Ljubljana Small city with a grand vision

Janez Koželj : The offi cial title of Janez Koželj may be deputy mayor of Ljubljana, but he rather introduces himself as the chief city architect. Koželjis a full professor at Ljubljana University‘s Faculty of Architecture, where he lectures on urban design. Being an avid cyclist and the deputy mayor since 2006, he is the man responsible for crafting and implementing the new spatial vision of Ljubljana, largely based on upgraded public spaces.

city:one 2017-11-15 14:05 Janez Koželj : Deputy Mayor of Ljubljana, responsible for the spatial development Governance Citizen Public space

: Ljubljana, key facts

Ljubljana is the administrative, economic and cultural capital and the largest city of Slovenia. It has a population of 288,307 on 275 km2 and the population density of 1,048/km2. Ljubljana has 230  km of bike lanes and only four bike counters on four important roads. They counted 3,3 million cyclists in 2015. The city has built 9 new bridges over Ljubljanica river in the last ten years. Ljubljana won the title of European Green Capital in 2016. Clever city marketing and upgraded old town are among the reasons Ljubljana is becoming a globally recognized tourist destination. The number
of tourists in the renovated city centre is rising so fast that some local residents are beginning to vocalize their disapproval.

: The vision Ljubljana 2025

The vision has been drafted by Koželj and a group of experts in 2006 and comprises three sub-goals:

1. In the future Ljubljana will preserve the character of an attractive green city, its dimension and convenient living standards will make it a nice place to live in.

2. Sustainable development will be grounded on direct access to the open space as well as on the integration of the city into the landscape system. Motor traffi c and its hazardous environmental eff ects in densely populated areas is intended to be reduced by planning mixed-use development.

3. The city will grant high living standards, security and tolerance. The city, opened widely for foreign investors and experts, will gradually acquire the cosmopolitan character and image.

: What does »smart urbanism« mean to you?

I usually think of it in terms of »smart density«. We are densifying the city by installing new buildings in under-used gaps. Urban density is smart because it makes the urban living easier. Transit-oriented development, the proximity of services and workplaces mean fewer expenses for urban infrastructure. We connect smart density with environmental protection, energy effi ciency and social proximity.

: Ljubljana invested a lot in the renovation of public space in the city centre. What is the role of public space in the development of the city?

Public space is the soil of the city. Ljubljana’s success formula is based on public space. Ten years ago, we had an abandoned city centre that was occupied by cars. We decided to start from public space and renew the city centre from there. Since then, the way people use parks, squares and river banks changed a lot. People use them more freely now: they go to the parks, jump into the river and paddle on it, eat their lunch outside, some build the space and some demolish it.

: What is the municipal strategy on the renovation of the
city centre?

We start the renovation from beneath the ground. The renewal projects are always a joint venture with public companies. The process usually follows the same steps: fi rst, we dig the streets and conduct archaeological excavations, then we install new infrastructure: new sewages, waterworks, cable lines. Next, we cover the streets in new paving. In the end, the space is upgraded with new urban furniture and equipment – underground waste containers, city bike-sharing stations, etc.At the same time, we encourage the owners of the buildings to renew the facades and roofs with our help. The city off ers to co-fi nance up to 49% of the facade renovation. Finally, we add
urban greenery and lighting. We support new uses of public space with a traffi c reform that limits car traffi c and encourages pedestrian and bike traffi c. This makes the public space relaxed and attractive to locals and tourists alike.

: What is the most diffi cult project you completed during
your term as deputy-mayor?

Renovation of Slovenska street, the main street connecting two parts of the city through the city centre, was the most diffi cult one. The risks were high because we closed a busy four- lane road for car traffi c. Another risk was the conversion of the
street into fi rst »shared space« zone, a space that appears to have more risks, but also off ers more freedom. However, the experiment was successful. People use the street.

: Which project will you put on the fi rst page of your CV?

The biggest, most successful and personally my favourite project is the renovation of Ljubljanica river embankments. It was a big project that involved collaboration with eight architecture offi ces, engineer sand landscape architects. The systemic investment in public space was a catalyst of wider urban renewal. Another success of the project was the fact that it reconnected the river with the residents. Thirdly, the vision of Jože Plečnik, Slovenia’s most important architect, was fulfi lled
by this move.

: You expressed your support for small, experimental,
temporary projects. How important are they for the city?

They are vital. The city has to work on a systemic level to ensure that experiments happen on the ground. Ljubljana is re-building itself in formal and informal ways, and is enjoyed not only by those who like beautiful spaces, but also by those who appreciate the aesthetic of ugliness. I like this dialectic.

: Based on your experience, what would you advise to fellow deputy mayors, city architects and other decision-makers?

Get involved in projects regardless of the scale and capital invested. Even the smallest improvement should gain your personal support. You also have to be aware that the role of the chief city architect is a political one. You should put your name at stake for good projects and take political responsibility for urban experiments. Another important thing is to build coalitions outside of the city administration.

Časopis city:one

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