Nijmegen European Green Capital 2018
March 23, 2018
Nijmegen surrounded by beautiful landscape
IMAGE: European Union
Nijmegen – known for being the Netherlands’ oldest city and the country’s ‘Cycling Capital’ is a thriving heartland for all things sustainable. With the crowning of this year's European Green Capital title; it’s a trendsetter, a role model, and a place you want to be.
Perhaps you’ve not heard of Nijmegen before? This inland port city situated on the River Waal, just 8km from the German border and within the Dutch province of Gelderland, has always been strategically important. Whilst once this was for political battles, it’s now for its clear-sighted approach to developing as a green and sustainable city.
With a population of 176,000, boosted by its large student body, it’s not a huge city in terms of numbers. However, it is the tenth largest in the Netherlands and what it lacks in population size it certainly more than makes up for with its green ambitions, and now its green credentials.
There are a staggering 92m² of green spaces for each and every citizen, making up 24.8% of the total surface area of the city. You can just imagine the inspiring power of this green city, even if you’ve never stepped foot inside Nijmegen.
But dip your toe inside and you’ll be able to discover for yourself why Nijmegen is worthy of becoming Europe’s latest Green Capital.
The Waagh is situated in the city centre of Nijmegen, and is very much the cultural epicentre of the city
IMAGE: European Union
A Green Capital – What is this?
Driven by the European Commission, the European Green Capital Award (EGCA) is not simply another accolade; rather, it is a celebration that can be shared with thousands, if not millions of people around Europe and the rest of the world. Awarded since 2010, the ECGA is about rising to the challenge that our urban societies are placing on our global environment. It’s the driver for change and sustainability. It’s about promotion, recognition, and reward.
The key original goal of the EGCA is to “recognise cities that are leading the way with environmentally friendly urban living”.
Through reward, collaboration and a driven environmental strategy, the award motivates cities across the continent to become healthier, greener, more sustainable and ecologically sound. These cities then lead the way, becoming role models, and setting the bar high as to what can be achieved with our urban plans, living, and future.
As the European Commission states: “The overarching message that the award scheme aims to communicate to the local level is that Europeans have a right to live in healthy urban areas. Cities should therefore strive to improve the quality of life of their citizens and reduce their impact on the global environment.”
And becoming a recipient of the award is no mean feat. European Green Capitals must wholly demonstrate:
These 12 indicators are:
Nijmegen has demonstrated exceptional success across all of these criteria.
The Visitor Centre on Kelfkensbos Square is the headquarters of Green Capital 2018 and is the best place to go for all your information about Nijmegen
IMAGE: European Union
Nijmegen as a Green Capital
Cities don’t become European Green Capitals by accident. It takes careful and conscious thought, effort and strategy.
This has been made possible in Nijmegen through insightful collaboration with the citizens of the city.
From politicians, business leaders and educational establishments to citizen-led networks and groups, and, importantly, committed and passionate individual citizens; there are a wealth of stakeholders with a vested interest in helping to make the city a champion of sustainability and urban environmental strategy.
In the words of the European Commission: “Nijmegen presented a passionate, clear and persuasive vision of their city as a European Green Capital Award winner, and presented how they would act as an ambassador for the green city movement across Europe.”
Down on the Ground: What Does a Green Capital Look Like?
As we’ve seen, Green Capitals don’t just ‘happen’. They require immense input, appreciation and imagination from all parties to make it work. We urge you to head to Nijmegen in 2018 to take advantage of one of the many and diverse environmental and sustainability-based events taking place. If you’re passionate about sustainable growth, development and urban living – whether as an individual, business leader or policy driver – you can’t afford to miss out on visiting Nijmegen. But let’s paint a picture of what a Green Capital looks like on the ground. What will you find in Nijmegen that makes it so unique and worthy of your attention?
Nijmegen is, without question, a beautiful city to look at from an aesthetic standpoint. Its rich ochre buildings, dotted with green trees sitting along the bank of the River Waal, make it a tourist’s wonderland. You’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to spaces where you can forget your place in an urban conurbation, and you won’t need an aerial view to know that you are wandering amongst a green landscape. This is a place where you can watch as wildlife flourish and enjoy the pleasure of clean, fresh air.
