Stagnation begins at the moment improvements stop
With 132 ongoing projects following the vision of sustainable development, Ljubljana is upgrading the concept in the year it was awarded the title of the European Green Capital. The Slovenian city is first in Southeastern Europe and the only one with this title in the radius of over 1,000 kilometres. Mayor Zoran Janković tells Balkan Green Energy News that awards come with responsibility.
He outlined the interactive town map of the green transition of the local economy and particularly praised the inhabitants. People in the town on the Ljubljanica river respond to the initiatives and participate in efforts that may strike as radical even in comparison with much wealthier areas in the West.
“We are including the public in the preparation of strategic documents and spatial planning documents. Via the Citizens’ Initiative service once a month I am personally available during the Open Doors Day – in nine years over 22,000 citizens came to talk to me,” Janković said.
How does Ljubljana adapt its human resources to the sustainable development plans?
The fact is that the team plays a key role in achieving goals, and the same goes for sustainable development. We have already outlined it at the beginning of my mandate with the adoption of the Vision 2025. Big and small projects aimed at improving the quality of life in Ljubljana adhere to it.
Photo 1: Mayor Zoran Janković with the European Green Capital 2016 poster
None of the projects could have been executed without the expertise and the dedication of our colleagues participating in them. It is likewise true that the employees themselves can recognise good ideas and are very motivated to implement them; as one example, the members of the big city family have planted 6,500 trees this year in areas seriously damaged by ice frost two years ago, as part of the continuing campaign which started last year when we planted 5,000 trees. And so we are nearing the goal we have set, namely that every member of the big city family, there are 12,089 of us, plants his or her own tree.
The whole of June was dedicated to activities in the field of energy efficiency. Are you satisfied with the outcome and what was the turnout at public events?
I am very proud of numerous events carried out on a daily basis in front of the information office ‘Point.For you.’ and in other locations. Local and foreign visitors are coming to us because of the lively atmosphere.
Photo 2: BicikeLJ bike-sharing system: From its launch in 2011 to end of June 2016, the popular BicikeLJ bike-sharing system has registered more than 3,5 million borrowings
In June, we have carried out over 50 admission‑free events and activities in cooperation with the public energy company Energetika Ljubljana, the coordinator of the programme. The main series of events dealt predominantly with energy efficiency of the body as we underscored the importance of energy for a healthy life style. Among other things, we also took part in the project ‘From Sunrise to Sunrise’ where within a 24-hour timeframe over one thousand people walked on the established hiking trails to the top of the popular mountain Šmarna gora, including me.
Cyanometer, a 3.3-metre-high monolith at the Ajdovščina platform in the centre measures the blueness of the sky and indicates the quality of air.
Also in June, we set up a cyanometer, a 3.3-metre-high monolith at the Ajdovščina platform in the centre of Ljubljana, which measures the blueness of the sky and indicates the quality of air. And Slovenska Street next to the cyanometer was transformed from a main traffic route to a more friendly area for pedestrians, cyclists and city bus users. After the introduction of the new traffic regime – only public transport vehicles and vehicle with a special permit may now drive there – the black carbon concentration dropped by 70% and it has not risen in neighbouring streets. Also in this area, the noise level decreased by six decibels.
Photo 3: Triple Bridge, Ciril Metodov Square: One of the most important changes in the last decade is certainly the ecological zone, which was created in 2007 when the old city centre was closed to motorized traffic
You have said changes require very good planning and, above all, courage. What other innovations can your citizens expect in the near to medium term?
We are courageously continuing our work as I am of the opinion that stagnation begins at the moment improvements stop. We are improving the traffic infrastructure, renovating streets where necessary, and adding surfaces for pedestrians and cyclists. We are working on the community infrastructure, we are going to increase the number of gardens for lease and next year invest EUR 3.5 million into Muste park which will further increase the green area in Ljubljana. We are also going to start with the revitalisation of former bicycle company Rog into a state-of-the-art centre for fine arts, architecture and design.
