Over the past half-century, we have seen a major shift in society — mass rural to urban migration. Across the world, in almost every single country, significant portions of the population have left farmlands, villages, and small towns for bigger towns and megacities, in hopes of better prospects. Europe, for example, has essentially become an urban society, with close to 75% of the population living in towns or cities. While the migration of people usually results in better job prospects, and higher standards of living for most people, it is increasing at an alarmingly rapid pace, and has created a whole new set of problems — many of them environmental. Governments are struggling to keep up with the mass influx of people, and consequently, quality of life in overcrowded cities may not be better than rural living at all. However, it is also the gathering of people from diverse backgrounds in urban areas that brings together the knowledge, passion, commitment, and innovation that is necessary to resolve these issues.
The European Green Capital Award was established to promote and reward the efforts that cities in Europe are taking to solve environmental issues, and make their cities a better place to live in. With the issue of sustainability on everyone’s mind, several local governments in Europe have taken the initiative to help pave the path for a more sustainable future. Fifteen European cities, namely, Tallinn, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, Berlin, Warsaw, Madrid, Ljubljana, Prague, Vienna, Kiel, Kotka, Dartford, Tartu, and Glasgow, with the help of the Association of Estonian Cities, initiated the European Green Capital Award on May 15, 2006 in Tallinn, Estonia. The aim of the award is to acknowledge and reward cities that are leading the way in environmentally friendly urban living.
Enter: Ljubljana, 2016’s recipient of the European Green Capital Award!
While the winner of the coveted Green Capital title does come with bragging rights, it also comes with responsibility. The winner serves as a role model that inspires other cities to be innovative — to utilise the resources they currently have but use technology and new ways of thinking to help integrate better practices into daily life. They are tasked with the struggle to continuously come up with ways to make the overall urban experience one that is more sustainable, yet one that stays true to the culture of the city.
Ljubljana is a green sanctuary in central Europe. With the lovely Ljubljanica River flowing right through the city centre, and over 280,000 residents, Ljubljana is the political, administrative, cultural, and economic centre of Slovenia. The riverbank is home to numerous cafés, quality restaurants, and great shopping. The quality of life, and Slovenian hospitality make the standard of living here one of the highest in Europe. Ljubljana is also high on the list of the world’s most sustainable tourist destinations, clearly demonstrated by winning another honour — the Destination Award in the 2015 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards. However, the city’s ascension to the top wasn’t an easy one. The city was plagued with various problems that hindered quality of life, and many of these problems were environmental.
Ljubljana’s city centre, which was once home to a constant slew of cars and buses, is now mostly dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists. The city is also committed to continuously improving their public transportation system, in an effort to ensure that it is accessible and user-friendly for all passengers.
In terms of managing their water resources, the Slovenian capital is lucky enough to be on the few European capitals that can boast of having tap water that is perfectly drinkable without pre-treatment.
When it comes to green spaces, the city doesn’t disappoint. Ljubljana offers 542 square metres of public green space per capita. The city is also debuting 80 hectares of newly maintained green space, which has been craftily converted from degraded urban land.
An astounding 73% of apartments in Ljubljana are heated by the city’s district heating system, which uses natural gas. This has resulted in greater fuel efficiency, and has helped improve energy efficiency. Air pollution in the city is 40 times lower than it was 20 years ago.
The city is the European capital with the highest share of separated waste that is collected, at 63%. It is also the first capital in the EU to take part in Europe’s Zerowaste program, which aims to reconfigure our society. Their goal is to ban items that cannot be repaired, composted, or recycled (or re-designed to be able to do any of the three), from entering European markets.
While there are several other initiatives that have been promoted across the city, the main driver behind the city’s continued success is the people. Every individual living here goes beyond following the environmental “rules” that are set in place, and aren’t driven because of winning the Green Capital award – there is a true passion and love that is ingrained in the community towards achieving a green lifestyle. Even visitors feel the community’s love for their city, the environment, and for the Earth, and leave feeling inspired and committed towards making their hometowns as green as possible.
If Ljubljana is next on your travel bucket list, hop on an Urban Adventure for a tour around this beautiful, green city! We’re part of Intrepid Travel, a travel company that has been carbon-neutral for six years. We are committed to being as sustainable as possible, opting to walk, cycle, and take public transportation whenever possible. We believe that responsible tourism plays a big role in ensuring that the hard work that residents, governments, and policy makers put in are applicable to tourists as well.
Visit Ljubljana if you want to meet Romans at early dawn, fight with dragons for breakfast, and fall in love at a castle whilst listening to romantic poetry before lunch (we recommend a charcuterie platter, delicious carniolan sausage, and a lovely bottle of Slovene wine). This is a city where you can time travel to the glorious Baroque and Secession periods, wander through the Socialist era, and come back to modern-day glamour.