NBS - An urban park in the city with a constructed mini lake and water fountain

12-10-2020 / hannes.schwaiger

The City of Velika Gorica: Building a green mindset through NbS

Snježana Mihinica from the “Phyllis Krystal Foundation” has published an article on the topic above:

There is a beautiful legend about mythological beings named Moguts who lived deeply connected to nature and have great appreaciaton of the natural world. In these ancient times each village in Velika Gorica region have their own Mogut as a guardian and protector. Because of their unconditional love, good character, profound wisdom and superhuman strength and abilities, the village was kept safe. In case of extreme weather, storms or natural disaster people would call Moguts for help because they knew how to deal with it. Moguts were always associated with oak which is considered as the holy tree.

It seems that today when our villages and cities around the globe are facing increasing climate, economic and health challenges, we need more then ever  this kind of ancient Mogut’s wisdom, values and eco character and at least a piece of their interconnectedness with nature. We need their knowledge and understanding of nature to inspire us for innovative  green solutions to adress contemporary societal challenges. Nature has for too long been neglected behind different technical and engineering solutions. But in nature lies climate and many other solutions for the health of our people and planet.

Thanks to the EU funded REGREEN project, the City of Velika Gorica is among the first in Croatia to join the growing green network of cities in the world and urban living labs that look for answers from the nature in order to improve the quality of life in cities and reduce the urban carbon footprint through naturebased solutions (NBS).

The first analysis showed that the city of Velika Gorica has a large number of naturebased solutions at its disposal, which, with small investments, innovations and interdisciplinary approach, can significantly increase the capacity of carbon sequestration, air, water and soil purification, reduce the effect of urban heat islands and extreme weather conditions with a positive impact on public health, quality of life and biodiversity.

The City of Velika Gorica is the biggest city in Zagreb County, located 16 kilometres south of the capital Zagreb. The urban area of the city Velika Gorica covers only around 13 km2 and was intensively constructed during the 1970s and 1980s. With 32.000 inhabitants, the urban population density is around 2.500 people per km2. Due to the proximity of the capital there is a constant pressure of urban expansion on existing ecosystems.

According to available data, the City of Velika Gorica has a total of 1 km2 of public green areas like parks, meadows and grasslands and its aim is to achieve a total of 1.6 km2 of green areas coverage, which would correspond to 40 m2 per capita.

Urban parks are green regenerative oases and habitats for wild flora and fauna in the city. Trees in parks, schoolyards and private gardens and on the streets are important reservoirs for atmospheric carbon. Trees can significantly capture and remove airborne particles mostly from the high city traffic and the main airport in close vicinity.

It should be noted that schoolyards in the city centre, due to the size of the green space and the presence of trees and other vegetation, work in the equal measure, if not more efficiently, as individual city parks in the provision of environmental, climate and other valuable functions.

In the very centre of the city and along the busiest motorways, there are street tree lines and deciduous and evergreen hedges (most often plants of the genus Ligustrum) which are considered as additional lungs of the city and natural air purifiers. Alongside many residential buildings and privately owned family homes, hedges have been planted as a natural barrier that reduces air pollution and noise. A large number of yard walls are covered with different types of climbing plants.

The city currently has three urban gardens in three different locations with a total area coverage of 11.133 m2. In urban gardens, the principles of organic gardening and regenerative agricultural practices are applied, as a result of which the soil is able to store significantly more carbon from the atmosphere compared to conventional gardening methods. An urban garden serve as a microclimatic green oasis in the city. Indeed, urban gardening is truly an effective climate action.

Areas such as the main city cemetery in Velika Gorica with lots of greenery, tree-lined paths, hedges and pebbly pedestrian paths in urban areas also serve as a form of NbS due to their abundant vegetation and permeable soil and walls that are covered with plants. This proves the fact that there is no place in the city where it would be impossible to (re)integrate nature. All future urban planning projects should take into account nature-based solutions.

Green roofs and green walls are new natural habitats for diverse flora and fauna and thus contribute to the urban biodiversity network in the city. The popularisation and application of green roofs and façades on residential buildings and other suitable buildings is yet to follow in Velika Gorica.

In the urban part of Velika Gorica there are vegetated grid pavers in many parking areas and pebbly paths in parks and other pedestrian paths. This permeable paving system help reduce surface/storm water runoff and it is a part of sustainable urban drainage system. Roof and wall greening together with permeable surfaces contributes to the more efficient storm water management.

In the immediate vicinity of the urban settlement of Velika Gorica, there are several artificial lakes whose multi-functional, ecological and recreational role has yet to be valorised and improved.

The wider area of Velika Gorica is characterised by great biodiversity, including Natura 2000 site and significant landscapes, as well as preserved cultural heritage.  The urban area of Velika Gorica has its own protective green ring in the form of arable land, forests and watercourses, which forms a kind of environmental base and biodiversity reservoir of the Velika Gorica region, on which the potential of climate and environmental resilience is based. These natural habitats can store huge amounts of carbon.

On the outskirts of the city, not far from the city centre, there are still large areas of arable land and meadows, hedges and shrubs with a wide range of different flower species. In addition, there are currently about 15 beehives. This busy and vital colony of urban honeybees support and enrich biodiversity within the urban and the surrounding areas of Velika Gorica.

According to the data of the local beekeeping Association, there are about 100 beekeepers in the wider area of the City of Velika Gorica. Most of the beekepers have moved their beehives to places outside of the city due to significant decline in bee population after mosquito spraying.

The urban area of Velika Gorica is surrounded by large areas of arable and uncultivated land which should be in the function of greater carbon sequestration and carbon storage due to all environmental, economic and climate challenges, except for the global growing need of food production. In this regard organic and regenerative agricultural practice is crucial. In the fields of peri-urban and rural Velika Gorica lies a huge potential for regeneration of all soil ecosystem services, if the soil is managed organically. Otherwise, soil degradation will have adverse effects on the environment and nature, and therefore on the intensity of climate change effects.

Although NBS is not a panacea, they will play an even more important role in creating climate resilience, restoring ecosystems and introducing circular economy and social cohesion in urban areas. Today, natural climate solutions are an ecological and ethical imperative. Education on NBS should be in learning from nature and inspired by nature in order to create a green mindset on every level of decision making process and among all city inhabitants, especially children and young adults.

Naturebased solutions redefine the role of nature in the urban environment. The emphasis is on collaboration and co-creation with nature, which is what our ancient and humble beings, the Moguts, knew very well. This is the wisdom that we can learn from them.