The Slovenia Times

The only option for cities is sustainability because the number of citizens is increasing



Ljubljana is the proud holder of the title European Green Capital 2016. In the opinion of the European Commission Ljubljana has made the highest number of changes with regard to quality of life in the shortest time. Which changes are crucial in that aspect and can you present them as well in numbers?

Foreign and domestic general public especially stresses the change of traffic regime in the city centre as the biggest shift - motor vehicles were removed from the centre. This was without a doubt an important reason that the European Commission paid attention to Ljubljana's candidacy for the title. We have not only transformed one street, but an area of more than 100 hectares, which used to be full of cars and today, it is a large living room for people. An important step forward was a comprehensive transformation of the centre - in order to shorten the distances for pedestrians, new bridges were built, as well as the old ones were renovated. Electric Kavalir vehicles, free of charge for the users, and a bicycle sharing system Bicikelj, which will be further expanded in the future, were introduced. Another wide area of changes was a transformation of degraded areas into new parks, green and recreational areas, which now offer great opportunities for quality free time spending. To name a few: Severni park and Šmartinski park near Žale, which used to be an abandoned part of the city and illegal waste dump, and today, it is a popular recreational-educational centre. There were more than 80 hectares of similar transformations in the past years.

We are the only city in Central and South-East Europe to receive this prestigious title. Do you share and if how, these best practices with other European cities?

It is true what our mayor says - there is no other European green capital thousands of kilometres from Ljubljana, and the expert committee that awarded the title encouraged us to spread good practices in this part of Europe. We are doing this intensively, at bilateral meetings (with European capitals and also our partner cities), at multilateral events and conferences, where we are invited or we are the organizers. In March, there was a round table for mayors from our region where best practices were discussed and Ljubljana was set as an example for its achievements. It is crucial that cities learn from each other rather than repeat the same mistakes. Foreign delegations that are coming to Ljubljana want to learn about our state of the art waste management system, they are interested in our changes of the traffic system, some are keen to see our urban allotments, and others would like to implement Kavalir vehicles into their cities.

Among others, the city marks the green year also with local self-sufficiency theme. How is that presented and implemented, who are the main addressors here?

The operative programme of the European Green Capital is headed by Nataša Jazbinšek Seršen and her team. Numerous activities take place in the green pavilion in front of the City Hall and in other locations in the city. Key ambassadors are also the city quarters which attract many citizens. The topic of self-sufficiency was addressed in February - we have invited those who grow fruits and vegetables at home to share their experience with others who want to do so, but do not have the experience yet. An important audience are always the children, in schools and kindergartens, since they are perceptive and have a large impact on their family members. They made friends with bees, produced aromatic lavender bags, conducted experiments with apple cider vinegar, learned about the importance of drinking water, etc.

We would like that the citizens of Ljubljana accept the European Green Capital project as their own - happily, many of them already have - and become aware of their own role in providing healthy environment for future generations. Hand in hand, we can achieve more and better.

You have mentioned drinking water. Globally, the trend of privatising drinking water, which is a public good, has appeared. Ljubljana stands for another solution - how do you do cope?

Privatising drinking water has been a hot topic for many years, ever since some German cities decided to do it. In Ljubljana, the mayor and the management of our public company VO-KA made it very clear that water sources have to remain publicly owned. When it comes to water, the aim cannot be profit, but quality. Many cities that made wrong changes in the past are now looking for a way back. According to research, Ljubljana has sufficient ground water reserves for a few hundred years; however, we encourage our citizens with numerous activities to use water responsibly and respectfully. Also because we actively preserve natural resources in the city, we are the European green capital.

Separately collected waste in Ljubljana represents over 55% of total municipal waste, and the share of recycled waste amounted 65% last year. What is the amount of the investment in this system and when will it yield return?

RCERO represents one of the key projects of sustainable development and environment protection for many reasons: it is an object with state of the art technology following the Zero-waste strategy and reduce-reuse-recycle principles. Above all, it connects 37 Slovenian municipalities and is a solution for waste management for a third of Slovenian population. It is the largest cohesion project in this area with common value of EUR 155 million, more than EUR 77 million of European funds. As already mentioned, Ljubljana is a European capital with z the biggest share of recycled waste (65%) and I believe this trend will continue, since the users see it is a win-win game.

2014 was a record year for tourism in Ljubljana; however, the number of foreign tourists is still increasing. From which countries foreign tourist mostly come and what kind of experience they are looking for?

In 2014, the number of nights in Ljubljana exceeded one million, and in 2015 it was close to 1.2 million, which is a consequence of increased international recognisability of the city and its brand. The majority of tourists come from Italy, Germany, Great Britain, France and Austria, also from the USA and Far East. Increasingly, a lot of tourists decide to visit green destinations, which is of our advantage, and another important criteria has become safety - Ljubljana has always been a very safe city. In business and congress tourism, Ljubljana has become an interesting destination. Additional capacities, such as a new high category hotel, are more than welcome. Also, I would like to welcome green activities of Ljubljana hotels, e.g. electric rolling stock, food of short supply chains and even awarding guests who travel in a sustainable way. Seemingly small ideas; however, an important impact on our environment.


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