en el corazón de las políticas europeas
Vitoria-Gasteiz is a sustainable city that has worked for years on a city model that also embraces its landscape, even as it grows. At times, during the 20th Century, the city’s population multiplied by four in just a decade, but planning ensured that it stayed inside city limits in order to respect natural spaces and boundaries.
But what makes Vitoria-Gasteiz different from other cities? According to Juan Carlos Escudero (Head of Information & Innovation for Urban Sustainability Unit of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Center of Environmental Studies), the people in it: the city has citizens that believe in sustainability, green policies and proximity with nature. This engagement ensures a functional system with a coherent and sustainable model, based on the strong connection that the city has created between the urban area and nature.
“I believe that this model of a compact, diverse, cohesive and committed city derives from that commitment to sustainability, and from its relationship with a privileged agricultural and natural environment. It is a city of proximity, of meeting each other, of relationships, and of social inclusion, where there is balance between being green inside (in the feeling and commitments of its citizens), and green outside (in its coexistence with its natural environment). In short, a city on a human scale!”, says Juan Carlos Escudero.
The city’s green commitment is also demonstrated by the Green Belt project, a series of peri-urban parks of high ecological and landscape value, strategically linked by eco-recreational corridors in the city. The project started in 1993 to restore the deteriorated areas of Vitoria-Gasteiz and to allow nature to enter and expand in the city, with the overall aim to create large green areas for recreational use. It currently encompasses 833 hectares, with the goal of reaching 917. It includes 90 km of pathways for pedestrian and bicycle use that make it easily and quickly accessible from any part within the city; protected environments for all sorts of species; and even spaces for organic farming and community gardens. The Green Ring not only brings nature into the city – tree-lining the avenues of the rivers that enter the city – but it also becomes a ‘green lung’ and a recreational area for citizens, hosting different types of activities: sports, education, training, etc.
To make sustainability happen, the Vitoria-Gasteiz relies on aware and informed citizens, who form an integral of the process. Citizens are at the base of the necessary innovations and changes in consumer habits to contribute to a better environment. Education efforts towards the citizens on awareness and sustainability have been led for years by the Center of Environmental Studies, a municipal self-governing body that works on the sustainability of Vitoria-Gasteiz and as a laboratory and promoter of ideas.
Vitoria-Gasteiz - European Green Capital 2012
All these efforts over the years won Vitoria-Gasteiz the European Commission’s European Green Capital Award for 2012. This initiative promotes and rewards cities for their high environmental standards, its continued commitment to improving the environment, for working closely with all stakeholders in the process and for being a city that can be a role-model for other cities in Europe and increasingly the world. In addition, the UN Global Forum on Human Settlements, awarded Vitoria-Gasteiz with the Global Green City Award of 2019, confirming that the city’s efforts to invest in sustainability and pursue eco-innovative approaches continue.
Today, the Covid-19 pandemic has affected cities all over the world, and Vitoria-Gasteiz is no exception. However, Juan Carlos Escudero highlights the value of a city model on a “human scale” in such a situation, with mobility mainly based on walking and cycling, as well as public transport, and with many parks and squares contributing to the well-being of citizens and connecting them to nature. As a Green Capital laureate, the city continues to invest in and follow the model of sustainable urban planning, including the promotion of ‘supermanzanas’ also known as ‘superblocks’. These connected housing blocks or neighbourhoods are designed to foster sustainable mobility, the intensive use of public spaces, biodiversity, social cohesion involving the participation of the general public, a reduced ecological footprint and, in short, enhancing the human dimension of the city and increasing the quality of life.
References and further information
Interview with Juan Carlos Escudero (Head of Information & Innovation for Urban Sustainability Unit of Vitoria-Gasteiz, Center of Environmental Studies)