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Budapest’s New Mayor Promises Greener, Freer, and More Transparent Capital

Ábrahám Vass 2019.10.16.

On Sunday, Budapest elected a new mayor. The program of Gergely Karácsony, dubbed ‘Let’s take back Budapest‘ very much focuses on green spaces, climate change, more effective and environmentally friendly transport, and a social and transparent capital. Analysts, however, expect a hard time for him, as many foresee open and implicit battles with the central government.

Transport and public transport

Reforming transport would arguably be one of the most difficult areas Karácsony faces. In brief, he insists that there are currently too many cars in Budapest, which is the fault of the capital. Instead, the city should offer modern and comfortable alternatives to driving. The first step would be the reduction of public transport costs, including making it free for those under fourteen.

Air-quality protection is also said to be essential for Karácsony. He aims to discourage the use of diesel vehicles and to support the expansion of the usage of non-motorized modes of transport, (walking and cycling) over car use.

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Motorists would have to face changes too. In the first phase, the Pest side’s lower embankment would be car-free, while the Danube would be easily reachable by foot on the other side too. In addition, he would launch a public debate on the implementation of a congestion charge.

Housing

One of the main causes of Budapest’s ongoing housing crisis is, according to Karácsony, the extremely low proportion of municipal or subsidized rental housing. He would address this by including currently vacant homes and launching nonprofit housing, which would gradually increase the proportion of the regulated housing sector in Budapest from the current 4.6% to 10%.

In addition, he would promote a program that can both reduce household costs and make these properties greener.

Green surfaces

While managing and developing green areas was so far handled as a “stepchild,” it would be a key area from October, Karácsony promised in the program. He said one million trees were “missing” in Budapest, and promised to plant some 15,000 a year, about as many as the number of babies born in the city annually. He also promises a ban on the re-appropriation of green areas into developed areas.

He also has an ambitious plan to establish a green corridor from Római Part through Népsziget and Hajógyári island to Margaret Island. He also plans to plant a large forest in the north of Csepel Island and Outer Ferencváros (9th district). Liget Project‘s future is also in question, as he would revise the project, which is still one of the most dismissed by the people of Budapest.

He also aims to halt “flashy” giga-investments “unwanted by Budapest people,” and halt the “Stealthy Olympics” program.

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A more social capital

Karácsony also aims to restore healthcare, eliminate staff shortages, and fund screening programs in order to sooner diagnose illnesses. In one of his loudest campaign promises, he insisted that not one more stadium will be built until any of the districts lacks a CT device.

In another adamant promise, he plans to implement a new tax called the “Tiborcz-tax” (named after the PM’s son-in-law who is interested in property business among other activities) on the owners of property worth more than 500 million HUF (Eur 1,6 million). He also promised a more humanistic approach towards homeless people. In addition, he pledged to grant needy pensioners and big families an annual 20,000 HUF (Eur 64) to help with their heating bills.

Five lean years to come?

Many speculate that although Karácsony has some “aces up his sleeve,” how he will get along with the government, and how the government will treat Budapest in general after the local election U-turn. As PMO Chief Gulyás confirmed (or rather, threatened) ahead of the elections, the agreement, signed by PM Viktor Orbán and István Tarlós that contains generous funding promises would be null and void, if the latter loses the elections. However, after the election, PM Viktor Orbán stated that “in the interests of the country and the people who live in Budapest, we are ready to work together.”

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While Karácsony previously argued that it was a “myth” that the government “brings money to Budapest” insisting that the reality was “just the opposite,” one of his aims is to settle a new system with the EU, in which Budapest could directly apply for development funding and not through the government. In this way, “instead of prestige developments, EU resources could be spent on things truly important for the citizens of Budapest.”

Karácsony’s next years as Budapest mayor can be decisive regarding the opposition’s chances of becoming competitive again. If he and his team perform well, then their reputation can significantly increase – if not, then after 9 years without important political positions in the country, they might be put aside for another 9 years by voters.

featured image: Karácsony pointing in the direction where he plans to plant a large forest – via Gergely Karácsony -Facebook