After joining the European Union back in 2007, the word “sustainability” started to be heard more frequently in Romania. New opportunities for people to explore and learn from Western countries were suddenly opened, but also new minimum requirements to be met. Baby steps have been taken since then, sometimes because of bureaucracy, sometimes because of other priorities, and sometimes just because of lack of money.
Let’s have a look at the five biggest cities in Romania and their way to the green side: Bucharest – the capital city (population 1,677,985), Cluj-Napoca (population 309,136), Timisoara (this is my city, population 303,708), Iasi (population 263,410) and Constanta (population 254,693). They all share a few things in common: they want an urban regeneration, to reduce energy consumption and use modes of transportation other than cars.
A bit late, but in March 2009 the Romanian Government approved a program for the rehabilitation of residential urban buildings constructed from 1950–1990. And there are plenty of those. There were four benefits from this action plan: increasing the energy efficiency of the buildings by 40%, changing the facades (I must tell you, some of them were not very nice), protecting the environment by reducing emissions and a reduction in the amount of money spent by building owners, a lot of which was being funded by national and local governments.
In the matter of alternative transportation, all five cities agree that bikes will need to be used more frequently. The largest bike-sharing project in the country – I’Velo – was launched in May 2010 in Bucharest. Cluj-Napoca followed in July 2010, Constanta in April 2011, Timisoara in April 2012 and Iasi in June 2012. Each city is hoping this will help reduce their carbon footprint, build a community of bike lovers and sustain the development of adequate infrastructure for cyclists.
Additionally, over the last three years, Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest celebrated European Mobility Week - an annual campaign encouraging sustainable urban mobility. Citizens are beginning to embrace it, with more people taking part every year.
Bucharest: Constitution Square and Union Boulevard
Bucharest (Bucuresti in Romanian) can be proud that is has 23 square meters of green space per inhabitant – more than Paris and Madrid. However, the city still needs to increase this by the end of the year in order to meet the minimum 26 square meter EU standard, launching their first Green Areas Register just to keep track. Over the past four years, 65,000 trees and shrubs were planted and over 90,000 square meters of park areas were rehabilitated. Still, there is more to be done. And speaking of ‘green’, the first class A green building was opened in 2010 (Euro Tower).
Cluj: The first green school
Cluj-Napoca has an LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design issued by US Green Building Council) certified green building, the first ecological park made with 98% natural construction materials, and the first green school of Romania (and this is only the beginning). Starting in 2013, the construction of green buildings is being encouraged by local authorities by reducing local taxes for them by 50%. New investment in a self-service bike rental network is planned along with 60 km (37 miles) of cycle trails.
Timisoara: one of the City Business Centre buildings
Timisoara has always been unique in Romania. Contact with European countries always happend through the city as a result of it being the most Western city in Romania. Back in 1884, electrical street lights were turned-on for first time in Europe on the streets of Timisoara. Another first is the Iancu Vacarescu Street, which has an automatic washing system, implemented in June 2012. The best thing about this development was not really the washing system, but the movement of aerial electrical cables underground, and the introduction of new green areas and bike trails. More centrally in the city, Marasesti Street was ‘adopted’ by a multinational company and transformed into a pedestrian area in September 2012. City Hall wants the old town to become pedestrianized by the end of 2014 – cycle trails included. I can’t wait to see this.
Timisoara is aiming to attract big businesses with the City Business Centre complex of 5 green buildings right in the middle of the city. One of them is still under construction, but the first two won the Office Development of the Year at the Southeastern European Real Estate Awards, and Green Building of The Year by Romania Green Building Council in 2009.
Iasi: Bike trail
Iasi started a strong campaign for promoting sustainable urban transportation by launching CIVITAS – ARCHIMEDES (Achieving Real Change with Innovative Transport Measures Demonstrating Energy Savings). The main result of this was an 11 km (6.8 miles) route constructed just for cycling in 2010. In addition to this, the fuel system of 30 public buses were replaced with more eco-friendly alternatives. In 2010 the city also launched an ECO Map to show citizens the location of cycle trails, battery collection, local markets, sports and green areas and Fair Trade coffee shops, although there are only two. But that’s a start.
Constanta: The green car park
Constanta is the largest city on the Romanian coast, and is special because of its size, location and… Mayor. He likes to make a difference, so no surprise which city is home to the largest Romanian extreme sports park. No city in Romania cares more for recycling, with Constanta recycling 40% of its waste for the last four years. It’s also worth mentioning that the only green five-storey car park in the country was finished in Constanta mid- 2012.
The future looks green for Romania cities, with more sustainable projects planned and waiting to be completed. Everyone in the country can get involved in sustainability actions, at any level. Effort, time and money are needed, but it can be done. Romanian cities will catch-up.