Seville, Spain Highlights from the UVic Europe Sustainability Field School 2019

The threat of climate change makes it imperative that cities become more sustainable. Through developing more connected transportation systems, re-establishing green spaces, or transitioning to renewable energy, cities can become healthier both for their inhabitants and for the planet as a whole.

Seville is moving in the direction of becoming such a city. As the capital city of the Andalusia region of southern Spain, Seville is one of the hottest cities in all of Europe, with annual temperatures averaging above 30 degrees Celsius. The metropolitan area is home to approximately 1.5 million people, making it the 4th largest city in Spain.

Jardines de los Reales Alcázares, Seville

While being a city with a vibrant culture (think: tapas, flamenco, Moorish design), Seville is also home to a number of impressive urban sustainability initiatives. From world-class bike infrastructure, seamless public transportation, numerous public green spaces, and a growing renewable energy industry, Seville stands apart from other urban centres in the region.

Seville: Spain's Cycling City

Perhaps most impressively, Seville has emerged as one of the world’s most bike friendly cities with over 150 kilometres of connected bike lanes.

Map of Seville's bike lane Network

But it wasn't always that way. Like many Spanish cities, Seville was clogged with automobiles. The journey to becoming a great cycling city began in the 1990s when activists pushed the municipality to implement the first bike lanes for the city. After years of success with these lanes, a second major period of expansion was undertaken in the mid 2000s and completed in 2010. At that point, Seville had 120 kilometres of a two way, connected bike lane network into place, and was well on its way to be the best cycling city in Spain.

The main criteria for the new bike network had an emphasis on “continuity” and “connectivity”. Continuity refers to the flow of the bike lanes throughout the entirety of the city, while connectivity refers to linking important destinations such as places of employment, schools, shopping centres, and local attractions.

Cycling activist Ricardo Marques and visiting University of Victoria student Kaitlyn Teves riding along Seville's bike lane network

The bike network had great success right from the beginning, primarily due to two important factors, the first being participatory budgeting. Through this collaborative system of governance and budgeting, civilians have a say in where the municipality should allocate their money. Bike infrastructure was ultimately deemed to be one of the greatest priorities for the public, which provided the political leverage to ensure the construction of the bike lane network.

The second important reason for the success of the cycle network was the fact that the complete and connected system was implemented all at once. In some cases, cities implement bike lanes in gradual stages. This results in a significant lack of connectivity and doubters can point to the failure of the system. "Bike lash" sentiments can stand in the way of progress. Seville planners recognized this problem and pushed the infrastructure through before the opposition could fully mobilize.

Ricardo Marques, a Professor of Physics at the University of Seville, is a bike activist who is deeply knowledgable about the development of Seville's bike network. In the following video, he succinctly describes how the people of Seville were able to achieve this great bike network.

The implementation of the bike lanes changed the face of the streets in Seville, removing 52% of carriageways, 39% of unpaved roads, and 9% of sidewalks. This created a mixture of safe bike lanes next to vehicles on the roads, as well as lanes throughout parks alongside pedestrian green spaces.

Ricardo speaking with the group about Seville's bike infrastructure

But bikes aren't the only part of the sustainable transportation story in Seville. Another exciting initiative involves integrating regional buses and cycling. Servicio Bus + BICI offers free bike rentals for those that use its commuter bus service which encourages citizens in outlying communities who commute into Seville to use public transportation and bikes instead of driving. Users have the ability to rent a free bike after the use of a bus or metro, resulting in a seamless transition in their types of mobility around the city.

In conjunction with their integrated transit system, Seville's bike lane network has had major success in the city in promoting sustainable mobility and has created a safe place for commuters of all ages.


Located 121 kilometres away from Seville on the coast of southern Spain, Cádiz is considered by many to be the oldest city in Europe. The following video will take you on a historical tour of the Ancient city.

Launching Port of Christopher Columbus

Cádiz is famously known as the starting point for Christopher Columbus’ expeditions to the North America, a "discovery" which marked the start of colonialism and the Columbian Exchange, changing the course of history forever.

Waterfront in Cádiz

When Queen Isabella sponsored Christopher Columbus to find a direct water route from Europe to Asia, he came across North America, marking the discovery of the “New World”.

This discovery brought social, economic, and cultural growth back to Cádiz. Over time, it became the most attractive port for explorers setting off on their voyages, as well as an important hub for trading around the world.

Plaza in Cádiz

Cádiz Cathedral

Cádiz’s most prominent architectural feature is the Cádiz Cathedral, which was built between 1722 and 1838.

Cádiz Cathedral

Over the 116 years that this Roman Catholic cathedral was under construction, fluctuations in trade revenues with the Americas disrupted its progress. This resulted in many different architects contributing to its design through a variety of design styles. The cathedral was initially composed with the intention of being of Baroque style, however Rococo and Neoclassical elements can be seen.

Cádiz Cathedral

Due to this unique circumstance in the Cathedral's construction, as well as riches gained from the trading activities with North America, it has been coined the “Church of the Americas”.

Today, an average of forty cruise ships arrive to the ports of Cádiz during peak months, bringing tourists into the city to experience the colourful culture, wander the markets, get lost in the streets, and taste the wide variety of local tapas dishes that are available.

Solar Energy in Andalusia

Solar energy is one of the most effective and efficient sources of renewable energy and Andalusia is on its way to becoming both a national and international role model in this sustainable energy production.

Atlantica Yield, a significant company in the Spanish solar energy sector, has introduced 15 facilities throughout the country. One of their facilities in Andalusia, Helioenergy 1 & 2, occupies approximately 115 hectares of land, and for every 2 hectares, 1 megawatt of solar energy is produced. In total, the plant produces 90 GW/H annually. We were fortunate enough to be able to visit the site and have one of the facility managers, Hector, speak with us about the intricacies of their solar technology.

Seville, and Andalusia as a whole, have ideal conditions for producing solar energy. There are approximately only 80 days out of the year that the city does not receive any sunlight due to cloud coverage and weather interference.

CSP solar panels at the Atlantica Yield facility

Spain is predicted to significantly grow in terms of renewable energy sources and by 2030, it is expected that the country will have the capacity to produce 30 000 megawatts of power. As solar technology becomes further advanced and improved, investing in renewable energy is projected to become less expensive and ultimately a more sustainable form of generating electricity.

One issue we did discover is that despite Spain's commitment to large-scale solar development, it has been much more reluctant to allow smaller-scale decentralized energy generation.

Common sights on a day out in Seville

Through Seville's seamless public transportation system, bike lane network, and the renewable energy infrastructure that is growing in Andalusia, the region is on its way to becoming one of the worlds most sustainable cities. The combination of rich character and vibrant green spaces create an attractive environment for people to visit and enjoy. Nearby towns such as Cádiz help to create a region with a historical legacy that juxtaposes its progressive sustainable projects.


Created with images by campunet - "spain square seville spain" • Asya Vee - "untitled image" • inma · lesielle - "untitled image" • andreas160578 - "photovoltaic photovoltaic system solar system" • Vidar Nordli-Mathisen - "untitled image" • Brian Jimenez - "untitled image"