green-citiesThree out of four Europeans live in towns or cities. We often cover large-scale issues on Debating Europe – the economic crisis and mass unemployment, military intervention in Syria, climate change – but sometimes it’s easy to overlook the important local issues that all of us face on a day-to-day basis. Solutions to many of the “large-scale” environmental problems facing our society can only be found at the local and municipal level, and the European Green Capital Award was conceived to promote and reward these efforts. The next recipient of the award, in 2015, will be Bristol in the United Kingdom.

Recently, we spoke to the Mayor of Bristol, George Ferguson, and we put some of your comments about local sustainability to him for his reaction. We started with a question from Omar from Italy, who wanted to know how effective Mayor Ferguson thought “car-free” days are (Bristol has experimented recently with car-free Sundays, leading some critics to label the Mayor “anti-motorist”). How would he respond?

We also had a comment from Fabian, who suggested among other things that more money should be invested in cycle lanes in cities and, possibly, higher parking fees could be charged in city centers. How would Mayor Ferguson respond?

Bristol was awarded the European Green Capital Award 2015 in part because of its ambitious goal of becoming a “green hub” in Europe for low-carbon jobs. We had a comment from Susie saying that, in the current economic climate, there is much talk about “green growth” but not enough actual investment to back it up. Did the mayor share Susie’s pessimism?

Finally, we had a comment from Desmond, suggesting that those cities that aren’t doing enough to become greener should be “named and shamed”. Should there be a “European Polluting Capital” award for those cities that aren’t doing enough? Or is positive inspiration a better motivator?

We also had the chance to talk to Marie Helene Vareille from the European Commission, who is involved with running the European Green Capitals award. We asked her how other cities could follow Bristol’s example and get involved:

VareilleSo, for cities, it’s quite simple. In fact, they just need to register on the website of the European Green Capital Award and download the application form, which covers twelve indicators. We award the prize according to the environmental performance of the cities in these twelve different areas, such as climate change, local transport, green urban areas, nature, waste, water, energy, etc… Cities still have four months to apply for the next award. They have to send the application by the end of October to be eligible the 2016 award.

And what is the impact of winning this award?

The winning cities have found that this award has helped them to maintain their appetite for the staying green, for bearing in mind all environmental impacts of their actions when they look at urban development. Hamburg, for example, mentioned to us that it really helped them to continue to protect the environment, and gave them an international reputation as a green metropolis… the award has boosted tourism [in past winners], and helped improve the pride of the citizens. It also helps raising awareness among your citizens, about how to have a good quality of life but also be green.

Vote 2014

Voting is closed in our Debating Europe Vote 2014! The results are now in, so come and see what our readers thought!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Thoth

87 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think? Should more cities have "car free" days? And should more money be spent on cycle paths and subsidizing cheaper bikes, even if it means higher parking fees in city centers? Or is this "anti-motorist"? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we'll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

  1. avatar
    Steve Chilton

    Yes!!!! YES!!!! YES!!! Although here in Cyprus especially around AGIA NAPA the council needs to maintain the cycle path and enforce CYCLES ONLY!!!!! Pot holes, broken glass and gravel and over grown trees and bushes!!!!also parked cars & motor bikes,And pedestrians make foe safer cycling !!!! ON THE ROADS!!!!! LETS SEE SOME BEG IMPROVMENTS VERY SOON!!!!!

  2. avatar
    George Danieldsg

    There is a program in Greece for rental public bikes financed by GREEN FUND of E.U.It costs 3.500 euros for each bike for rent.With this sum could donate to schoolchildren at least 20 bikes at market prices!!!!!! Until now have spent 1 million euros for 300 bikes instead of 6000 if donated!!!!

  3. avatar
    Mike Chambers

    Er..don’t you think you should fix the economy in Cyprus first, before spending money on bikes that no-one can afford !