You have led Ljubljana through a makeover towards a greater quality of life and environmental protection. What is the role of the mentality of citizens?
A pleased citizen is the best ambassador of the city and we are well aware of this in Ljubljana. But one of the biggest challenges is to change set habits and the mentality to improve the quality of life.
Photo 4: Kavalir electric vehicles: Since 2008, the electrical vehicles Kavalirs offer environment-friendly transportation in the pedestrian area of the city centre
It was not an easy task to close the city centre for motor traffic. This brought about different dilemmas and fears as some citizens even thought that the city centre would die. But just the opposite happened. The city is invigorated, it became the centre of social and cultural life, a stage for diverse events, evident also in the number of local and foreign visitors which is constantly rising – last year we recorded 1.2 million overnight stays whereas there were only 400,000 ten years ago. At the same time, we have significantly improved the quality of life of our citizens – since 2007, the pedestrian zone increased by 620% to approximately 100,000 square metres.
It was not an easy task to close the city centre for motor traffic. This brought about different dilemmas and fears as some citizens even thought that the city centre would die. But just the opposite happened.
With numerous activities, campaigns and events we are encouraging the citizens to adopt a greener lifestyle. Every year we carry out the traditional one-month long cleaning campaign For a More Beautiful Ljubljana and the European Mobility Week. Currently an anti-vandalism campaign is underway – it includes campaigns for picking up dog feces and against throwing chewing gum on the ground, and we are raising awareness among citizens on how to remove invasive and harmful plants.
Energetika Ljubljana may help Pančevo in Serbia reorganize its public utility sector with its solutions and sharing expertise in energy efficiency. Are there any other initiatives or projects in different directions?
Public energy company Energetika Ljubljana is going to support the Municipality of Pančevo in its implementation of the public sector reorganisation by sharing knowledge, experience and good practices. Slovenian company GGE, which is associated with our public company Energetika Ljubljana, is also going to contribute to the attainment of goals in the field of increasing energy efficiency, which are alongside the preparation of a strategic development plan for district heating, of key importance to the municipality. This way, we are all focused on disseminating good practices in the field of energy and sustainable city development in the wider region.
Photo 5: The RCERO project
After all, such dissemination of good practices was also a recommendation put forward to us by the European Commission when we were awarded the title European Green Capital 2016. We have a huge responsibility and we always like to share knowledge. Of course, it also goes in the other direction – exchange of good practices is always a topic at meetings with leaders of other cities. Here I would like to mention an anecdote from the Cities and Metropolises International Conference Cities for Air, organised at the initiative of the mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, when the participants were impressed by measures for air quality improvement and she commented: “Let the mayor of Ljubljana explain, they have already done everything we are still planning.”
In relation to the prominent environmental awards or the general attitude of the city government, what are the guidelines and standards in acquiring equipment and services, for instance in power supply or water management?
We have carried out numerous building energy renovations with Cohesion Fund means, namely health centre Bežigrad and 19 kindergartens and primary schools. Within the framework of project Ljubljana Energy Renovation, for which we have received Elena technical assistance, we are at the stage of competitive dialogue to select a private partner for the renovation of 106 buildings owned by the City of Ljubljana, among them schools, kindergartens, health care centres, city administration facilities as well as cultural and sports facilities.
We have introduced green public procurement to purchase equipment and electrical energy from 100% renewable sources. We have also adopted an ordinance giving priority to renewable energy sources and district heating systems.
Compressed natural gas (CNG) is being introduced as fuel for city traffic and community services and the number of electric vehicles is continuously increasing.
Public energy company Energetika Ljubljana, as the biggest highly efficient cogeneration in Slovenia, is following environmental trends and is adapting to the requirements arising from the environmental legislation. It is introducing BAT and BREF technologies and is contributing greatly to the quality of air in Ljubljana. In addition, in its production units within the network and together with its users it is implementing measures to achieve the highest degree of energy efficiency. Public waste management company Snaga is also using landfill gas for energy purposes and it has a solar power station on the parking lot roof. The same goes for the office building of Energetika.
