Back in Celje After 10 Years – EFUF 2016 Day Two Recap

After a decade EFUF returned to the city of Celje for a brief visit! Find out what we’ve been up to on the second conference day in our latest blog post.

Attendees of the EFUF 2016 were warmly welcomed in Celje, “the city of counts and princesses”, by the mayor Bojan Šrot. He has expressed his honour and pride in that, since first hosting EFUF in 2005, Celje has become a role model for urban forestry in Slovenia. He has been aware of the potential that developing the brand “Urban forest of Celje (Mestni gozd Celje)” can offer the city and its residents and has been strongly supportive of the efforts of Slovenia Forest Service towards establishing it. Damjan Oražem, director of Slovenia Forest Service, continued that in their unceasing endeavors they have gathered years of valuable experience that can now be passed on to other Slovenian cities.

Thursday, June 2, 2016: Conference Day 2
EFUF 2016 in Celje (Photos: Urban Ušeničnik)

The second day of EFUF 2016 was characterized by lectures and discussions on the potential and ability of urban forests and green infrastructure in making cities and their parts more attractive and visible. This common thread was established at the very beginning by keynote speakers Robert Hostnik and Alan Simson. They expressed that branding urban forests is a long process involving a lot of cooperation, a risk that should be taken, as the rewards are bountiful and worth every effort. Their lectures were followed by many constructive presentations, offering a lot of applicable solutions and practical tools (such as lighting and different assessment tools) for making cities and their forests more visible and visited, which can highlight the many services they provide and attract further investments.

It is worth remembering that “cities are like magnets – they can attract or repel”. Magnetic cities look and feel better, attract people and investments. And urban forestry has much to contribute to making our cities more ‘magnetic’, as it has the knowledge to make the urban environment a quality green environment. To achieve anything worthwhile communication and networking are essential – using any means possible to connect with authorities, stakeholders and people, and forming networks, partnerships and events to share knowledge, information and experience.

After the indoor part of the Forum’s second day we went to stretch our legs a bit and paid a visit to the Urban forest of Celje and its lovely tree house – the trip was full of surprises, delicacies, good mood and… vinegar free 🙂 We shall remember our visit to Celje as a very instructive (at times even challenging) experience and fun all the same – a real treat for all of our senses!

Authors: Anita Mašek, Špela Planinšek and Saša Vochl; Slovenian Forestry Institute

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Nature Takes Over: Unexpected Green Change in Ploiesti, Romania

Accidental and surprising as it may be, the city of Ploiesti developed a rich green infrastructure. Find out what happened in this blog by Pieter Wieringa, a forest engineer from Romania.

The city of Ploiesti is the center of oil exploitation and oil refining in Romania, completely surrounded by oil and petro-chemical industries. At the beginning of the 20th century, when Romania was the third largest oil producer in the world, the city counted more than 10 oil refineries. Today only four of them are operational. Vast industries lay abandoned (brownfields), urban air quality is poor and greeneries are few.

Officially, Ploiesti only provides each and every inhabitant with 12,4 m2 of public functional green space, while the Romanian average of urban green space in cities with more than 100.000 inhabitants is 18 m2 per capita[1]. Both are well below the minimum of 26 m2 per capita required by the European Union.

However, it is not as simple as that and the numbers can be deceiving. Working as a forest engineer on the new master plan for this heavily industrialized city, I realized that Ploiesti is actually very green indeed! The oil refineries and supporting chemical companies that have gone bust in the early 90s have turned green. In the 25 years of abandonment, plants and trees have become quite successful in reclaiming the lands. Nature has created urban wilderness woodlands or “nature of the fourth kind” as Ingo Kowarik and Stefan Körner named them so fittingly[2]. The well-developed railway infrastructure was a facilitator in bringing plants and trees to areas of economic decline. The railways functioned as a sort of a transportation highway for exchange of genetic materials between the rural and urban areas.

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Wild urban woodland in southern Ploiesti.

The new wild urban woodlands follow the railways that encircle the city and in many cases connect to the adjoining brownfields. As a consequence, a near perfect unbroken greenbelt of 10 to 600 meters wide has emerged. The greenbelt is highly variable along its route. Its vegetation is in different stages of development and runs through mostly brownfields in the South, towards watershed and residential areas in the north. Furthermore, a South to North-West green corridor, lining the main boulevard, connects the city center with the greenbelt (Figure 2). One of the most important features of green infrastructure is connectivity. Connectivity is what enhances genetic exchange and allows fresh air to reach the interior of cities where urban heat islands are most prevalent.

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Map of accidental green infrastructure in Ploiesti.

Although this network of a greenbelt, brownfields, green rail corridors and existing parks is not managed, studied or even identified, it does not mean it isn’t there. It contributes significantly to the greening and the quality of life in the city by providing advantages such as: pleasant micro-climate, urban biodiversity, fresh (cool) air, shade, pollution uptake, carbon sequestration, etc.

