For some years now Valencia's air has been cleaner, walking has being easier, living has been better ‒ and it's not only down to the works making it a must-see destination for architecture enthusiasts, such as its City of Arts and Sciences by Santiago Calatrava. Valencia should be visited also because it's becoming one of the world's most livable and sustainable cities, thanks to its commitment to being climate-neutral and smart by 2030. This reason has also contributed to it being chosen as European Green Capital 2024 by the European Commission, winning the match against the other finalist, the Italian city of Cagliari.
This award is presented to cities with over 100,000 inhabitants and that have implemented projects to reduce their environmental impact and to improve quality of life for residents and visitors alike ‒ and it's clear Valencia fully deserves this prize. From its urban sustainability policies to its ecological transition ones, and from sustainable transport to urban waste management, Valencia is rich in interesting initiatives. Supporting the further development of these projects will be the €600,000 awarded to the city by the European Commission, as announced during the prize-giving ceremony held last October in the French town of Grenoble, European Green Capital 2022 (this year's winner is Tallinn, capital of Estonia).
Twelve indices are taken into consideration to establish victory among the various candidate cities, and these include: air quality, noise, waste management, water management, nature and biodiversity, land use, eco-innovation, climate-change mitigation, adaptation to climate change, transport, energy efficiency and governance. The European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius has been underlining for some time the role these factors play in cities, which is where over 70% of European citizens now live. This is in fact what drove the Commission to introduce the European Green Capital and European Green Leaf awards in 2008, with the intent of encouraging innovative solutions and illustrating the existence of sustainable and green cities and towns that can act as examples. Securing the 2024 Green Leaf prizes to towns with fewer than 100,000 residents were Velenje (Slovenia) and Elsinore (Denmark).
The choice of Valencia as European Green Capital 2024 offers the perfect opportunity for visiting it: here's what to see and the places to discover, combining cycle rides, strolls along the river and a lunchtime break at a local market.
One of the reasons Valencia is the winning candidate for European capital 2024 is its sustainable transport options. For years now the city has been fostering 'gentle' mobility, more specifically, cycling ‒ the means now opted for by most residents when getting around. The network of cycle paths now extends for 161 kilometers, with over 30 kilometers of dedicated cycle roads. Not only the city's inhabitants can take advantage of this service but so too can tourists, who are offered handy and enticing solutions for visiting places from a unique perspective, such as the route leading to the Pinedo and El Saler beaches, which may also be reached by public transport.
Eco-transition is to the forefront in Valencia, where 97% of its 700,000 inhabitants live within 300 meters of a green area. The city's many parks include the Turia Gardens, laid out on a former riverbed as part of an innovative renaturing project converting an urban area once often the object of flooding into one of Spain's largest natural city parks. A green route extends for over 9 km, for running and cycling, for families and nature lovers, with museums and sights standing on the river banks, which are connected by 18 bridges.
Reclaiming urban spaces for the community and pedestrianizing entire areas by converting them for public use: in this sector too, Valencia stands out for its ability to change, with sustainability as a hallmark. The recent pedestrianizations of the plazas del Ayuntamiento, de la Reina and del Mercado-Brujas have enabled new spaces to be recovered for residents and tourists.
Another interesting project pivots on the Petxina neighborhood, the city's first superblock: one of the 22 projects in the 'Valencia, city of squares' initiative, it is inspired by Barcelona's example of city blocks. The road layout has been redrawn, cutting back to a single lane with strict speed limits: this has allowed expansion of the adjacent pedestrian spaces, enhanced with new vegetation and street furniture.
Albufera Natural Park lies in one of Europe's most important wetlands, featuring a unique habitat for numerous species of birds. So as to protect the area and make it a green lung for the city, Valencia has signed an agreement with the Júcar Hydrographic Confederation (CHJ) for the supply of an additional 60 million cubic meters of water per year and to keep the park lake in optimal condition. This arrangement also took Valencia to be named as a Wetland City in 2022 ‒ the first Spanish town to receive the Ramsar Convention accreditation.
Starting this spring, three eco-agricultural markets will open in Valencia. Here local residents and visitors will be able to buy fruit and vegetables with minimal food miles, directly from the farmers growing them on lands in the city outskirts. These are the Pla del Remei, Castellar-Oliveral and Malilla markets, open from 9 am to 2 pm, and where consumption of local products is encouraged, also in support of the area's economy.
All images retrieved from Wikimedia Commons