main economic sectors and industrial character.

The case of Bilbao and its metropolis is very similar to that of many North American cities. In fact, the revival of Pittsburgh, and the role of the Allegheny Conference, was one of the first models for Bilbao Metropoli 30, a public-private partnership born in the midst of the crisis more than 3 decades ago.

Bilbao Metropoli is now hosting the Bay Awards, an effort to identify and share innovative practices that are emerging in the aftermath of the pandemic.  I have been asked to be a juror for these awards and hope that many cities in the US and beyond submit applications, via the process described below.

To find out in detail how this industrial region has managed to transform itself into a modern cultural metropolis and to learn more about the Bay Awards, I spoke with Idoia Postigo, Director General of Bilbao Metropoli 30.

Could you describe the origins of Bilbao Metropoli 30?

When the Bilbao metropolis began to lose its economic power in the late 1980’s, the public, private, and social leaders made a bold decision: to launch a Strategic Plan for the whole metropolitan area, which has a total of one million inhabitants across 30 separate municipalities. Unemployment, pollution, and derelict land were just a few of the priorities to be addressed by the Plan.

From the very beginning, the focus of the Revitalization Process centered on building and updating core transportation and cultural infrastructure. After years of joint efforts in design and construction, the Metro was opened in 1995, followed by the Guggenheim Museum in 1997. The momentum gained thanks to the extraordinary success and social support for the two first visible results, helped Bilbao and Biscay carry on with the rest of the strategic projects: the Euskalduna Congress and Concert Hall, Bilbao Exhibition Centre, the new Bilbao Airport, the enlargement of the Port, the cleaning of the river, the new San Mames Football Stadium, the Azkuna Cultural Centre, the extension of the Fine Arts Museum, the recovery of Abandoibarra, Urban Galindo and more recently, other spaces like Ametzola, Olabeaga and Zorrotzaurre.

But infrastructure and regeneration were not the only areas of focus. To implement the Revitalization Plan, a new organization was set up in 1991: Bilbao Metropoli 30. The institution is a non-profit organisation involving both the public and the private sector. Its core role is to provide the leadership of the public, business, cultural and social community with ideas for the future, gleaned from researching cities around the world.

How is Bilbao Metropoli 30 organized and funded?

Bilbao Metropoli-30 was created in 1991 and established as an entity of public interest by the Basque Government on 9 June 1992. Our members are 140 organizations, among which there are 30 municipalities from the metropolitan area of Bilbao, academic institutions, companies, professional associations, and foundations. Our main objectives are severalfold: lead the vision of the future of Bilbao; promote initiatives of special interest for the development of the metropolis; promote and coordinate debate fora to discuss the main aspects of the city; and, among other things, provide teaching and training.

Our fundamental task is to promote a shared long-term vision for Metropolitan Bilbao, initially made up of 30 municipalities (hence its name), but within the flexible framework of the metropolitan concept, given that it is an area without defined geographical limits. Likewise, our mission focuses on aligning the public and private efforts of its associated entities in the achievement of this vision, through the promotion of transformative projects.

Our governing bodies include a General Assembly of members and a Board of Directors which, together with the President and the Director General, is responsible for the management of the Association and the development of its activities.

In order to promote public and private transformational projects that contribute to the achievement of the strategic vision of the metropolis, BM30 creates working groups with specific objectives, drawing on the collaboration of its 140 member entities.

What about you, Idoia? Can you tell us something about your background and interests?

I have been working in Bilbao Metropoli-30 since 1991 in a variety of roles. As Director General of the organization since May 2021, I am in charge of promoting and disseminating the Revitalization Plan of Metropolitan Bilbao and the strategic activities included in it. My main task is focused on placing BM30 as a reference point for the main actors responsible for the urban development of the metropolis, especially public institutions and international entities.

Over the years I have worked on many relevant projects including carrying out exhibitions across the world on the revitalization process of Metropolitan Bilbao, providing technical assistance for the Urban Territorial Plan of Metropolitan Bilbao and Local Strategic Reflection projects and promoting Bilbao and Biscay on the international stage.

I did my undergraduate studies in Political Sciences (International Relations) and in Psychology and have a Masters of Research on Organizational Behaviour. I attended universities both in Europe and the USA, such as Oxford University and the London School of Economics in the UK, and the University of California, Berkeley in the USA.

I am a collaborator of the Association of Entrepreneur Women “EmakumeEkin”. Among my personal interests is mountaineering and literature. I have a personal blog “Emotionak Fabrika” and I am the author of four books in Spanish: two novels and two technical publications about “Professional and emotional team management” and “Women entrepreneurship”.

This process of urban reinvention has not been unique to Bilbao. Many cities around the world and in the United States have had to undertake processes of profound transformation. Is there anything that has made the case of Bilbao and its metropolis distinctive?

As a result of the alignment of these public and private efforts, the revitalization process of Bilbao and Biscay has been distinctive, because it was based not only on the physical transformation of the urban space, but also because:

  1. It was based on the identity of our ancient Basque society. This is why our leit motiv is Auzolan, which in Basque means collective action. It made possible the public-private collaboration that unleashed the potential of our community to become a powerful vehicle for change.
  2. This transformation is supported by a system of values that placed equality as a radical commitment and axis of our imagination.
  3. In a situation of maximum emergency, we were confident in our capacity for change. Our narrative that deep change is possible made our transformation real.

And after this transformation, what is Bilbao Metropoli 30 and its members working on now?

