The Green Belt of Vitoria-Gasteiz

Vitoria-Gasteiz is considered one of the “greenest” urban areas in Europe. Located in the heart of the Basque Country, this Spanish city is a model for sustainable development and public space management. Its arrangement in “concentric circles”, modelled after Anglo-Saxon theories of urban planning, is one of the factors which led the city to earn the title of European Green Capital 2012.


Like many cities in the United Kingdom, the Basque capital is surrounded by a Green Belt, a semi-natural green ring, partially reclaimed from previously degraded areas.

What are the keys to the success of Vitoria-Gasteiz? What kind of urban policies were implemented to turn it into an avant-garde sustainable city? And why is the Green Belt surrounding the city centre so important?

From 1950 to the present, the population of Vitoria-Gasteiz increased from 52,000 to 240,000 inhabitants. Between 1960 and 1990, the city experienced a huge demographic boom: the population grew so much that the number of residents tripled. This was a complex situation, and at the beginning of the '90s the City Council was confronted with the issue of urban planning. In particular, the deplorable state of the areas on the outskirts of the city was at the forefront of the administration's concerns and called for a comprehensive rehabilitation intervention. There were essentially two possibilities: creating dormitory suburbs or recasting these spaces as organic parts of the city. The solution proposed by the Centro de Estudios Ambientales of the Basque municipality was the Green Belt.

The goal of the project was fairly ambitious: to restore and reclaim the outskirts of Vitoria-Gasteiz from both an environmental and a social perspective. In order to accomplish this, the plan was to create a large green area for recreational purposes (the so-called “Green Belt”), partially obtained by recovering the most degraded areas. The great project of urban renewal envisaged a geographical partitioning of the city into three concentric circles: a residential centre, a semi-natural area introducing nature into the urban landscape, and the forest proper.

Today, twenty years after the works were started, the Green Belt encompasses up to six parks and has a total surface of 727 hectares, which will be extended up to 993 at the project's completion. The idea is to overcome the fragmentation of natural areas on the outskirts by connecting them to each other and to other green spaces in the city, thus turning them into multifunctional areas, suitable for various activities: recreation, sports, education, etc. As a matter of fact, the Green Belt hosts 79 km of pedestrian/bicycle routes as well as broad stretches of woodland boasting a high level of biodiversity.

But there is yet another reason why Vitoria-Gasteiz is an avant-garde sustainable city: the way it manages its water resources. A meticulous water-saving policy has been in place for almost ten years, and the goal is to progressively reduce water consumption per capita. Success is in the numbers: if in 2001 the average consumption per household was 134.4 litres per day, in 2012 it had dropped to 111.1 litres―the objective is to drop below the 100 litres threshold in the coming years. These results were made possible by the far-sighted Plan Futura 2013-2017, a strategy for an effective integrated water cycle management, which included numerous awareness campaigns for the citizens, as well as technical interventions aimed at improving the water supply network.

According to statistics, 80% of Europeans live in medium-sized cities, that is, in cities like Vitoria-Gasteiz. This means that the future of urban spaces on this continent hinges for the most part on this kind of reality. In this view, the sustainable model embodied by Vitoria-Gasteiz takes on an exemplary significance: on one hand, it shows that there is no development without effective planning; on the other, it demonstrates that, with a wide-ranging vision, it is indeed possible to turn urban issues into resources.

(Traduzione di Teresa Ciuffoletti)

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