How can a European city create its own unique identity in the 21st century? After all, there are so many places – London, Paris, Rome – which can distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack with an array of monuments and attractions. But what if you're the capital city of a relatively new country?
Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is an excellent place to visit: a city with a pretty castle at its heart that's been present in some form for almost 900 years. This year, it’s trying to make its mark on the map by flaunting its credentials as Europe's Green Capital for 2016, a title awarded by the European Commission.
Of course, the place and the people who live in it have existed for centuries, but Slovenia itself is a relatively new feature of the international scene, first coming into existence when it broke away from Yugoslavia in 1991. In 2004, it became a member of the EU and NATO; in 2007 joined the Eurozone, the first ex-communist country to do so.
The capital has undergone numerous environmental changes in recent years to shape up its green credentials. It’s introduced underground car parking facilities, to get vehicles off the roads. It’s also limited the roads on which cars can travel within the city. All this has helped the city to decrease traffic by 12 per cent since 2011.
Ljubljana's bike scheme. Image: TAS/Flickr/creative commons.
It’s hoping to double the share of journeys taken by bike, too. The city's own bike hire scheme, BicikeLJ, costs just €3 per year, with unlimited free rides if they last under an hour. Anything above that starts at €1, but you can simply swap bikes at the nearest station before the time's up, making it an insanely cheap travel option.
If you're running out of steam, the city centre hosts Kavalir electric cars, which look like golf carts and can accommodate up to five passengers and roam around the city all day with a simple hop-on, hop-off system for free. The system runs through major inner city routes which are free from other vehicles and personal cars.
Ljubljana's city authority has also set a range of goals to deal with energy and waste management for the next few years. The city wants renewables to provide a quarter of its energy supply by 2020; it’s aiming to cut CO2 emissions by 20 per cent by the same date, too. And, thanks to separate waste bins throughout the city, the population was already recycling two-thirds of their waste by 2014.
Sure, the Slovenian capital is smaller than many of the large cities in the UK, home to just under 300,000 people. But its small size is what makes it a great place to experiment with new ideas of social renewal which can be a model for other larger cities. Here's hoping Britain can follow many of these lessons.