Photo 6: Ciril Metodov Square
I am also proud that in Ljubljana we drink excellent tap water which has not undergone any mechanical treatment – the visitors to Ljubljana are impressed by over 30 public drinking fountains where anyone can quench thirst free of charge. We are also carrying out numerous campaigns encouraging citizens to use water responsibly. In 2006, if I shift focus to the sewage network, 68% of all citizens were connected, and now a solid 88%. Because of numerous successfully implemented projects I expect that in July 2017 we will be able to swim again in the Ljubljanica river, which will serve as additional proof of our prudent management of water resources.
Slovenia and especially Ljubljana have been introducing public chargers for electric cars in cooperation with the private sector. What are your expectations for that segment of the market and its impact on daily life?
Although our goal is to further increase the number of citizens and visitors coming to the centre using public transport, by bicycle or on foot, we are aware that electric powered vehicles are more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels and that is why we have introduced numerous measures to promote the use of such means of transport.
We have adapted municipal regulations enabling the instalment of electric charging stations and so Ljubljana will soon have 50 new charging stations in addition to the 55 existing ones. Measures with regard to electromobility have also been included in the P+R network widening projects with newly installed charging stations for electric vehicles. Four electric vehicles Kavalir are offering free‑of‑charge rides in the pedestrian zone, and the electric tourist train, Urban, is a fusion of cutting‑edge Slovenian technology and knowledge. Among other things it has to be mentioned that its roof is equipped with 12 photovoltaic panels which help maintain the train’s electric energy while driving, and the electric motor operates on the two-phase recovery principle where engine braking, especially while driving downhill, charges the battery cells. Public transport company Ljubljanski potniški promet will be introducing electric vehicles in its demand-responsive transport service, and electric car sharing Avant2Go came to life in Ljubljana with exclusively electric vehicles in its fleet. The parking spaces at electric charging stations are also free of charge.
All these things most certainly affect the daily lives of the citizens and I am convinced the influence is purely positive. Who would not be happier to live in an environment of higher quality?
You have given special focus to sustainable mobility and Ljubljana won this year’s Zlati kamen (Golden rock) award. What solutions did you introduce recently?
The Golden Rock award has joined many other foreign awards we have received in the field of sustainable mobility: among them the title of European Green Capital 2016 and the first European Mobility Week Award – Ljubljana is the only two-time winner of the award for achievements in the field of mobility. There was also the third prize at the Access City Awards 2015 and the Eurocities Award 2013.
In 2013, as I have already mentioned, we introduced a new traffic regime at Slovenska Street, we have opened and renovated P+R areas, introduced new bus lines and are additionally supporting the development of electromobility – in September the public transportation company will, as I have mentioned already, present its new demand-responsive transport service and the fleet providing this service is going to be comprised exclusively of electric vehicles.
The zero waste programme includes the new and biggest waste management site in the country. What are the financial details, how was the project implemented and what are its effects?
I am immensely proud of the fact that Ljubljana is the only capital city to adopt the zero waste commitment and that we are the European capital with the biggest share of separately collected waste.
Two years ago public waste management company Snaga wrote off the expenses on a monthly invoice for all because of the success of waste separation, and last year it significantly decreased the bill.
The Regional Waste Management Centre RCERO Ljubljana, operational since last year, is the biggest cohesion project in the environmental field in the country and it processes waste from one third of Slovenia. The project is big also in financial terms. Our application was successful and we received EUR 77.6 million from European funds, and the rest of the total project value of EUR 155 million with value-added tax came from the budget of cofounding municipalities, the state and environmental taxes.
You have asked about the citizens’ acceptance of environmental measures – two years ago our public waste management company Snaga wrote off the expenses on the December invoice for all citizens because of the success of waste separation, and last year it significantly decreased the invoice amount. Such actions certainly make it easier for the citizens to quickly adopt projects and they can also personally see that acting in solidarity brings benefits to all. The last Eurobarometer survey, which included 79 cities, has shown that as many as 92% of citizens are happy with their lives in Ljubljana proving that we are on the right path.