  4. avatar
    Mike Chambers

    Which planet are you people living on ? You cannot afford to be ‘green’. Most people in Europe can’t afford to feed their own children.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      I agree with you – the reason why Spain did not get the 2020 Olympics was to do with its reluctance to fight drugs in sport.

      Lets hope that the rumours about a certain tennis player and a certain football team that is not just a club are just rumours!

  5. avatar
    Davey Brown

    Why? Your EU climate change lie and bogus science has been exposed and discredited. Your green taxes are an international confidence trick. The green lobby should be imprisoned for fraud and manslaughter if those elderly who died due to fuel poverty. Your deceit KILLS!

  6. avatar

    Without a more favourable view towards technology I’d suggest by destroying jobs, industry and infrastructure.
    All for a balanced approach where Green is incorporated around around city life or adds value to peoples lives (such as cleaner air to keep people healthier). For extreme environmentalists, I’d suggests relocating them to the country side, it would be cheaper for everyone.

  7. avatar
    Spyros Tsakos

    Of course we should(it would make it easier for the pedestrians too in some cities)!

  8. avatar
    Paul X

    Public transport is the key. While spending money on cycle paths keeps the extreme green lobby happy, not everyone wants to, or can cycle to their work or shops etc. I imagine only a very small minority of people in any country live within cycling distance of their work place, why spend money to the benefit of this minority when it would be better spent on cheap, reliable public transport which actually runs to and from where it is needed and at the times it is needed.
    The biggest thing any government can do to keep cars off the road is to nationalise and subsidise public transport, I wish to god the UK government would do this

    • avatar

      I completely disagree : cyclist infrastructure should get more priority than public transportation (today it is the opposite) :
      * cycling is greener than public transportation
      * cycling is more flexible : starts at your door, ends at your destination at your time
      * most cities transportations are easily covered by bike (< 10 km)
      * bicycles are not prone to strikes, jams (blocked tram-tracks), peak-capacity-problems
      * cycling is cheaper than public transportation
      So now we only need to make it :
      * safer : give them a safe piece of the road and a spot to park the bike
      * healthier : give them some clean air, free of pollution

    • avatar

      I very much agree Paul.
      My only addition would be a suggestion to differentiate the approach on big and small cities (meaning both on surface area and population). In small cities or towns, bikes can make a difference.

      Ideally, a focus on supporting public transportation to make it affordable by all, supplemented with anti-incentives for car-driving (tolls in the center, high-parking fees, etc) in the center can be a good start for the big cities. Public transportation for smaller urban areas though can be very much costly as well; in these cases, bikes can be a valid option.

      For me, car-free days can demonstrate the dynamics of such a possibility in real life. Organising them though always on Sundays in most of the cases it does not provoke and most importantly, it does not test the capacity of the city to function without cars. Which means that political authorities do not really think that it could work in practice. Personally, I endorse them though because they can be an instrument for a gradual change of mentality for the citizens.

      Cycle paths in some countries work in favour of the cyclist; in other countries where bike culture is not so developed, they are seen as lane-occupiers, of space that belonged to car drivers (they work as anti-incentive for cars, as they produce more traffic, at least in the short term). I would unconditionally endorse them especially for the second reason.

      But as I said, subsidies on cycling comes only second to public transport in bigger cities while it can be a top priority in smaller ones. Another variable to take into account though is how possible is to bike in certain cities, due to different geo-morphology of the area.

      17/08/2017 Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Research Professor in Environmental Epidemiology at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), has responded to this comment.

  9. avatar

    Collectively, investing in public space and public transport is always a good deal as it creates a lot of added values: increase land and real-estate value, better quality of life, better for the environment, more equity, etc. The problems arise when costs are collectivized when benefits are privatized. What is needed are legal frameworks that allow authorities to capture a large proportion of land value increase derived from public decisions (urban planning) and investment (infrastructure).

