Ljubljana, home to 283,000 people, is the capital of Slovenia, the mountainous republic surrounded by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia. After years of car-centric planning in the 20th Century, Ljubljana shifted to a more nature-friendly course, transforming the city center into an ecological zone, revitalizing its riverfront, redeveloping brownfields and protecting green areas, which form almost three-quarters of the City. In a major step toward connecting its protected landscapes to each other and to the city center, Ljubljana converted the perimeter fence that encircled the City during World War II into a 33-kilometer bike/walk trail that welcomes 30,000 citizens each year to a recreational march commemorating the City’s liberation.
Ljubljana is bordered to the north by forested mountains and to the south by the lowland fields and marshes surrounding the Ljubljanica River. The heart of Ljubljana is linked to this greenbelt by riparian corridors and green wedges, including a three-park complex that extends to the western edge of downtown and a wooded ridge that connects the City’s eastern hinterlands to the open space encircling Ljubljana
Castle above the historic city center (Treanor, Connolly and McEvoy, 2014). As a result, Ljubljana not only offers more than 540 square meters of public greenspace per person but puts almost all of its residential areas within 300 meters of public greenspace (Ljubljana, 2013).
Greenspace constitutes almost three quarters of Ljubljana, with over 16 percent of the City’s total land area in Natura 2000 sites (EGC, 2014). More than 20 percent of the City has some form of nature protection status including special-purpose forests and ecological areas as well as Natura 2000 sites. Tivoli-Roznik-Sisenski Landscape Park protects habitat for endangered species at the doorstep of downtown Ljubljana, allowing over 1.7 million visitors per year to get in touch with nature. At 135 square kilometers, Ljubljansko Barje, the largest of Ljubljana’s four landscape parks, protects natural riparian forests and wetlands while incorporating farming techniques that maintain a high level of biodiversity (Ljubljana, 2013).
Ljubljana is committed to compact development, primarily on infill and brownfield sites including disused industrial zones, abandoned military facilities, remediated waste dumps and illegal settlements. Specifically, more than 80 percent of the areas designated for development require the regeneration and renewal of degraded land. Between 2001 and 2013, Ljubljana transformed brownfields into five parks and nine residential complexes with over 1,200 new dwelling units. Ljubljana and its private-sector partners are currently redeveloping a 228-hectare industrial area into a model ecodistrict incorporating sustainable building technologies and featuring a “central park” with green corridor linkages to the downtown ecological district (Ljubljana, 2013).
The renovation of the Ljubljanica River restored and interconnected an iconic riparian environment through a part of downtown that had been degraded by traffic and parking. This project included the construction of paths along the river and four new bridges for bicyclists and pedestrians, improvements that extended the downtown ecological zone and created public spaces allowing people to reach as well as cross the water. These interventions earned the 2012 European Prize for Urban Public Space and restored the riverfront to its former glory as the City’s preeminent public space (Ljubljana, 2013; Bordas, 2012).
In 2007, Ljubljana declared its city center as an ecological zone closed to motor vehicles with the exception of early-morning deliveries. Over the five-year period ending in 2013, the City expanded the public space reserved for pedestrians and bicyclists to more than 30 streets, a 550-percent increase. In addition to the obvious benefits of safety, air quality and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, establishment of the ecological zone has reduced noise levels by almost 6dB(A), creating a large, peaceful place in the heart of the City (O’Neill and MacHugh, 2013).
Ljubljana has greatly improved public transport reliability by rebuilding its major downtown arterial street exclusively for buses and bikes. The City’s bike share system, with 30 docking stations, is also attracting widespread use. As a result, Ljubljana has substantially reduced automobile use and aims for a 2020 future in which the three mobility categories (cars, public transport and non-motorized travel) will each account for one third of all trips. These eco-mobility efforts, coupled with plans for compact growth and energy conservation, have prompted Ljubljana to target a 50- to 80-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between 2008 and 2050 (EGC, 2014).
In addition to the outlying greenbelt, Ljubljana has created an inner green ring by retooling the strip of land that encircled the City during World War II where barbed wire fences and guard towers literally separated Ljubljana from its surrounding countryside for over three years. When the City was liberated on May 9, 1945, the citizens used this former no-mans-land to build a path which is now used for a memorial walk held every year on May 9 attended by more than 30,000 people. Over the years, the City and its volunteers planted 7,400 trees on what is now a 33-kilometer recreational trail known as the Path of Remembrance and Comradeship. The path is used by walkers, joggers and bicyclists for exercise and recreation. In addition, it provides a non-motorized way for residents to reach many of the City’s major destinations including the zoo, the Ljubljana Architectural Museum, Fuzine Castle and several green areas (Valentine, 2010).
Ljubljana is succeeding in becoming a greener city by restoring its natural environment, concentrating development on remediated brownfields and changing a traffic-bound downtown into a largely car-free pedestrian zone. These accomplishments have not gone unnoticed. The European Commission named Ljubljana the 2016 European Green Capital and the City has won international recognition for sustainable tourism. In addition to its inherent benefits, this nature-friendly transformation has boosted tourism here. Between 2002 and 2014, Ljubljana has seen tourist visits more than double (Ljubljana Tourism, 2016).
Chapter 8: Ljubljana, Slovenia: River as centerpiece
Bordas, David. 2012. Preureditve nabrezij in mostovi na Ljubljanici. Retrieved on April 13, 2016 from http://www.publicspace.org/en/print-works/g072-preureditve-nabrezij-in-mostovi-na-ljubljanici.
EGC [European Green Capital]. 2014. Expert Panel – Technical Assessment Synopsis Report. European Green Capital Award 2016. Brussels: European Commission.
Ljubljana. 2013. European Green Capital 2016 Application. Ljubljana: City of Ljubljana.
Ljubljana Tourism. 2016. Ljubljana Tourism Statistics. 20XX. Retrieved on April 15, 2016 from https://www.visitljubljana.com/en/b2b-press/statistical-data/ljubljana-tourism-statistics-from-2002-to-2012/ and https://www.visitljubljana.com/en/b2b-press/statistical-data/ljubljana-tourism-statistics-2014/.
O’Neill, Katie and MacHugh, Ian. 2013. Urban Environment Good Practice & Benchmarking Report – European Green Capital Award 2015. Brussels: European Commission.
Treanor, Angela, Connolly, Louise and McEvoy, Brenda. 2014. Urban Environment Good Practice & Benchmarking Report – European Green Capital Award 2016. Brussels: European Commission.
Valentine, Mark (translation). 2010. The Path of Remembrance and Comradeship. Ljubljana: Ljubljana Tourism.