«I always say that for me Ljubljana is the most beautiful city in the world»
It is a city tailored to people, known as green, clean, safe and friendly, and we continually strive to raise the quality of life for our residents and our visitors. We are their best service.
I must admit that I do not use the term »smart city« very often. Under it I understand everything we are doing in the city to raise the quality of life while staying in line with sustainable development and including various stakeholders in numerous processes. Together with our residents, diverse experts, non-governmental organisations and the like we create the image of our city, that is, of friendliness towards everyone. We take care of the environment, health, sports, education, culture, preserve our heritage, build necessary infrastructure in all areas, and at the same time keep pace with the technological development and introduce innovations. Therefore, Ljubljana is a smart city, and this year’s title European Green Capital, which is the highest recognition in the field of sustainable development a city can receive, serves as proof of that. In its explanatory statement the European Commission, the one awarding this honorary title, underlined that Ljubljana made the highest number of changes in the right direction in the shortest period of time, all based on the implementation of the Ljubljana 2025 vision created in 2007. In the past decade we have carried out over 1700 projects set out in the vision and by doing so we have improved the everyday lives of our residents.
A smart city is a city with a clearly set vision which is implemented hand-in-hand with its residents – and so the residents are Ljubljana’s biggest advantage. Every day all of us in the »big city family«, which includes in addition to the city administration all our companies and institutes, strive to offer the best service to our residents. That is why we are conducting numerous activities and introducing different innovations to facilitate and improve the quality of living. It is not always easy to reach set goals, namely, it takes a lot of harmonising, determination and, last but not least, courage to implement plans. Changing peoples’ habits is the hardest. I remember how it was nine years ago when we have introduced the eco-zone and shut down the city centre for motor traffic. Many people were convinced this would cause the decline of the city centre but I believed just the opposite. Now the city centre is a living room and a popular stage for diverse cultural and social activities where pedestrians can walk freely and share the space with bicyclists. I am convinced it would be difficult to find even one person who would want to turn back the time.
Unlikely. Because if goals are not clearly defined it is difficult to follow them. First of all each city has to form a thought-out vision setting the path which it then follows. This is reinforced by sectoral strategies, operational plans and concrete projects which are then implemented. Of course, none of this is possible without a great team of co-workers. And Ljubljana has the best team!
If under the term »culture« we understand the living culture, local character and the identity of Ljubljana’s residents, and we connect all of this with new technologies, I can say that in the past years we have been successful in introducing innovations and technologically advanced novelties. Although changing people’s habits is the hardest task our residents prove they are prepared to change certain points of view, especially when they are acquainted with all the benefits such changes bring and can take part in their creation. Ljubljana is an inclusive city: among other things, residents have access to the Citizens’ Initiatives portal where everyone can send in their opinion, ideas, questions and initiatives – we reply to each and every one of them, and if a proposal makes sense and is feasible we implement it. We work for the residents and together with them. It is also general knowledge that I prefer personal contact with people and so I take a daily walk through the city meeting the residents and visitors, I also regularly go to construction sites to personally check the work progress. And once a month I have an “open-doors day” where I am personally available for questions, initiatives, proposals… Some 23,000 people have come to visit so far.
With everything our city is offering now this is quite simple. Referring to high quality of life with “smart day” let us imagine such a day of someone living on the outskirts of Ljubljana: he wakes up in the morning, prepares a nutritious breakfast with locally produced organic food from the Ljubljana countryside; from his home he can drive an electric vehicle, which is part of the »car sharing« system, he then leaves it at the P+R parking lot and takes one of the 68 methane powered buses to his office in the city centre; during the day he can go to a meeting by bicycle using the public bicycle rental system Bicikelj; in the afternoon he takes a walk on the renovated embankments of the Ljubljanica river, a project for which we have won the first place in competition with 347 European cities, and in the expanded pedestrian zone he can attend an event at the information office of the European Green Capital 2016, set up in front of the City Hall; then the whole family can ride the electric train on a circular tour of Ljubljana’s sights. During the whole day, which he planned with the help of several mobile applications offered by the city, he is abiding by the rules of responsible environmental management, he saving energy and water and is diligently separating waste. Ljubljana offers many opportunities and incentives for practices which are friendlier towards the environment and the society. But the fact remains that the individuals are the ones who decide whether they will take advantage of these opportunities, and that is why we are putting a lot of effort in awareness-raising of residents so they would take a »greener« sustainable path.
Individual offices of our city administration, public institutes and companies – with over 12,000 employees all together – cooperate in all projects and carry out tasks which raise the quality of life for the residents. We are also joining support services where possible. For instance, financial, legal and similar services have been transferred to the Public Holding Ljubljana, instead of having separate departments in every company under the public holding. Next year we are going to introduce a similar system in kindergartens. We are jointly adapting to changes, introducing thought-out solutions in line with modern guidelines and needs, and by doing so we are ensuring high-quality services and are strengthening mutual solidarity.
Among 1700 projects implemented in the ten years it is difficult to choose a few »smartest« ones. I could say all of them are smart because each of the projects has improved the quality of life in its respective area, whether it is an infrastructure project (maintenance of streets, sewerage…) or a project focused on education, sport, culture, health or social affairs. Among other things we have introduced an eco-zone measuring 10 ha in the city centre limiting access to motor vehicles and devoting it only to pedestrians and cyclists, on former brownfield sites we have set up sports and recreational surfaces, we have created new parks and other green areas, among European capitals we have the highest share of separately collected waste in households (65%) and we are the first capital city to commit itself to the »Zero Waste« strategy. This year we have been focusing particularly on electromobility, namely, we have set up new charging stations for electric vehicles, we have introduced an electric train, which is the result of Slovenian knowledge and advanced technology, and we have presented a new car-sharing system using exclusively electric vehicles which can be rented via an advanced application. I could go on.
It certainly makes a difference if instead of someone who is advocating a more conservative approach a city is led by a more freethinking person who is open to new ideas, is incorporating sustainable development guidelines and is taking technological progress into account in his decisions. Ljubljana is asserting itself as a socially responsive, responsible and friendly city for all generations, and we are acutely aware that we have to actively cooperate with diverse stakeholders and their possibly different views to improve our present and our future. In Ljubljana we live together with respect for our differences, and that is why I am especially proud that after almost 50 years the construction of a mosque has finally started, that the LGBT community has its premises at the Ljubljana City Hall and that the city council has welcomed migrants without any votes cast against. Our achievements are the reason we are receiving numerous international awards and recognitions. Consequentially more tourists are coming to Ljubljana, namely, we are recording an increase of almost 20% at annual level, we are receiving requests to organise conferences and forums, many cites want to see our good practices first-hand and learn from us, and we have increased the promotional activities our city abroad. Because of our achievements and the title European Green Capital Ljubljana has evolved into a relevant counterpart and established itself on the world map. I am very pleased with this progress.