I muse this Monday morning from Slovenia, a country that had not necessarily been on my travel list, yet with our son and his girlfriend living here in Ljubljana, we took the opportunity to visit.
And we’re smitten. It’s a charming capital city, an old town with striking buildings, a river slicing through it and cobblestone streets without cars. No cars permitted. Instead, people stroll and bike, dine and enjoy a drink, busk Slovene music, sell at outdoor markets, chat and converse. You get the idea. And once you’re been here for a few days, it’s difficult to envision it any other way. It’s a city for the people and they use it well.
The credit goes to the city’s mayor Zoran Jankovic, who laid out a long-range plan to improve the quality of life with the benefits of cleaner air, safer streets and public spaces. He’s been re-elected three times. It shows that smaller cities can make a staggering amount of change happen in a short period of time.
“In the beginning, these decisions are very difficult to take because you will never get 100 percent agreement on it,” Jankovic says. “But after eight years, if I were to ask the people in Ljubljana in a referendum if they want the city centre open again to private cars, I am sure that 90 percent of them would want to keep it closed to traffic.” Jankovic’s city was named European Green Capital in 2016.
At a local restaurant last evening, we chatted about the mayor’s decision with the friendly waiter. “We used to sit in a cafe and have to breathe bus fumes every five minutes or so, terrible,” he told us. Clearly he couldn’t envision a different lifestyle.
My mind raced back to the pollution we were forced to cope with when we lived in India. I worried about the health impact constantly and was relieved when I wasn’t there for a spell; my body got a break from the toxins. What strikes me here in Ljubljana is how normal and embraced this lifestyle now is. Think of how usual it is for the Dutch and the Scandinavian to cycle on a daily basis. When we lived in Houston, a green walking space was created in our neighbourhood, walkers and joggers immediately besieged it daily. In our town in British Columbia, three streets are pedestrian friendly, creating a healthy, close-knit vibe.
I think the point is, we need to be mindful of how we live, to help create change if we have the opportunity to do so, or to instigate if need be. No, I can’t claim to have been part of a major change in my own community, though we did start a baseball and a hockey league in the Middle East. It meant a more active lifestyle for our kids; and the parents had fun too!
Small things perhaps, yet being here in Ljubljana has reinforced that the voice and will of the people can be very powerful.
For now, we’ll enjoy the week strolling these storied, walkable streets. We’ll visit the castle perched about the old town, and it seems there’s a wine tasting/road trip being planned. Though I can already confirm that Slovene wine is excellent!
I’m pleased to have added Ljubljana to my list of favourite cities. And it has been a reminder…