The Netherlands’ oldest city, Nijmegen, is this year’s European Green Capital, with “a passionate, clear and persuasive vision”, according to the judges of this prestigious competition. Exemplary policies in climate adaptation, cycling, waste and water management, and deep citizen involvement make Nijmegen “a true ambassador for change”, says Joanna Drake, Deputy Director-General of the Commission’s DG Environment.
With over 2000 years of history, Nijmegen is a very old city with a very bright future. Winner of the European Green Capital for 2018, this inland port located on the River Waal is known as the “balcony to Europe”. The population of 176 000 has a vision of a sustainable future which builds on old Dutch traditions such as water management and cycling.
For years now, we have been working hard to make the municipality of Nijmegen more sustainable. Our goal is to have a climate-neutral city by 2045.
Hubert Bruls, mayor of Nijmegen
In an interview with Environment for Europeans, Hubert Bruls, mayor of Nijmegen since 2012, says: “For years now, we have been working hard to make the municipality of Nijmegen more sustainable. Our goal is to have a climate-neutral city by 2045. This requires many long-term measures and the collaboration of various partners, including business and residents.”
City cycling well on track
The bicycle culture of the Netherlands is nowhere better represented than in Nijmegen, voted Cycling City of the Netherlands in 2016 by the Dutch Cyclists’ Union. To date, more than 60 kilometres (km) of cycling ‘superhighways’ have been built, with plans to add another 20 km to the network. Over 65 % of visitors to the city centre and the Heyendaal university campus travel by bicycle, with cycling accounting for 37 % of journeys up to 7.5 km.
City cyclists actively participated in the bid for European Green Capital. Mayor Bruls explains: “During the finals, we presented our city together with our university, our businesses and our citizens. Nijmegen locals participated in a green rally to the other finalist cities (Copenhagen, Bristol and Ljubljana), travelling sustainably by cycling, running or swimming. This made quite an impression.”
Water and waste management
Cooperation, rather than limitation, is at the heart of the ‘Room for the River Waal’ project, which builds upon a long history of Dutch water management. The project, which began in 2011 and was completed in 2016, focused on dredging an extra ancillary channel behind an existing dyke. The end result was better flood protection while, at the same time, creating opportunities for new residential developments, an entirely new river park with an island and 1.6 km of sloped quayside for flood control and recreation.
Nijmegen’s high- performing waste management system along with a long-term commitment to achieving ambitious recycling targets have succeeded in reducing waste generation year on year. As part of the drive for a more circular economy, every year, public awareness outreach highlights different waste streams under the ongoing campaign ‘Look! Waste = Raw Material’.
In 2013, the campaign focused on organic waste, with the underlying message that, in its raw state, this material provides the base for compost and biogas. Citizens were able to see the processes behind the transformation of raw waste into compost and biogas by visiting the local incineration and fermentation plant. The result was not only free compost for residents – but also a new understanding on their part.
Citizen involvement played an important part in Nijmegen’s successful bid. Mayor Bruls says: “The competition has sparked considerable enthusiasm. Several citizen initiatives, ‘the Green Capital Challenges’, will be organised in 2018.” Visit www.greencapitalchallenges.nl to see all of the citizen initiatives.
An inspiring example
Nijmegen’s example will continue to inspire others, with many activities planned for the year ahead, including the circular economy conference EcoProcura, the National Circular Economy Summit, Sustainable Fashion Week, and the Children's Climate Summit in Arnhem. In addition, says Mayor Bruls: “A wonderful circular and sustainably built community centre will be constructed on top of Kelfkensbos. This eye-catching building will provide information about the sustainable city of Nijmegen and will offer special green routes for exploring the city and the region.”
“As a municipality, there’s a lot you can do to make your city greener, more sustainable and healthier. We invest – often together with other authorities – in initiatives like cycling superhighways, regional heat networks, parks or water management. But we have also learned that the involvement of citizens, social organisations, entrepreneurs and research institutes is absolutely necessary to successfully implement change,” concludes Mayor Bruls.
“There are rewards every time we take another step and accomplish something that results in a cleaner, healthier, safer and greener city. We have achieved something that really matters, both now and in the future,” he adds.