On 21 May, the EU Green Week started in Utrecht, the Netherlands. At the request of the EU (DG Environment), the day was organised by PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the city of Utrecht. The substantive and varied programme convinced executive members from all levels of government to attend this day. They let themselves be inspired by members of the public, young and old, and entered into debate with each other as well as with civil society representatives. The recurring question during this day was how to make cities better places to live and work in.
At the opening event, titled “Green cities for a greener future” representatives of municipalities, provinces, national government EU and UNEP entered into discussion with citizens, students, representatives from various companies and civil society, on the topic of greening cities.
Impression of the day
Heat islands, flooding from heavy rainfall, and air pollution: recent events continue to show that making our rapidly growing European cities climate-resilient is not the sole responsibility of municipalities. Instead, we must connect global goals, such as that of the Paris Climate Agreement, with local initiatives that are based on knowledge and innovative solutions.
Green roofs and roadsides, for example, do more than reduce the risk of flooding; they also contribute to cooling on hot days and to biodiversity. However, allowing nature to do its job in cities is not yet self-evident.
All levels of government present
Karmenu Vella (European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries), Stientje van Veldhoven (State Secretary for Infrastructure and Water Management), Erik Solheim (Executive Director of the UNEP), Mariëtte Pennarts (Member of the Board of the House of the Dutch Provinces and official of the province of Utrecht), and Utrecht’s mayor, Jan van Zanen were all present on this day. They met at various moments and in various places across the city, where they also met with students, researchers and entrepreneurs. At the Hof van Cartesius, an incubator for social entrepreneurship, Karmenu Vella and Mariëtte Pennarts watched presentations about circular economy initiatives. At the municipal Griftpark, EU Commissioner Vella and UNEP Director Erik Solheim received a tour of the sanitised industrial site, in the midst of sunbathing residents enjoying their day off. The Knoop offices hosted workshops, debates and a creathon, with participants discussing and imagining the future of green cities. This was also the location where Hans Mommaas, PBL’s Director-General, and the EU Commissioner jointly formally closed the day.
photo: Robert Oosterbroek
Leadership and collaboration
The message of the day was leadership and collaboration. All those present emphasised the importance of leadership, both from entrepreneurs starting green initiatives, as well as from political leaders taking the lead in making cities greener and healthier. Collaboration was deemed essential, too, because of the overlap in many interests and policy areas; spatial planning, public health policy, climate adaptation and social cohesion all relate to greener and healthier cities. And although the city is the arena for many of these themes, they are not the only subjects on the policy agenda, nor are they the sole responsibility of municipalities.