Visiting Vitoria-Gasteiz – Green Capital of the Year 2012

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I recently spent a month working and travelling in the north of Spain – I was visiting eco-villages for a documentary idea, and making a radio report about the worker owned Mondragon corporation.

I was also lucky enough to briefly visit the capital of the Basque country, Vitoria-Gasteiz, an attractive, buzzing city of just 240,000 people – and the winner of the title of European Green Capital in 2012.

Vitoria-Gasteiz won the award by taking a pro-active approach to green-space and quality of life in the city. Whilst most other cities seem to slowly chip away at their existing parks and green spaces, starting in 1990 Vitoria began reversing the trend, by reclaiming degraded and disused around the city to create a continuous green belt of parks, connected by cycle paths and walkways.

More recently, the city has pedged to go even further though.

“Vitoria is surrounded by a green belt of parks and we are going to reproduce this experience inside the city. We are going to transform some communication axes and streets into what we’re calling the ‘inner green belt’, introducing nature inside the city,”

Vitoria’s Mayor, Javier Maroto Aranzabal.

The city has a high proportion of green public areas – in fact, the entire population lives within 300m of an open green space.

It can also boast a fleet of electric buses, a (completed) tram system, and extensive cycle lanes that are coherently link different parts of the city. And, as you’ll see if you watch the video, it also has an impressive piece of public trasportation infrastructure that I’ve never seen anywhere else – flat outdoor escalators.

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In the second half of the video, you’ll also see another outdoor transport innovation that caught my eye/iphone whilst I was in the Basque country – a series of outdoor escalators (the step variety) in the small fishing village of Hondarribia on the Atlantic coast. Although it’s a sunny day in the video, this area of Spain – on it’s north coast – receives more rainfall per annum than Edinburgh, so these escalators must be designed to deal with a lot of rain water without problems.

I’m not lazy, and I certainly don’t mind powering up some of Edinburgh’s steeper streets. But imagine, if they were located in certain strategic locations, how it might encourage more people to cycle or walk – suddenly you could power up the steepest of streets without having to get all sweaty, or to have to stop or push. We saw all sorts of people using them – but they could be especially useufl for the elderly, for kids, for mums and dads with babies in buggies, and for people who just need a boost.

In an Edinburgh of the future, I think both of these forms of transport would be rather useful for our hilly city…

Have you visited a city with innovative approaches to cycling and greenspaces? Let us know about it, or maybe write us a post about the experience. And look out for an upcoming post about the car free city of Vauban in Germany.

Tom Allan
Tom Allan
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