  10. avatar
    Vasil Milkov

    some people does not want to go sweting on the place that they are going… a matter of hygiene :) for the others … happy bike riding

  11. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    1…Improve all public bus/taxi/light-rail transport systems/infrastructures.
    2…Make all EU countries self-sufficient in food thus cutting cross-border travel.
    3…Improve rail systems – thereby reducing pollution and road traffic.
    4…Encourage firms to send goods via ship – thereby reducing pollution and road traffic.
    5…Improve broadband provision – thereby reducing pollution and road traffic.
    6…Reduce built-in product obsolescence – ultimately reducing pollution and road traffic.
    7…Encourage all new housing developments to be energy-neutral or better.
    8…Create a ‘virtual EU infrastructure’ thereby eliminating the need for MEPs and technocrats to congregate in Brussels.
    9…Plant fast-growing CO2 absorbing hedges and trees aside all motorways – thereby reducing CO2 emissions.
    10…Create THORIUM-based EU power-stations, less toxic than other types and guaranteed to provide the world with power for 3000+ years.
    11…Better fund FUSION-BASED technology.
    12…Create electricity-creating barrages where apposite across Europe.
    13…Better fund wave-based energy creation [grand-] projects.
    14…Better fund wind-based energy creation [grand-] projects.
    15…Better fund battery-storage technology research.
    16…Encourage large scale transport by dirigibles.
    17…Improve carbon-capture at power stations thereby reducing pollution.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      “8…Create a ‘virtual EU infrastructure’ thereby eliminating the need for MEPs and technocrats to congregate in Brussels”

      Would be nice but unfortunately due to some petty bickering many years ago they can’t even agree to meet in one country!

      180 Million Euros this is costing us…..austerity?……not for some quite clearly

  12. avatar
    Christiane Vermoortel

    Every Sunday of every year should be carfree in every city !

    17/08/2017 Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, Research Professor in Environmental Epidemiology at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), has responded to this comment.

  13. avatar
    Paul X

    And I totally disagree with you Strooom

    In my 35 years working experience the majority of people in the workplace commute a considerable distance (10 miles+). No matter how much money you spend on cycling it will always be a minority way to commute, very few want to set off for work an hour earlier then usual and arrive at work sweating or freezing cold and soaking wet. You may live close to work in a flat country with a very dry climate but I do not believe the majority of Europeans do

    • avatar

      Well, 3/4 of Europeans do live in cities and in most cities you can easily bike to any in-city destination in under 30 minutes. Many times bikes are faster than other transportation needs. In Belgium (I live in Antwerpen) in some cities 40% of in-city mobility is done by bike. And then, most important “don’t estimate the capacity of a bridge by the number of people that swim the river”. How much would use a bike, if only the infrastructure was such that it would be safer than today.

      About the weather and the sweating : those equally apply to public transportation. I’ve made more sweat running for a bus or a train, then riding my bike.

  14. avatar
    Limbidis Arian

    How can we make Europe’s cities greener?
    First kick the UK out of Europe. They still support vastly this complete buffoon
    who makes claims that have been debunked by the world long ago.
    Let’s begin with him please and i guarantee that things will go smoother.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      LOL@ Limbidis, typical euro-fanatic reply, blame the UK for all the woes of the world

      We are the 3rd highest contributor to the EU before our rebate and still 4th highest contributor after it – Debunk that claim?

      The UK has the highest level of immigration of any EU country 591,000 in 2010, (Spain was second with only 465,000) yet we are the 7th most crowded country in the EU (Behind Monaco, Vatican City, Malta, San Marino, Netherlands & Belgium) and you think we don’t have an immigration problem? – Debunk that claim

      Farage may be a Buffoon but at least he has the bottle to say what a lot of mainstream politicians are too scared to say in case they get all the usual xenophobic accusations

      What he says is what a lot of people in the UK think and unfortunately for the free-loading countries in Europe it is not just the UK that is getting fed up paying for the rest of Europe.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Limpwristed Aryan
      Just as national socialism is unacceptable so too is EU fundamentalism!

