VALENCIA – Spain’s third largest city, Valencia, has been declared the European Green Capital in 2024. An honour that has been awarded annually by the EU Commission since 2010 to cities that play an exemplary role in environmental friendliness.
The city won this title “thanks to its ambitious sustainability strategy”, according to the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius. After cities such as Tallinn, Lahti, and Grenoble, it is now Valencia’s turn to show what green urban planning means.
The city has already taken important steps in the field of sustainability in the past. A notable example is the transformation of the drained riverbed of the Turia. Instead of a planned highway, city planners created one of the most beautiful parks in Spain here. An area of nine kilometres long that now forms the heart of the city and a green oasis for residents and visitors who want to escape the hustle and bustle.
Beaches and freshwater lake
Valencia’s natural potential goes beyond Turia Park. The city is blessed with the El Cabanyal beach on the Mediterranean Sea, the fertile fields of the historic agricultural area ‘Huerta’ and the southern Albufera Natural Park, with its enormous freshwater lake, separated from the sea by a sand dune. This park is a bird paradise. There are over 300 documented species, and is a popular destination for boat trips along swamps, canals and rice fields.
Sustainable developments and contradictions
Despite the green accents, challenges remain. Recent changes to Valencia’s old city centre, such as transforming three main squares into pedestrian zones, have been positively received. Newly planted trees and planters bring freshness to the city, even though they are sometimes used as a dog toilet. Yet it is a challenge to present a city with 840,000 inhabitants, wide traffic-rich streets and a busy rush hour, as completely climate-friendly.
Valencia cycling city
Valencia’s cycle path network has now been expanded to a total length of 190 kilometres. This shows that cycling is deeply rooted in the city’s culture. Nevertheless, it remains difficult for many residents to do all their shopping by bicycle or public transport. The relatively high prices charged at the very touristy covered market in the centre sometimes make supporting local producers and the ‘zero-kilometre concept’ difficult.
The Fallas as a noisy tradition
Not entirely in harmony with Valencia’s green image are the festivities in the context of the ‘Fallas’ every year in March. This noisy and polluting festival is one of Spain’s most exuberant celebrations. With countless fireworks shows and the burning of hundreds of wooden and papier-mâché figures, spring is symbolically welcomed. Despite its impact on the environment, this tradition is deeply rooted in the culture of Valencia.
Discover Valencia by bike
For those looking for fresh air, Valencia outside the Fallas period is ideal. Cycling is the best way to explore the city, from the sea to the fertile ‘Huerta’, through the ancient Turia riverbed, one of the longest river parks in Europe. Along the route you will find palm trees, pines, oleanders, orange trees and bougainvilleas. It is also wonderful to tour the watery gardens of the ‘City of Art and Science’. This is the monumental work of the famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Activities and events
To celebrate the achievement of winning the title of European Green Capital, more than 400 activities and events are planned in 2024, reaching all sectors of the city. The aim is to raise awareness about the triple crisis of pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change. Furthermore, everyone is encouraged to take action to turn the situation around.
Valencia is part of the so-called ‘Mission Cities’. This is a network of cities that stand out for their determined commitment to environmental innovation, the increase of green areas, the reduction of emissions by 80% by 2030 and the goal of climate neutrality by 2030.
The remaining nine cities are Madrid, Valladolid, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Zaragoza, Klagenfurt (Germany), Soenderborg (Denmark), Cluj-Napoca (Romania), Mannheim (Germany) and Stockholm (Sweden).+