EFUF 2016 Spotlight: Interview With Pieter Wieringa

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.

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Pieter Wieringa at EFUF 2016 in Ljubljana

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!

Pieter Wieringa was interviewed by Anita Mašek (Slovenian Forestry Institute). You can read Pieter’s winning blog here.

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#EFUF2016 Blog Competition Winner

We are happy to announce the winner of the #EFUF2016 blog competition – it is Pieter Wieringa! Pieter’s contribution stood out for its originality, content and relevance. It represents an unique approach and analysis of most of the main themes that will be discussed at the forthcoming EFUF 2016 conference. We feel Pieter Wieringa’s contribution will make a significant impact in raising awareness and opening discussion about the importance of urban forest conservation, in his own country and beyond.

We would also like to congratulate Naomi Zürcher and John Gallagher, the finalists of the blog competition, for their highly commendable entries!

The winner wins a free full EFUF 2016 conference package, while the finalists will be rewarded with a free Saturday excursion. All three authors also get an opportunity to present the story behind their post at the EFUF 2016 conference, either by oral presentation or by a poster.

The #EFUF2016 blog competition received many diverse and fantastic blogs addressing the challenges of urban forestry. We would like to deeply thank you all for participating and we hope you will be joining us in Ljubljana!

Be sure not to miss our next blog post on the #EFUF2016 blog – we will present the authors of the best blog posts in more detail!

The Winner

“Nature Takes Over: Unexpected Green Change in Ploiesti, Romania” – Pieter Wieringa

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. (Pieter Wieringa)

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The Finalists

“Resilience” – Naomi Zürcher

Now that most of us are living in cities, we’ve decided we want to put these Forest trees back into our urban landscapes, not the way they were before, not the way they have evolved to exist, but according to our needs and our designs. (Naomi Zürcher)

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“It’s a walk in the park” A green solution to lower air and noise pollution” – John Gallager

Have you ever thought about the route you take to work? Could you take a better route? What is a better route? I ask myself these questions when I make my commute to work every morning.(John Gallagher)

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Photo credit: Paxon Woelber

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.