Green Ljubljana: How the 'European Green Capital of 2016' is enjoying its award

Editor's note: The following piece was originally written by Ieva Kuneviciute for Yo! Mag, the online youth writing platform of the European Youth Forum. It's published here with permission and as part of our partnership with the EYF. Follow them on Twitter @Youth_Forum and @YOmag_YFJ.

Cover source: YO! Mag

Cover source: YO! Mag

Recently, Slovenia gets into headlines worldwide because of its infamous fellow citizen, a certain wannabe First Lady. However, there are many better reasons why Slovenia deserves media attention.

Since the beginning of the year, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, has been holding the title of European Green Capital. It is not an accident that the city was awarded this title — the entire country is truly green — forest area is approximately 62 percent of the country’s landscape. Besides, with its exceptional number lakes and rivers, Slovenia is one of the most water-rich countries in Europe.

The title of the ‘European Green Capital’ was launched by the European Commission. However, it is an initiative from 15 European cities and the Association of Estonian Cities in 2006. The title is awarded annually to the city, which has shown an excellent record of environmental standards and strong commitment to sustainable development, improvement of quality of life and healthier living spaces. Previously the title has been awarded to Stockholm (2010), Hamburg (2011), Vitoria-Gastiez (2012), Nantes (2013), Copenhagen (2014) and Bristol (2015).

Green Ljubljana’s ambassadors

“When it comes to being green, eco-friendly and sustainable, there is a constant progress and development in Slovenia, says Miha Pongrac, who is currently holding the title of city’s ambassador. Except for his studies abroad in Serbia and Germany, the 27-year-old young man from Ljubljana has been living in Ljubljana all his life. A actively engaged in civil society life, in love with Ljubljana and interested in green technologies, Miha was immediately interested in an online campaign to become an ambassador of the city during the “European Green Capital” award term. 12 people with the most interesting profiles in different areas were selected to be the face of the city. The mayor of Ljubljana, Mr. Zoran Janković, organized a lunch meeting with the selected ambassadors to introduce the city’s plans for the year.

The main task of the ambassadors is to represent the city. By contributing to the “Green Ljubljana” blog, giving interviews to the media and being active on social media writing about city’s green initiatives.

According to Miha, the award not only contributes to promote city’s efforts in being green but also plays an important role raising awareness of Slovenians themselves. Putting spotlight on different topics — recycling, green energy, water, etc. — helps to start taking steps

He noticed that during this year, there have been an increasing number of positive steps or initiatives to promote small local business, providing unused spaces in the city for startups and new businesses.

Green transport

Indeed, if you visit Ljubljana, you will be amazed by its beautiful traffic-free old town and city center. Aiming to become like Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna, one of the busiest roads in Ljubljana, Slovenska cesta, has been made an ecological zone. Even though once dominated by cars and buses, it seems that the center has been dedicated to pedestrians and cyclists for ages.

For the elderly or people with reduced mobility, Kavalir (gentleman in English), electrical vehicles, which provides access to the most important areas around the city center and ecological zones free of charge. This initiative was introduced in Ljubljana in 2008 and has been also very popular with tourists.

Sustainable living

Ljubljana is a very lively city, it has a lot of cultural events, markets, but it is also small and manageable for comfortable living, says Miha.

River Ljubljanica runs through the picturesque old town of Ljubljana, and both banks are connected with numerous interesting bridges. One of the most well-known among them, the Triple Bridge, is designed by the architect Jože Plečnik.

A cool vibe of Ljubljana is also reflected in its wining and dining options. On Friday afternoons, Odprta Kuhna (Open Kitchen) brings all foodies in town to the Pogačarjev Square. An open food market with tens of different vendors offers a fantastic variety — from street food to fancy restaurants offering different kinds of food and drinks for affordable prices.

Beside his interest in sustainable development, Miha also writes about his passion about food, restaurants and cooking in his culinary blog. He loves trying out new restaurants and bars and writing about them.

Sustainable tourism

Those visiting Ljubljana should not miss a chance to visit other places in Slovenia. The country offers different options for sustainable tourism, active tourism enthusiasts can choose kayaking, SUPing (stand-up paddling), hiking and cycling with an incredible landscape.

Although the country has already been acknowledged for being green, Miha says, that this should not be taken for granted, and people should appreciate and protect the beautiful nature of the country.