      I think the goal of the EU is laudable BUT the project has to re-boot and start again with less of a Latin influence.

  15. avatar
    Pedro Oliveira

    Of course Europe should go green, but it just a matter of politics.

  16. avatar

    I think that we should have laws who obligate the EU states to seed more trees each year , in this way we can be sure that we will leave the future generations green cities.

  17. avatar
    Paul X

    Well strooom you must be living some utopian dream if you think 3/4 of the population live in cities and are just a short cycle ride away from their work

    Take London as an example, a great majority of lower paid but essential workers (nurses, teachers etc) work in London but cannot afford to live there so have to commute from miles outside the city. Many of the poorer areas within the city have a lot of unemployment so people don’t need a bike to get to a job they don’t have…..and those who have a city job and earn enough to live in London are too busy driving around in their Ferrari’s to even consider cycling. Admittedly there are some who do cycle but I don’t see any massive increase in numbers just because you introduce a few more cycle paths and offer cheap bikes

  18. avatar
    Limbidis Arian

    Reply to Paul X:
    “We are the 3rd highest contributor to the EU before our rebate and still 4th highest contributor after it – Debunk that claim?”
    Yeah so? What you want now? A medal? You contribute based on the size of your country.

    The UK has the highest level of immigration of any EU country 591,000 in 2010, (Spain was second with only 465,000) yet we are the 7th most crowded country in the EU (Behind Monaco, Vatican City, Malta, San Marino, Netherlands & Belgium) and you think we don’t have an immigration problem? – Debunk that claim
    Again, i don’t have to.Yeah ok you have immigration, so? I’m sorry, most of the immigration is from Europe, so again, i ask you, what is the problem?

    Farage may be a Buffoon but at least he has the bottle to say what a lot of mainstream politicians are too scared to say in case they get all the usual xenophobic accusations.
    You mean Farage is not scared to be a xenophobic bigot? Yeah ok, i’ll take Barroso’s stance then who was far more diplomatc than that raving lunatic and his horse smile.

    What he says is what a lot of people in the UK think and unfortunately for the free-loading countries in Europe it is not just the UK that is getting fed up paying for the rest of Europe.

    Yes i’m sure the brainwashed people of the UK who gorge on the Daily Mail ( whom it’s own writers admit they are writing garbage and that their readers are STUPID ), Daily Telegraph and Rupert Murdoch,s “Sun” have a lot to complain about.
    Sadly a lot of their ‘complaints” are utter propaganda with no real basis.

    “Free loading countries” – if the south of Europe defaults now, guess who will crash in a month’s time?
    And who was it that crashed the world in the first place “mr look at me i am british and i am special”? Oh that’s right the CITY OF LONDON in conjunction with the US wall street firms.
    I wouldn’t call 60% unemployment and needing to receive church donations and even help from those neo-nazi thugs of golden dawn “free loading”.
    So if you’re clueless at least don’t embarrass yourself here.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      1) No I don’t want a medal, just my tax not to be wasted on other countries when I have my own family to look after

      2) The problem? I’m sure even you could work that out? the UK is getting too overcrowded and the services (my taxes pay for) are becoming overstretched

      3) You just prove my point perfectly, anyone who thinks we should be addressing the problems in the UK before handing out cash to other countries is a Xenophobe? Give me one good reason why in a supposedly democratic society am I not allowed to say I disagree with this? The only conclusion to come to is the EU is far from being Democratic, if you don’t toe the party line then you get stigmatised by people like you

      4) Brainwashed people?, so we don’t contribute more to the EU budget than most countries? We don’t have an immigration problem? are these all lies made up by the media? Unfortunately for clueless people like you those are facts and it doesn’t matter which paper you read it doesn’t change them

      4) It is people like you who are brainwashed by the EU propaganda machine where everything it the EU would be a garden of roses if it wasn’t for the troublesome UK and those nasty Americans. The biggest problem with the EU is it is not being driven by a desire to benefit it’s citizens but a desire by politicians to compete against the US, and so far it is failing miserably on both counts

  19. avatar
    Catalin Vasile

    By creating special tracks for bycicles and imposing those standards to the countries which governments chose to ignore this type of transportation and by making more accesibil to the people the alternative propulsion vehicles.

