by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders
Valencia, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, has won the title of European Green Capital for 2024. From an initial field of eight competing cities, the European Commission selected Valencia for notable progress in twelve environmental indicators, particularly for achievements in sustainable tourism, climate action, and an inclusive approach to greening the city through public education and engagement.
Valencia’s environmental awareness can be dated to the flooding of the Turia River in 1957. The city rerouting the river and, instead of building a freeway in the former watercourse, (which almost happened), Valencia transformed the old riverbed into a linear park that now invites residents and visitors to walk or bicycle to numerous civic venues and other destinations within a the largest urban garden in Europe accented by iconic bridges, including three designed by Calatrava.
The city is partly surrounded by the Huerta, three truck farm/garden/orchard districts served by an ancient canal system that the United Nations has designated as a world agricultural heritage site. Nearby, Valencia and its partners have restored and protected the Natural Park of Devesa-Albufera which offers beaches, dunes, and marshes that have become a popular destination for outdoor recreation as well as home to commercial fishers, farmers, over 400 plant species, wetlands of international importance, and a zone of special protection for birds.
In the category of climate change mitigation, Valencia has cut GHG emissions by over 30 percent since 2007 by deploying renewable energy sources, reduced energy consumption, and active transportation infrastructure including 150 kilometers of cycle lanes and paths. Almost all residents live with 300 meters of greenspace and over 40 percent of trips here occur on foot, which is a notably high mode split. The city has pledged to be climate neutral by 2030.
Valencia’s climate adaptation program has restored dunes, established water reservoirs, created new urban parks, collaborated in European research projects, and managed public information/engagement efforts including an annual climate participation event. To realize its vision of being a resilient city by 2030, Valencia is working on 86 measures including the configuration of superblocks and further restoration of coastal dunes.
In the category of nature and biodiversity, Valencia has earned international recognition for the creation of two new wetland reserves as well as the preservation and restoration of the Devesa-Albufera dune and wetland ecosystem. The EGC jury praised Valencia for its leadership in urban ecosystem restoration, citing Valencia’s rejuvenation of a significant river system and linking it with wider blue and green infrastructure improvements.
The city’s motto, “On a Mission Together”, reflects a people-oriented approach to being compassionate as well as inclusive while pursuing its goals for environmental protection and restoration. Missions Valencia 2030 is the city’s key program for development of eco-innovation, including its employment of innovative processes for urban planning, energy, mobility, biodiversity, and circular economies.
The EGC jury was particularly impressed with the city’s public engagement programs. In Valencia’s ComfortUP! Project, citizens can use an app to report on noise levels and temperature issues. Its effort to promote awareness of water supply and quality has included an ambitious public involvement event called Water Week.
A citizen education program promotes the reduction of food waste and the reuse of various materials, particularly textiles. In addition, the city invites citizen participation in the protection and enhancement of the Huerta and other unique resources in and near Valencia.
Valencia is the 15th city to win the title of European Green Capital. If you want to learn about the European Green Capital competition and previous winners of this award as well as the European Green Leaf Award (for cities with a population range of 20,000 to 100,000), see the Ecocity Snapshots articles in the Ecocities Emerging newsletter at the Ecocity Builders website (https://ecocitiesemerging.org/tallinn-named-2023-european-green-capital/) and my book Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places (Pruetz 2016).
Phrenos 2022. Expert Panel: Technical Assessment Synopsis Report –European Green Capital Award 2024. Brussels: European Commission.
Pruetz, R. 2016. Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places. Arje Press.