We want the Bilbao-Biscay-Basque Country to move forward as a metropolis open to the world. That is why we want to generate an international movement, a dynamic community of practitioners, activists, thinkers, authorities and allies from across the world united in a shared quest for an urban innovation revolution, pushing decisively for radical and disruptive solutions to address the pressing needs of our cities and metropolises.

We hope that this movement will become a powerful and influential driver of reflection and change, inspiring cities to do things in ways that make their goals of sustainability, inclusion, prosperity, and social justice a reality.

Our aim is to address big urban issues with high impact, to help create more human-centered cities that heal the environment, live well with nature, confront inequality, and foster fairness. This requires pioneering disruptive solutions that challenge how city making happens and also show the way forward.

We want this urban revolution community to enable shared learning. This is why we are also promoting from Bilbao Metropoli 30 The Bay Urban Visioning Awards, to be awarded every two years. This will raise awareness of the urgency for change; encourage new solutions and their sharing from one city to another; and showcase disruptive and pioneering good urban practices and projects that can feed the shared learning process.

Tell us more about The Bay Awards. I think there may be a lot of North American projects and cities that may be interested in applying.

This is an effort designed to reward creative, innovation-led, bottom-up initiatives, based on social capital, trust, public-private-social collaboration and coordination. All the information is available at

The Bay Urban Visioning Awards will recognize pioneering solutions to today’s most pressing urban challenges, which have the potential to encourage and inspire all those concerned with cities around the world. Awarded initiatives and projects will be recognized for their contribution to a long-term, sustainable, and collaborative vision for the urban regions, demonstrating originality and impact in five categories.

The aim is not only to make visible the three finalist initiatives and the winner in each category, but to create a collection of best practices as part of this shared learning. Therefore, all the initiatives presented are likely to gain international visibility.

What are the categories for which cities and urban projects can be submitted?

There are five categories. The awards are open for cities, metropolitan areas, regions, institutions, entities, or companies to submit projects or initiative, except for the The Bay Urban Pioneers Award category, which is reserved exclusively for cities, metropolitan areas, and regions. The objectives of each category are:

Horizon Shaper Award

This award is offered to initiatives from around the world that have conceptualized and cultivated a long-term, strategic vision of their urban future that has deftly orchestrated intricate initiatives and been manifested in real transformations. These projects are fully engrossed in the strategic reinvention of their cityscapes and urban environments. They undertake this monumental task by focusing on a shared vision that transcends the constraints of the urgent to drive forward projects guided by that vision and a purpose that is strategic in nature and has a palpable long-term impact.

Partners in Progress Award

Great city making is a collective endeavour initiated and driven by partners who cooperate with mutual respect and acknowledge the other’s unique contribution, thereby becoming stakeholders in their city’s reinvention. The aim is to find examples and projects from around the world that have developed public-private-civic collaboration initiatives that result in a substantial improvement in the competitiveness and well-being of their citizens.

SDG Champions Award

Bilbao hosts the headquarters of the United Nations’ Secretariat of the Local 2030 Coalition, which was opened in 2022 to advance the local implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (

This award, therefore, recognizes places and projects from around the world that have tangibly implemented the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda in ways that are close to citizens and involve them.

Prosperity Catalyst Award

This award will be given to places and projects from around the world that have succeeded in generating prosperity in their communities, as well as fostering wealth redistribution and social and territorial cohesion. Such catalytic approaches might include: creating competitive business and social growth models, establishing international benchmark companies, generating quality jobs and alignment of the training system, building ecosystems that enable the exchange of ideas and promoting the availability of financing and entrepreneurship.

The Bay Urban Pioneers Award

This generic award represents the best global urban strategies. These are places from around the world that offer proven models of success and that have become global benchmarks for combined achievements in urban planning, economic development, inclusion, and well-being of their citizens.

So the deadline is open until 10 June and all information is available at When will the winners be announced?

After a first review of applications and an eligibility assessment, all eligible applications will first be evaluated by a technical support team of experts according to the criteria established in each category. This assessment round will offer a first ranking of applications, the outcome of which will be passed on to the international jury.

Then, the international jury will review the documentation of the pre-assessment round. Based on this input and their own expert evaluation, they will collectively select the top three candidates in each category, as well as an ultimate winner from among them.

The three finalists in each category will be informed on 9 July 2024 via the contact details provided on the application form. They will participate in the Bay Awards Summit and Gala on 9-10 October 2024, where a public announcement will be made.

Finally, what are your priorities for the Bilbao metropolis beyond the awards. What are the 2-3 distinctive projects you are pursuing?

One of the distinctive elements of BM30 is its ongoing promotion of future-oriented projects and initiatives, always with a proactive attitude, which is why we have a large number of initiatives underway.

To highlight some of the most relevant ones, I would mention, firstly, our work on the definition of a strategic vision of our estuary and its two waterfronts, as a strategic metropolitan axis.  We believe this could be the next qualitative leap in our revitalization process, the fundamental element for extending the so-called “Bilbao effect” to the rest of the metropolis with a perspective of balanced growth.

We are also working on an Urban Psychology project, identifying the spaces in our metropolis that contribute to different aspects of emotional intelligence (e.g., peace, socialization, motivation, etc.) and, consequently, have a positive impact on the well-being and mental and emotional health of citizens. Our aim is to design a roadmap with recommendations on urban elements that can contribute to a positive emotional impact and also to incorporate disciplines such as psychology, sociology and philosophy into urban planning.

Thank you Idoia! I look forward to seeing you in Bilbao in October.