Thessaloniki sets candidacy for the “European Green Capital” award for 2014, as announced by the Deputy Mayor of Environment, Quality of Life and Open Spaces of the central municipality of Thessaloniki, Kostas Zervas.
The “European Green Capital” award is part of the focus of the European Commission in the urban environment, and aims to highlight the real achievements of the past and encourage further commitments for the future. The prize, which was awarded for the first time in February 2009, was enacted in response to a proposal by several European cities. When the contest was launched in 2008, the commission received requests from numerous cities. The 35 participants were evaluated according to a set of environmental criteria, such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, noise reduction and waste management. So far the title has been awarded to four cities; Stockholm, Hamburg, Madrid and Nantes for the years 2010 to 2013.
Healthy Urban Living
The award “Green Capital of Europe” is given to the city which manages to improve the urban living environment as a whole through concrete activities such as:
• Cooperation between authorities, citizens, entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to develop and improve urban living conditions.
• Implementation of sustainable solutions regarding the means of transport in the city.
• Creation and expansion of parks and recreation areas.
• Modern approach to waste management.
• Innovative solutions to combat noise pollution.
• Integrated approach to urban management ensuring long-term positive results.
Let’s investigate the candidacy of our city in a bit more detailed way and with realism. The city does not meet the criteria listed above. There are efforts done to implement programs that deliver results according to the above criteria. But I personally believe that are still very small. The absence of specific environmental strategy and political planning still burdens the local authorities.
For example, one of the major issues that the city is facing is a significant lack of green space. Unfortunately Thessaloniki still holds the sad privilege of being among the European cities with the least green space per capita. The ideal average share of green space is estimated at 20 m² per capita, while 10 m² of green space per capita is considered acceptable. In Thessaloniki, the percentage that corresponds to each citizen is 2,7 m²!
Three weeks ago I attended a seminar on the sustainable development of West Thessaloniki organized by the Centre of Environmental Education in Eleftherio Kordelio. West Thessaloniki is the area that can accommodate a wider range of changes towards the environmental improvement of the city. There are the large military camps in the city (Karatasou, Pavlou Mela, Papakyriazis, Megalou Alexandou, Ziakas and Kakiousi) which may, among other measures that could be implemented in the region, be reformed and become in this manner modern urban parks.
One of the speakers at the conference was Mrs. Ananiadou-Tzimopoulou, who is a landscape architect and professor at the Aristotle University. Ms. Ananiadou-Tzimopoulou made an excellent presentation and analysis of the green spaces that already exist in Thessaloniki but also of those that are potentially usable, namely the large military camps of West Thessaloniki aforementioned. The remarkable point in her speech was the fact that even if the city uses to the maximum the opportunities available for the expansion of green spaces, it might reach a percentage of 7 m² of green space per inhabitant, which is still well below the 10 m², which are considered acceptable!
The candidacy of the city for the title of European Youth Capital for 2014 clearly has some basis. The truth is that the youth in the city is moving, is self-organized and creates. But the candidacy of the city for the title of the European Green Capital for 2014 does not have a substantial basis. The first structures to put the city into a more environmental friendly track might have begun bring fruits. The rapid growth of traffic of bicycles in the city could be a proof of change in the mood of Thessaloniki’s society. The municipality might have been supporting proposals made towards the environmental protection and the enhancement of quality of life in our city. But I think that we are still very far from being elected Green Capital of Europe.
I want nothing more for Thessaloniki to be greener, more sustainable, more healthy. If the candidacy is one of the ways that the municipality wants to use to move in this direction, fine. But if the candidacy comes to fill the void of political planning and is communicated as a means to impress the public that is not fine, not fine at all…
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