  20. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Ever thought of decentralization? Create more job opportunities in the periphery so people won’t flea to the big cities ..

  21. avatar
    Defance Debates

    Yes that would be a good permanent suggestion :days of cycling,but for that some cities would need a good adapted infrastructure (roads) .

  22. avatar
    Carlos Leite de Sousa

    There are a large number of streets without a single tree ( . A simple way to make cities greener is just planting trees.

  23. avatar
    Stephane Czajkowski

    What about the air? The end of Europe as we know it, would mean the relocalisation of the activities into each country. We have the technology. We could build new green plants instead of the old ones, and that relocalisation would also diminish the transit between countries. :)

  24. avatar
    Davey Brown

    We could put the soon to be unemployed eurocrats to work powering a giant hamster wheel.

  25. avatar
    Tareq Hajaj

    If the countries themselves have the initiative and the say on it, nobody is imposing anything.

  26. avatar
    David Fuzzey

    the point of the ec is to inflict unelected nobodies on us and the eu rump has no point at all , apart from wasting money

  27. avatar
    Iliya Godev

    Perhaps, by focusing on creating similar quality of life in rural areas – then there will be enough green space in urban areas and less over-population.cities

  28. avatar

    Movement and work are two major factors that contribute to how well people live their lives.

    I believe we should encourage working from home more and all employers whose enterprise consists of creating digital content should have this in mind. Without the need to commute people will save time and the cities will enjoy a better air standard and traffic.

    We need to encourage investement into properties that are rentable so that people can relocate when/if they move from one job to another. The usual idea of a downtown center where people work and nobody lives in the vincinity is design flawed in my opinion. Office buildings and apartment buildings should be something that are near to each other in a good ratio (1 to 3 for example).

    People living in the cities should also be strongly encouraged to follow a dietary regiment that corresponds to their line of work. Obesity is wasteful and consumption of more food than needed is simply BAD. Encourage people who need to lose weight with small prizes/competitions. It is a cost that will prevent greater costs for the hospitals and medical systems of each country.

    Also, ban cars and introduce self-driven cars in major cities. Encourage a big company to invest into the automated technology, pop a CCTV in against vandalism and charge for the fairs.

    It’s all easy if you think and if you’re not a politician and start doing something that matters rather than going on stupit unnecessary visits around the world as if communication tools do not exist. Yeah, tourism is bad also, it is a waste of ressources. Ban the advertisement of airlines tickets/tourism etc. Going to see something that you’ve seen on a picture a thousands times before is rather the act of an imbecile more than getting to know a culture, so there is no way to defend the mass-produced tourist lifestyle that people enjoy. Nobody cares about your facebook pictures from Italy standing next to a statue.

  29. avatar
    Paul X

    This debate has clearly been hijacked by bicycle shop owners who live in sunny hill-free countries?

    Try cycling to work in a Scottish winter and see what state you are in when you get there….

    • avatar

      Where I live we don’t have cold winters, but we do have boiling summers with the temperatures being in the three digits Farenheit even at midnight, so I do get your point, even if it’s in the opposite way. But what about better public transportation or telecommuting?

  30. avatar
    Jadwiga Aleksandra Nowierska

    Cheap, fast and clean public transport, taxes for using cars, education in school.

    • avatar

      Double taxes for those who support ‘green’ policies, they should put their money where their mouths are.

  31. avatar
    Constantin Ghitescu

    We are 1 billion plus on planet Earth (7 billion). Six billion people would just goes on bikes.