Look a little closer, especially this year, and you’ll quickly become aware of the sense of excitement which is palpable amongst the people and places of Nijmegen. This is a city eager and willing to show others that not only is sustainability possible, but it is in fact a good lifestyle choice. It is a city that is not ashamed to shout about it in order to help inspire others. Whether you’re interested in healthier living, creating a greener environment, using technological innovations with sustainability in mind, or simply running a sustainable business; you’ll learn immense amounts in Nijmegen.
You also get the sense that the race is not yet run. And we don’t mean in terms of the Seven Hills Run which is just one of a plethora of events in Nijmegen this year. We’re talking about Nijmegen’s long term vision for a sustainable future. Nijmegen may have been crowned European Green Capital this year, but they don’t see this as the finish line. Here is a green movement very much in full swing, ongoing, and driven, and you get the sense one with its best years very much in front of it.
You can see it in the city’s own declarations, as they talk about raising their “sustainability policy to a higher level and accelerate existing projects” or contributing “towards a strong regional economy, with a focus on health, energy and sustainability” or being a city “that thinks and acts in a green manner.” But most importantly, you can see it in their actions.
Sustainable housing in Nijmegen
IMAGE: European Union
To examine these ‘green actions’, we need to look at Nijmegen’s five-pronged approach to achieving the EGCA’s goals in more detail:
Nijmegen: The Vital City – Healthy and Green Together
Nijmegen has taken a heads-on approach to old industrial sites that blot the landscape of so many post-industrial cities. It is regenerating these areas to make them diverse and thriving; getting them working for the city and the environment.
The ‘Green Connects’ campaign is driving this forward. It brings together everyone from residents to entrepreneurs to develop and realise various ecology projects. This is teamed with the ‘Green Allure’ initiative which works to transform disused grey spaces in to vibrant green ones, for example, Korenmarkt Park.
The result of these initiatives is that the citizens’ physical and mental health is nurtured, biodiversity is encouraged, and it also aids water management in the city. In this city you’ll find a snuffling badger, and even peregrine falcons who’ve chosen to make their home in St Stephen’s Church tower.
Nijmegen: Energy Transition - Happy with the Sun and Wind
Nijmegen has impressive goals where energy is concerned. Aiming to be energy neutral by 2045, the city is actually bringing this goal forward and is now aiming for 2030! This is happening through a wide range of strategies that use sun, wind and heat for renewable energy purposes. It’s all about reducing consumption whilst generating sustainable energy.
To achieve this, there is intense collaboration between various stakeholders both within the city and the wider area, such as housing corporations. Nijmegen has some pretty impressive statistics under its belt, such as 1400m² of green roofs and 1485 solar panels on city buildings.
There is a collaboration between the Nijmegen Energy Covenant (NEC) which consists of 16 of the largest businesses in the city and the Power2Nijmegen network, which itself consists of in excess of 250 organisations. This is a knowledge sharing hub working together to reduce the city’s CO² emissions. Fossil fuels are old-century in Nijmegen. The old Gelderland coal-fired power plant closed in 2016. The site is now part of the ‘Green Delta’ project which aims to develop sustainable energy instead.
Overlooking the River Waal
IMAGE: European Union
Nijmegen: Climate Change – Living with Water
It seems as though a week doesn’t go by these days without another alarm bell going off about the threat of climate change and global warming to the planet. This is of increased significance because of the extremely likely fact (i.e. greater than 95% probability) that this is down to human activity. This means that we need to be the ones to step up and take the necessary active measures and do something about it.
This notion is something that Nijmegen is taking extremely seriously. Climate change is resulting in more heat waves and extreme rainfall in the area, which has brought with it elevated threats of flooding. Therefore, rivers, particularly in low-lying urbanised areas, need to be carefully managed. The dykes that protected the city from extreme flooding events have been at imminent risk of failing.
