In our new blog post we present Pieter Wieringa, the winner of the #EFUF2016 blog competition! In this short interview you can find out all about the background of his winning blog, his visit to EFUF 2016 and what he has been up to lately.
First of all Pieter, congratulations on your excellent blog. Was it a new research you have done for the blog or have you published it before?
The research was done in the framework of writing a new masterplan for the city of Ploiesti. Romanian cities are obligated to renew their masterplan every 10 years. In the first phase of the masterplan I visited every area of the city in search of green resources. I really wanted to have a proper picture of urban greenspaces irrespective of ownership, functionality, accessibility and quality. After identifying and mapping these green resources we realized the city has vast green resources, especially near railway infrastructure and brownfields. So in the first phase we recommended the city council to look for solutions on how to incorporate and harvest this green change. The blog was in fact a condensed version of our background study in Ploiesti. So far the city council has not published our recommendations on their site or anywhere else.
We hope your work is recognized by the city authorities for the good of the city. We are curious – has your life has changed in any way due to publishing the blog and winning the EFUF2016 blog competition? If so, what did it bring?
As a result of the blog competition I was able to attend EFUF 2016 in Ljubljana. Otherwise I would not have been able to visit Slovenia. It was very refreshing to meet so many people active in urban forestry from across Europe and Asia. It was fascinating to hear about the current developments in urban forestry, especially about the different types of problems and solutions regarding nature in cities across Europe. On a personal level it inspired me to think bigger and perhaps set up an urban forestry platform in Romania where research and best practices can be collected and are freely accessible to everyone.
Furthermore, the city of Ploiesti has a new mayor and already we look forward to be working with him in the second phase of the masterplan. Thanks to the EFUF recognition of the Ploiesti blog I can demonstrate that planning for nature is a common practice in many other countries and that urban nature is an asset, not a disadvantage.
We are really glad to hear that. In your blog you wrote about abandoned industries (brownfields). What would your ideas or suggestions for their management in the city of Ploiesti and elsewhere be?
This is something we will have to explore in the second phase of the Ploiesti masterplan. I would like to see a partnership between the city and the oil refineries in creating and/or enlarging micro forest protection belt encircling them. The industrial forest protection belt would be multifunctional – reducing noise and pollutants as well as producing biomass.
The industrial forest protection belts and brownfields could become a source of renewable energy production. The trees on these sites could be harvested for the purpose of producing biofuels and/or contributing directly to the local state heating infrastructure through clean incineration. The city could put financial incentives in place through which factory owners could be persuaded to create a start-up company in biofuel production. Another use of low quality timber harvest could lay in plastic production. Wood fibres are an excellent alternative for plastics as opposed to petroleum based plastics.
Furthermore, some of these brownfields are genuine pleasant places to be. I am sure sporting events could be organized on the sites proven to be safe from pollution. The industrial heritage green run perhaps?
You really see a lot of potential uses for brownfields that mostly just stay untapped. What are the main challenges facing you in the field of urban forestry?
One of the main challenges in urban forestry is the lack of awareness of its potential. In Romania’s larger cities nature is starting to receive more attention, but in regional cities like Ploiesti that is simply not on the agenda. When there are funds, the city council prefers to spend them in health care, road infrastructure, employment and waste management.
Another problem is pollution. During the communist era the main theme was production at any cost. Consequently, some areas in the vicinity of chemical factories are probably polluted, but there is not enough publicly available data on that. There is still a large number of polluted former factories in Romania that need investments to be decontaminated.
One of the EFUF 2016 messages was that if there was any better time to invest in urban forestry, it would be now. We hope it gets accross. What are you currently working on and what is your plan for the future?
Very soon we hope to found The Făgăraș Research and Policy Institute. The institute would conduct and develop relevant research related to the Făgăraș area, such as pushing for the creation of a new natural park in the nearby Făgăraș Mountains (Romania’s tallest mountains) with sustainable forestry and ecoturism in mind as well as experiments in urban forestry in the city of Făgăraș.
That sounds wonderful, good luck with the institute. Now that we have come to the end of the interview, what is it that will you remember most about EFUF 2016 and your visit to Slovenia?
What I will remember most about Slovenia is her nature and appreciation for it. As I have seen in Ljubljana and Celje, it really is possible to employ nature as an equally important tool for progress and development. I was really happy to meet so many people from different backgrounds at EFUF 2016 who are passionate about urban forestry. The format of the conference was also really good – with very interesting presentations in the mornings and with informal discussions over a pint of Slovenian beer in the evenings. This allowed me to fully understand the work and research involved! I really enjoyed meeting so many people at EFUF 2016 and I would like to thank the Slovenian Forestry Institute and Slovenia Forestry Service in Celje for the support. Perhaps one day I can return the favour and see all you urban foresters in Romania!
Thank you Pieter, we wish you all the best in your future work!