Green Cities Fit for Life

Image by C. Spahrbier

Antonio Fernández, Red Cross Worker and Citizen of Vitoria-Gasteiz

In Vitoria-Gasteiz, citizens recognise the huge impact their environment has on their health. We met with Red Cross worker, Antonio Fernández, who is responsible for the Environmental Plan in Álava, a crucial part of the Red Cross’s mission to create and maintain a well-balanced environment that will provide Vitoria-Gasteiz’s citizens with a healthy life. We spoke to him about his views on citizen engagement, what the Red Cross is doing for the environment and what it feels like to live in a city that has held the European Green Capital title.

Antonio has lived in Victoria-Gasteiz his whole life and, over the years, he has noticed the growing concern and respect citizens of this green city have for their environment. He explained the often overlooked role of the Red Cross in improving Victoria-Gasteiz’s environment: “In the Red Cross we work with vulnerable people and respond to their needs. We consider the environment to have a direct impact on their quality of life and on their health. A well-balanced environment that provides us with a healthy life must be considered as a basic requirement to achieve both personal and collective development and to improve the welfare of society.”

How can citizens help make a change?

Antonio explained that, unfortunately, it is human behaviour that is both ruining and improving our environment, and it is the key factor in almost all the environmental and health problems that we suffer with today. He believes that education is vital in putting a stop to this problem: “It is imperative that society and its members have adequate environmental knowledge. Citizens need sufficient environmental education and training that will allow them to participate, act and intervene in the management and care of the natural environment at all levels and, therefore, in the improvement or maintenance of their own well-being.

Antonio believes that citizen participation is necessary to accomplish a city’s environmental objectives and he sees volunteering at the Red Cross as a great way for citizens to participate in Vitoria-Gasteiz. Antonio explains, “We consider that volunteering encourages social integration, reinforcing and structuring our communities. It helps develop our sense of belonging and people’s identification with their environment, as well as providing opportunities for learning and exercising environmental responsibility.”

Red Cross Volunteers

Red Cross Volunteers

What does the Red Cross do for the environment?

The Red Cross in Vitoria-Gasteiz organises and delivers its work, both internally and externally, through four environmental programmes. The purpose of all of these programmes is to facilitate the recovery, conservation or achievement of environmental balance through education, information and action. That is why the Red Cross not only joined, but continues to adhere to, the initiative ‘The Roots of Tomorrow’, which mobilised all the local Red Cross volunteers to carry out the planting of 250,000 trees and shrubs (one type of plant per city inhabitant) in Vitoria-Gasteiz’s Green Belt. This project brought together Red Cross volunteers, as well as other local citizens, companies, professionals and all types of citizen organisations between 2013 and 2016.

What is it really like to live in a city that held the European Green Capital title?

Antonio talked to us about what it is really like to live in a European Green Capital and the duties that come with it: “To live in a European Green Capital is, first and foremost, a privilege. It means living in an environment with clean air, adequate waste management, responsible consumption of resources, pollution-free green areas, and more. However, it can also be a challenge because your home and your place of work have to meet those expectations.”

Antonio praised his city and its citizens for their commitment to the environment, their support and inclusivity: “Vitoria-Gasteiz is above all a city committed to the environment. You can see for yourself, it is surrounded by the Green Belt with numerous urban parks where you can enjoy nature, as well as its excellent network of bike lanes and perfect terrain making it easy to get around. It is a city to be enjoyed!