Thankfully, the Dutch have a strong history in this area and nowhere is that more apparent than in Nijmegen. In fact, they’ve taken a radical approach and advanced national understanding and implementation of strategies further. The urban river system has seen the relocation of the Lentse Waaldijk by 350m and installed a secondary channel for the river as part of the ‘Room for the Waal’ project. This is something that many cities from around the world could learn from.
This Nijmegen approach to water management creates much better flood protection whilst also offering a sustainable solution for the future and encouragement for new, green recreational facilities. By constructing a secondary channel in the flood plains, a new island in the river is created, which adds to the diversity of habitats within the city.
At the ground level, residents are becoming engaged in a project called ‘Operatie Steenbreek’ (or Operation Steenbreek), which is inspiring them to transform their gardens into green gardens. The project focuses on the negative consequences of paving over gardens, such as the threat to biodiversity, and takes a ‘stones out, plants in’ approach to a greener, more environmentally-conscious city.
Cycling on 'The Crossing’ (De Oversteek) bridge over the River Waal
IMAGE: European Union
Nijmegen: Circular Economy – Everything is Useful
In Nijmegen, waste isn’t seen as a waste product, but instead a resource which can and should be used repeatedly. The city has a committed recycling programme with ambitious goals.
Awareness is at the heart of its waste strategy and waste generation has massively reduced in recent years through campaigns such as ‘Look! Waste = Raw Material’ which even sees residents benefiting from free compost generated from their waste. Recycling rates are currently at 67%. The remaining 33% of domestic waste is handled by a local facility in the nearby town of Weurt which turns it in to energy for electricity and heating.
Nijmegen: Smart Mobility – Sustainable Transport
It will come as no surprise to those acquainted with Dutch culture that sustainable transport in Nijmegen focuses enormously on the use of pedal power. And that makes perfect environmental sense: after all, you don’t get much greener other than cycling!
And Nijmegen isn’t just another Dutch city which has embraced cycling whole-heartedly: they have been named the ‘Cycling City’ of the Netherlands by the Dutch Cyclists’ Union. It has a huge, interconnected network of cycle paths which other cities should strive to emulate.
There are a staggering 60km of cycling ‘super highways’ in the city thus far, such as the Snelbinder cycling bridge which was added in 2004, and the super highway on the De Oversteek bridge in 2013, whilst a further 20km are already in the works. Electrical, or e-bikes, are also being pioneered together with mobility services such as electric vehicle pick-ups and drop-offs for those whom regular cycling isn’t possible nor an option. If that’s not enough, the public buses also do their bit by running on green fuel. There are also initiatives to encourage car-sharing, and they’ve really been taking off in the city.
How Can You Get Involved?
It’s not surprising, given the extreme success of sustainability in Nijmegen, that more and more people interested in sustainable living and environmental advocacy will want to become involved. There are a huge number of ways in which you can learn from and experience Nijmegen and the changes the city is making.
Events: Your first port of call should be the calendar of events which outlines each and every event coming up this year as part of Nijmegen’s award accolade. Events range from festivals to sporting meets, marches and symposiums. The Film Festival is also being used as a highlight of the year. There will be the Fietsvierdaagse 4-day cycling festival. The aim is for these events to be ‘green’ in themselves too.
Green Routes: Visit Nijmegen an experience one of the city’s 5 green routes. These routes allow you to delve in to each of the five areas of action Nijmegen is focused on. The route maps show you not only where to go, but what you will see and how this fits in with the overall sustainability vision. Just make sure you do it on a bicycle for the truest experience!
Challenges: To inspire change you need to be continuously stretching to the next goal. There are monthly challenges that are geared towards getting residents, visitors, businesses and
organisations involved in what’s happening. The challenges are themed, so pick your interest and sign up.
Visit: To get the deepest understanding of the changes Nijmegen has made you need to make your way to the city itself. De Bastei is a visitor and education centre which allows you to
experience and learn from the changes. It’s a great place for sustainable business meetings
and for collaboration on projects.
Nijmegen has become the European Green Capital because of its achievements across the scope of economic, social and environmental sustainability. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to visit this beautiful city and experience the very best of both Dutch and European sustainability first-hand.
To find out more about Nijmegen European Green Capital, please visit the official website:
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