Time never seems to stretch. It’s always short, running out, tight and tied to a deadline. Whether it’s climate change or our personal life, we’d need two lives to live one well. Does it need to be so? Is this even healthy – for us, for the planet?
Our current schedules are not healthy and generate deep inequalities.
No, say time reform supporters who will meet in Barcelona from 25 to 31 October for Time Use Week 2021. In its second international edition, the event fosters an exchange of ideas and actions to help people carve more time for themselves and promote a new approach to time in our society.
More reasonable working hours and a better balance between professional and personal life are on the agenda, as are projects to help groups poorer in time like overwhelmed caregivers and single mothers.
Street musicians in Barcelona©Richard Hewat
Women are poorer in time than men.
Leading a time revolution
Cities, European officials, research centres, associations and experts will converge in Barcelona to push the decades-old reform revolution further, raising awareness about better use of time as a way to improve people’s life quality.
A centrepiece of this year’s Time Use Week will be the Barcelona Declaration on Time Policies. Signatories will commit to advancing further policies for healthier, more equal, and sustainable time use.
As one of the first European cities to promote time use policies and host the Time Use Week, Barcelona plays a central role in this campaign.
Eurocities talked to Marta Junqué Surià, the Barcelona Time Use Initiative co-founder, in charge of Time Use Week’s organisation and a promoter of the right to time.
Why is a better use of time so important for all of us?
A better time organisation can bring us all a healthier, more sustainable, equal and productive life.
“Our current schedules are not healthy and generate deep inequalities. That’s why we say that over the 21st century, a key citizens’ right will be the right to time. With our initiative, we aim to address specific time-related equality issues.
A better time organisation can bring us all a healthier, more sustainable, equal and productive life. For example, we know that migrants have fewer resources, that they usually live further from the city, which means that they spend more time commuting while having less time for themselves.
There’s also a gender aspect here because women are poorer in time than men. And then, there’s a clear connection between time and health, as highlighted by the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Our bodies function according to an internal clock, and if we don’t respect it, our system becomes crazy because it needs to get our attention, generating problems such as heart conditions, cancer, or obesity. So time is also a concrete tool to improve our health.
In addition, how can someone actively participate in their local community’s or their political party’s activities if they don’t have time? And what about climate change and sustainability? Is it healthy to travel from city to city just to have one meeting a day? Within the context of our climate emergency, does it make any sense?”
What’s new at this year’s Time Use Week event?
“We will be presenting two very important topics. One is the Barcelona Declaration on Time Policies, a pioneer document putting the right to time on the international agenda.
At the same time, we will relaunch the European Cities Network for Time Policies that was created in 2008 as a space to promote an exchange on time policies to improve city residents’ lives. The network hasn’t been very active in recent years, so – along with more than 11 urban stakeholders around Europe – we’ve agreed to jump-start it with a new name: Local and Regional Government for Time Policies Network.
The goal will be for cities to share knowledge and best practices among themselves. This group will also aim to promote time use policies at EU-level to increase the project’s visibility and ensure that the right to time will eventually be a right for all citizens.”
Can you tell us a bit about the history of the time reform movement?
“Time policies in an urban context have existed since the early 1990s. They first emerged in Italy and France with the creation of time offices in different city councils. In 2003, Barcelona became the first Spanish city to appoint a Time Police Councillor. Soon after, in Catalonia, we noticed that our civil society was interested in time-related proposals such as the slow movement, so in 2014 we created the Time Reform Initiative, whose goal was to produce a time reform in our region.
In 2017, the Government of Catalonia and more than 110 organisations (including associations, trade unions and business organisations) signed the Time Reform Agreement, which set specific objectives to be implemented by 2025. This successful initiative led us in Catalonia to start looking beyond our borders and enquiring about what is being done at an international level.
That’s when we became aware of different time-related activities in Europe and beyond, although quite disconnected from each other: there was the European Cities Network for Time; there were research centres in Germany, Great Britain and the United States focusing on time use and its impact, but with only minor connections to public policies; there were also French and Italian cities like Strasbourg, Rennes, Milan, Bolzano and Bergamo with a long history of exploring the right to time at a local level.
Meanwhile, our civil society was also engaged in conversations around time-related topics, including ending the summer to wintertime bi-yearly switch, a debate that reached the European institutions in Brussels.
So there were a lot of ideas on a time reform that were being floated around but that lacked coordination. This gave us an opportunity to create an initiative that would bring together cities, public institutions, scientists, civil society and private companies to share knowledge and real-life examples. That’s when the idea of Time Use Week was created.”
What’s the main purpose of the Barcelona Declaration on Time Policies?
“It’s a pioneer political declaration that touches all time-related topics and asks signatories to make a firm commitment to ten goals.
Time is currently unequally distributed, so our aim is to put the right to time on both the local and international agenda and promote time policies, develop concrete actions and raise organisations’ and people’s awareness.
We want to ensure that four key groups of stakeholders will sign the Barcelona Declaration on Time Policies at this year’s Time Use Week: cities and regional governments, research centres, trade unions and business associations as well as members of our civil society. It’s important that all these four groups will actively contribute to the debate and give it more visibility over the next two years.
By 2023, we want to be able to come up with specific recommendations on a time reform to submit to local, regional and international governments.”
Are you also eventually hoping to reach Brussels?
“Yes, we do want to bring the time debate to Brussels. Europe should be the first in the world to recognise the right to time as a citizens’ right; this will increase the continent’s ability to attract new talent while improving people’s quality of life.
We believe that the best way to approach the European institutions is to work together, bringing successful time reform examples and concrete recommendations to their attention.”
You’ve been an early supporter of time reform policies. Is your interest drawing from personal experience?
“Yes, it is. I used to be an international consultant for public institutions such as the European Union and other international organisations, and I reached a point where I realised that my life was just work. It was very difficult for me to find time for myself, my family, my community, and time to do sports or devote to political participation. I thought to myself, ‘This is not the life I want’, so I became involved in time reform projects in Catalonia, and I also made changes to my professional life.
I can tell you that I live a much more balanced life now, and I hope that many others will be able to make similar adjustments. I saw the changes that this shift brought to my life, and that’s why I’m such a firm believer in the idea of time reform.”