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Why Bilbao

With the launch of the PICSA index, Bilbao has stayed true to its Basque history and values, tackling the problems of modern income inequality to build a society that’s prosperous for all a city’s inhabitants.


Located at the centre of Basque Country’s steel- and iron-producing heartland, life in Bilbao once kept pace with the industrial city’s factories and mills. Today, however, Bilbao is a city with its conscience trained on the principles of inclusive prosperity: social cohesion, economic prosperity, quality healthcare, educational access, sustainable environment, and a vibrant quality of life.

After a period of deindustrialisation in the 1980s, the capital of Biscay province has been reborn from the ashes, transforming itself into an international hub for arts and culture.

This evolution began in 1992 with the establishment of Bilbao Metropoli-30, a public-private partnership devoted to the long term vision of the metropolis, and Bilbao Ría 2000, an agency dedicated to the rehabilitating degraded and industrial areas. Through the development of environmental, transportation and urban development projects, these two agencies have breathed new life into the future opportunities of previously neglected areas of the city.

Decades of revitalization and urban development have made Bilbao a global reference in city transformation. But to get there, careful strategic planning was key. Rehabilitation efforts began in areas where the most potential was going to waste, focusing on the successful regeneration and revamping of once-depressed districts like Olabeaga and Zorrozaurre. This work was placed in the capable hands of renowned architects, including Zaha Hadid.

In 1991, when the city’s leaders agreed to build Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, they knew they were taking a chance. Investing in Gehry’s Guggenheim was an opportunity, and a risk, that many other metropolises before Bilbao had refused. But the return on that investment has been incalculable, turning Bilbao into a thriving example of what cities can accomplish when they prioritise arts and culture.

The transformation of the 1990s paved the way for Bilbao to become an international hub for trade and business travel. International visitors began to arrive in droves to attend events hosted in Bilbao at venues including the Bilbao Exhibition Centre (BEC), the Euskalduna Conference Centre and Concert Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, and Alhóndiga Bilbao.

20 years on, Bilbao has brought its past and present into harmony. 

Today, it is an industrial city guided by a liberal value system and enriched by its Southern European lifestyle. Residents have noticed the change; the Basque Country now earns high marks when it comes to the social wellbeing and life satisfaction rates of its people. The Basque Country now outranks Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) ‘Better Life’ Index.

Bilbao’s government initiatives for inclusive growth are founded on a simple but revolutionary idea: that the health and wellbeing of all the city’s inhabitants should be a top priority for its leaders. Basque people have some of the longest lifespans on the planet, living to an average age of 86.1 years for women and 79.3 years for men. Perhaps the Basque healthcare system is partially responsible; its universal healthcare system is considered the best in the world by the OECD.

The Basque Country’s investment in education has earned the region the lowest rate of early leavers in Spain, and one of the highest rates of STEM graduates in Europe.

Thanks to the prioritization of businesses and foreign investment, the region’s wealth gap has narrowed, and the Basque Country now boasts one of the smallest wealth gaps in the EU. And as the benefits of that new equity and inclusivity increase over time, the region’s crime rate continues to drop.

At 30,500 euros, the Basque Country’s income per capita is also the envy of its peers. In this area, too, the Basque Country ranks above Austria, Germany and France, falling below only Switzerland, Norway, Luxemburg and United States.

The people of Bilbao have built their city into an international centre of art, industry, and business. Now, to ensure that its prosperity belongs to all, Bilbao is bringing its Basque values to life with the PICSA index.

Inaugural PICSA Ceremony & Dinner

Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

16:00 CET  21 November 2019

In Collaboration With

D&L Partners