Even though most of the green wilderness woodlands are not open to the public, a lot of them are surprisingly accessible. Recently, people have started to notice the sheer scale of (green) change and are beginning to see opportunities for its alternative use – recreation, adventure, parkour and skateboarding. It provides a space for wilderness experience and a welcomed contrast to the harsh and chaotic concrete urban environment. Additionally, many of these areas are used for pastoral activities and urban agriculture, further adding to urban resilience.

 

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Locals skateboarding at Ploiesti Triaj. Photo: Fritz Schiel

Urban forestry in Romania is in its infancy. There are no present discussions taking a more holistic view at urban green spaces in Ploiesti. Based on field research and existing information I was able to create the above map and gather data.

The greenbelt that surrounds the city occupies an area of approximately 7,2 km2. Together with other green spaces and parks the total surface of green infrastructure amounts to 13.26 km2. In other words, 22,7 % of the city is covered by greeneries. In total, the residents of Ploiesti will now find there is 63,1 m2 per capita of green space, out of which 12,4 m2 per capita of public functional green space. According to a previous study on urban green space coverage in Europe, these numbers rank Ploiesti higher than the Romanian average and the neighboring eastern European countries.[3]

Accidental as it may be, could there be a way to integrate and protect these valuable resources in the future? How to raise awareness for something that is associated with unemployment, economic decline and mismanagement? Perhaps through temporary use of small physical impact, such as creating wilderness parks, community food forests or allotment gardens (urban agriculture)? What do you think the alternatives for Ploiesti’s green urban future can be?

[1] Green space index Romania:  Chiriac D., C. Huma, M. Stanciu, 2009, Urban Green Spaces – A Problem of Contemporary Urbanization, Research Institute on the Quality of Life (in Romanian).

[2]Wild Urban Woodlands: New Perspectives for Urban Forestry, 2005, Ingo Kowarik and Stefan Körner, (Eds.) 1-32.

[3] The scaling of green space coverage in European cities, 2009, Richard A. Fuller, and Kevin J. Gaston.

This blog post is authored by Pieter Wieringa, forest engineer and MKBT: Make Better (urbanism and local development company) and is a part of the #EFUF2016 blog competition.

Green Infrastructure: A Positive Development for Urban Forestry?

Is the term Green Infrastructure a positive development for urban foresters? Find out in this blog post by Clive Davies, research fellow at the Newcastle University and the director of MD2 Consulting Ltd, where he is an international advisor & enabler supporting clients in all aspects of green infrastructure planning, urban & peri-urban forestry.

Green Infrastructure has become a really popular planning term in the last 10 years and has come to dominate the discourse on urban green. I have been reflecting on this for some time and have concluded that it is a positive development for practitioners and researchers engaged in urban forestry. Why?

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Urban Green Infrastructure

The answer is that in urban areas where tree cover is low urban forestry has often struggled to get accepted as a term of importance. Yet some of the same urban areas where urban forest recognition is limited are now beginning to plan for green infrastructure. This creates an opportunity to promote trees and urban woodlands as functional green infrastructure (GI) and embed the concepts of urban forestry in GI plans and projects – surely this is an opportunity. Of course for this to happen urban areas need urban forest advocates to make a strong case. Could that be you?

I also see a developing role for the EFUF partnership; if EFUF can produce authoritative, persuasive and relevant information on urban forestry targeted at professionals working on green infrastructure planning then we have a powerful new tool to promote the role of urban trees and urban woodland. At the EFUF Brussels/Waterloo Forum in 2015, there was discussion about creating a digital platform called EFUF 2.0. This promotional role on urban forestry as a crucial part of green infrastructure could be one of the functions of the digital platform.

Recently attention has been focused on Nature Based Solutions and the role green infrastructure plays in this. If you haven’t read the report Towards an EU Research and Innovation policy agenda for Nature-Based Solutions & Re-Naturing Cities then I recommend it to you. Urban forestry can make a huge contribution to nature based solutions and this is recognised, take this abstract from the EU report as an example: Planting trees to reduce air pollution and improve health.

  • Objective/Theme: Air pollution is a serious problem with more people moving to towns and cities combined with increased traffic.
  • Solutions/measures: There are a range of measures including the important one of reducing the source of the pollution. It has become increasingly clear that appropriate tree planting can be effective in reducing levels of air pollution in urban areas.
  • Short description (rcommendation): Provide incentives to encourage the planning of lines of trees in areas where high densities of pollutants and people coincide.

Reports of this kind can support arguments for urban forestry investment. So even in the era of austerity gripping Europe, there are new arguments we can put forward to promote urban forestry.

Author: Clive Davies, Strategic Urban Forestry & Green Infrastructure Consultant

Featured photo by mpstudio123.