Galicia, land of opportunity


David Chipperfield
19 March 2024
Published in La Voz de Galicia

Current concerns about global warming give us the opportunity to rethink our attitude towards the environment, not only in terms of sustainability, but also in terms of community and quality of life. David Chipperfield reflects on this in the opinion article published in La Voz de Galicia.

While the turbulent events of the last years have caused suffering and distracted us from our normal lives, they have also prompted us to reflect on our priorities and values. Covid isolation emphasised the importance of family and of things close to us, physically and emotionally, while the food shortages caused by the Ukrainian war have highlighted the weaknesses of our global systems and supply chains.

The lessons only reinforce the need to confront the climate emergency—the result of a relentless quest for economic growth, reckless industrial and agricultural processes, the erosion of our natural and physical environment, and a lack of circularity. We must reconsider our priorities and habits, in an attempt to address the causes of this emergency and develop tactics of mitigation and resilience.

As we begin to realise the steps that we must take collectively towards a more sustainable world, Galicia finds itself less exposed and more prepared than other regions. Its nature—forests, mountains, rias, and its productive landscape—is not only its treasure, it also holds the key to sustainability and future prosperity.

This natural capital is reinforced by the human one. Nature is embedded in the Galician people’s culture, their way of life, and their very character. They have toiled and fought with nature, and been shaped by it for generations. Their traditional farming systems, which have endured in Galicia’s interior, take on renewed and global relevance, as we realise the failings of our industrialised food production processes with its pesticides and chemicals, neglect of animal welfare, and destruction of biodiversity.

Like other European regions, Galicia has suffered an unreasonable migration from the rural areas, due to the growing importance of cities as economic generators and the competitive global market. However, the new green economies will once again emphasise the natural, the rural and the regional. Galicia’s natural resource is its opportunity. Working with nature is not limited to the traditional toil-intensive methods of working the land and the sea. The traditional industries will form the basis of the new ones. As conventional global market efficiencies are being challenged, heightened supply chain sensitivities will discourage methods of production and distribution that create unnecessary damage to our natural environment.

We cannot rely or expect private enterprise to develop these economies on their own. Government support and encouragement is critical. Mobility, connectivity, research, vocational training and social infrastructure must be the regional government’s priority.

Rather than following simple planning conventions, future policies must anticipate an overall territorial vision. This should be defined by a commitment to materials and products that are consistent with shared targets and contributions, a transition to natural and renewable energy sources, and a truly circular approach to the economy, the environment and waste management.

Everything is on the side of this mission. European governance is openly encouraging initiatives that address the challenges of environmental protection and social security. The scientific community is focusing and sharing its common knowledge research and its data. The commercial sector is adjusting to new demands, expectations and targets. Investments and global funds are looking for sustainable sectors.

Fundación RIA is working with various administrations and agencies, independent of political allegiance and financial interest, on issues that affect our physical environment, built and natural. The way we develop and protect our environment has great influence on our communities.

We need to reject the poor planning and thoughtless development of the past decades. In future, all development must be measured against its social and environmental impact, its effect on the quality of where and how we live, its contribution to social cohesion, and its effect on nature and biodiversity. By embracing these issues as opportunities, Galicia can not only focus on global environmental challenges, but also establish an economic role for itself, maintain a quality of life for future generations, and secure its own destiny.

David Chipperfield is principal of David Chipperfield Architects, the 2023 Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate, and president of Fundación RIA.