  32. avatar

    Car free days would surely help having greener european cities. Of course, the construction of cicle paths would be a huge step for a greener european enviroment. But, the residents of european cities are not willing to change their way of life. Because of this, i think that the governments should try to make european cities greener by using alternative types of energy such as, solar energy! The governments have to respect the nature and our planet!

    • avatar
      Constantin Ghitescu

      I – all the time – think like an ecologist.:
      What wastes I produce ?
      What energetic consumption I am doing ?
      How much energy was consumed to the waste what I produce ?
      I can avoid a garbage?
      How much energy was consumed for (eg a plastic bag) ?
      What are left behind radwaste for plastic bag production ?
      Can I go to Delheize or shopping without car – if they are only 300 m?
      I believe humanity has become too comfortable- because they are running out of time.

  33. avatar
    Stela Mihaylova

    Green rooftop on every building is a wonderful and not so hard to achieve or expensive to pay for!* (sorry for the mistakes in the above commnent)

  34. avatar
    Ivan Drvarič

    But probably there is challenge steps, detoxficiation of soil, management of energy ( how much from green sources )….management of recovery process during greening some landscape…There are many issues which can make greening only a myth or acccessible only to elite classes isoalted from reality with repression and intensitivity of various lacks. Guess it is not enough to say this is logical path because than another source of guilt will be initiated and people who will be able to afford and those who will not be able to afford and will live in non-green ghettos or non-diversified artificially modified isolated environments on holocaust principles.

  35. avatar
    Kaj Embren

    Cities have teeth for actions and are change agents – but dont forget 2 main values for change – Transparency and accountability.
    Why not create an opiniongroup of cities at the COP19 and demand more from national goverments. Read more about Sustainable cities network at

  36. avatar

    I definitely think that more money should be invested in cycling paths and public transportation for startes. Also, discourage people from driving. One person in a car is not only the most polluting form of transportation, but most inconvenient, due to traffic congestion. Just how much time does one spend in traffic a week? I live in an extremely automobile dependent society. One really has no options here. If you don’t have a car, it’s difficult to get anywhere. The public transportation is aboslutely terrible and almost nonexistend. And almost no cycling paths. Plus, greener cities are better in the long run. I’m not saying it’s easy, cheap or that it will happen overnight, but what better investment?

  37. avatar

    I observe that shop owners often oppose to making their street a pedestrian zone out of fear to loose busine

  38. avatar

    …business. Otherwise streets such as Rue de Bailly or Rue de Tongres could since long allow to pleasantly stroll along whilst browsing the shops. In fact, it is the entrepreneurs who are strictly against such initiatives. It would be good if they could be more open to “greener” options. In their case they would clearly create win-win situations.

  39. avatar

    What about encouraging telecommuting? Maybe encouraging people to telecomute even two or three days a week. Then they would only have to drive to the office a couple of days.

  40. avatar
    Vicente Silva Tavares

    Being green in Europe is a question of HYPOCRISY! EU would impose green rules to European manufacturers and then would import from third countries without worrying about them being green. The question of hens layers and the size of cages is an example of that. Then import eggs from Morocco or any other country without any of the rules. Just hypocrisy to favour importers and killing jobs in Europe.

  41. avatar
    Gabe Freire

    The European city less concerned about environment is still way better than the brazilian city most concerned on this issue.
    Don’t worry, you’re doing fine.

  42. avatar
    Alex Sekkpefb

    We should point out and name and shame Croatia for their recent laws. How were they even a valid candidate?!

  43. avatar
    Samu Tandorf

    We should! We should especially point out the small towns that are only home to commuters thus causing traffic and commuters with value added.

  44. avatar
    Marie Strati

    I think it could be a way to motivate local authorities to work on establishing ecological consiousness.

  45. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Eu creio que em muitas cidades da Europa ainda não estão a fazer o suficiente para proteger o meio ambiente Os poderes municipais e as empresas e o estado central deviam criar areas de plantação de florestas e de árvores plantas dentro dessas areas porque ao investir na natureza estão a investir no turismo sustentável

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