In the north of Spain, there is a wetland that might seem like many others. Except these lakes that are dominated by bizarre structures have been created from scratch just two kilometres from the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz.
It is the political capital of Spain’s Basque Country. It is compact with 240,000 inhabitants. Here, the key words are sustainable development.
Many in habitants travel by bike, including the mayor Javier Maroto.
“It’s for getting about and going to work,” he told euronews. “These last few years the number of people using bikes as their normal form of transport has tripled in our city.”
Today, 7% of journeys are made by bike – that is comparable or even greater than in northern Europe. Five years ago, bikes only accounted for 3% of all travel.
The town has really concentrated, though, on public transport. It has a tram system and has completely redesigned all of the network.
“Before, we had a normal, radial transport network, and we turned it into a grid. The change was made in one single day, October 30, 2009. That was a complete turnaround because we had to change 60% of the tram-stops from one day to the next,” Mayor Maroto added.
The green ideas are developed at the Centre of Environmental Studies. This is where they re-invented the city, introducing priority travel zones, a lower speed limit and city centre parking that is three times more expensive than before.
Winning the label “Green Capital” from the European Commission is a first for Spain, and southern Europe as a whole.
The centre’s director Juan Carlos Escudero said: “It’s important to note what feelings this title ‘Green Capital’ has encouraged – Vitoria’s civic pride, felt by citizens as part of this city, and this community.”
It is a pride that’s not difficult to find.
And if Vitoria-Gasteiz has always considered itself a green town, from now on it’s something the whole world will know.
“We have always had this reputation for having lots of green spaces in the city centre, not solely on the outskirts,” said Lucia Ruiz. “I used to live in Barcelona, and people used to complain lots that there was no park and they couldn’t walk their dog and sit on a bench in the shade of a tree. That’s something that Vitoria always had. Now, more people know it thanks to the “green capital.”
She is part of a network of volunteers that the city relies on. They have kept resident informed, organised games for the children, and the planting of trees in the green belt.
“I think it has worked well because many people have joined voluntary groups to support their activities. We can add our little grain of sand to bring some ‘green’ to inhabitants,” Lucia added.
The green curtain is coming down on Vitoria-Gasteiz at the end of the year, but it is going up at Nantes in France, which will fly the flag as European Green Capital in 2013.