Ljubljana Region: Dealing with flood risk and mobility challenges


Green engine of development, metropolitan region of knowledge.

The vision was developed by key stakeholders in the process of preparation of the Regional Development Programme for the period 2014 – 2020.The Ljubljana urban region will respect the natural and cultural environment and its carrying capacity and will build its future on knowledge, innovation, creativity and the synergy between all important players and sectors. The region will be a healthy, attractive and safe place for high-quality living. The overhauled transport infrastructure will be in line with sustainable mobility principles and appropriate spatial planning to reduce environmental burdens and provide comfortable, fast and affordable access to services of general interest for all residents. Detained suburbanization, flood protection measures and appropriate relation to climate occurrences will minimise flood risks and actual flood damage and ensure safer living environment.

To achieve regional goals we need to work together, cross-sectoral and coordinated at all levels of governance: national, regional and local. Thus obtained solutions are better and also easier to implement. It is important that all who will later have a function in the implementation of strategic tasks are involved in the preparation of the strategy from the beginning.

What are we dealing with?

"Fragmentation on paper, problems in nature" - Fragmented governance and urban growth causing complex challenges 

Ljubljana Urban Region (LUR) with Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is the central region of Slovenia and it presents the main employment centre. It is facing the pressure in terms of daily commuters and permanent migrations to the region. The urban growth of the last 25 years, together with the fragmented governance on the level of 26 municipalities resulted in urban sprawl that caused main challenges the region is facing today. Urbanisation of flood areas without proper flood prevention measures is causing great flood risks. On the other hand, the urban sprawl is reducing the efficiency and attractiveness of public transportation and causing high car dependency. Private car dependency is adding to the environmental pollution, high use of fossil fuels and social exclusion of people that cannot afford a car or are unable to drive one. All these processes are interconnected and transboundary, therefore they should be approached in an integrated way on a regional scale.

The Ljubljana urban region (LUR) is the region with the largest pool of knowledge and creative potential in Slovenia. Not only are the key national, scientific, research, educational and cultural institutions concentrated in the region, numerous businesses also have their headquarters in LUR – providing for a larger share of jobs compared to the rest of the country and generating more than a third of Slovenia’s GDP. This means that the region is also the most economically developed region in the country. Due to recession in the Eurozone the economic outlook of the region has deteriorated in the past couple of years, however: it has been recording both continuous economic contraction and an increase in the number of unemployed. 

In search of new opportunities and a more affordable lifestyle, people have thus started leaving urban areas and moving to the suburban and rural areas. We have witnessed uncontrolled suburban sprawl of low-density development, concurring with extensive land use, a greater need for expensive utility infrastructure and high automobile dependence, all of which have led to environmental and social problems in the region. 

Environmental issues are greatly related to the high level of motorisation (i.e. use of private cars) and a decline of public transport in the region in the past that make sustainable mobility measures difficult to implement. The resulting road congestions present an additional threat to the environment. Air pollution in city centre and areas in the immediate vicinity of heavily frequented urban main roads record high concentrations of several pollutants. Air pollution was for decades the environmental issue No. 1 in Ljubljana. Today it is still of concern but the situation has improved considerably. Particle matter PM10 and NO2 exceedances near roads with heavy traffic (Ljubljana-Centre) still occur but trends are favourable. Traffic noise, somewhat neglected in the past, has emerged as actually the most problematic environmental issue. Most NOx emissions of 3609,3 tons for 2013 (data for the City of Ljubljana) were related to traffic (59,8%), power thermal plants (25,5%), consumption (8%) and industry (6,5%). Emissions of CO (7400 tons) can be in majority attributed to traffic (76,3 %), 18,6% to consumption and 4% to power thermal plants, the rest to the industry (1,1% and agriculture 0,1%). For particle matter (not only PM10) emissions most of 279,1 tons can be attributed to consumption (40,9%), traffic (32,6%), waste management (14,6%), power thermal plants (5,9%), agriculture (3,3%) and industry (2,7%). From 776 tons of SO2 emissions, a great majority (60,6%) can be attributed to power thermal plants and consumption (36,7%). It was certainly the Civitas Elan project in Ljubljana that joined a critical mass of sustainable oriented public and stakeholders to make a decisive move toward sustainability, which had several positive implications for the whole region too. 

Water management and frequent flooding present an additional challenge in an unevenly populated region. Absence of an integrated spatial and water management approach, along with abolition of local water communities, separate planning of hydrological and energy programs, poor maintenance of flood protection infrastructure and river beds, urban sprawl in flood areas and complete disregard to anti-flood measures while building lead not only to flood safety issues, but also to drought problems. Integration and regionalization of water management including flood safety, should, hence, be a priority. 

Not only environmental but also societal challenges (strongly linked to demographic changes) are predicted to have an even greater impact on the regional development in the future. Demographic developments, such as aging population and emigration of young people – especially the highly educated workers in search of employment opportunities – will for instance further influence the above-mentioned processes and affect the region’s development. Analyses of demographics forecast impaired integration of young people into their local environments, an increased number of sleeping settlements without a defined centre and active communities, isolated and less accessible areas facing greater depopulation, fewer employment opportunities and lack of basic service network leading to numerous daily migrations and poor accessibility by public transport causing a high level of use of private vehicles.

Such intensive economic and social restructuring will call for new forms of governance. The latter will also have to address the challenges caused by a lack of trans-sectoral and integrated spatial and development strategic planning, overriding interests of sectoral policies and private capital. The current lack of an intermediate (regional) level of governance, as well as the fast-changing and inconsistent legal framework, will need to be taken into consideration as well. The region itself will have to face a shrinkage of the regional and local economy, reduced public budgets reflected in cutting costs for local infrastructure and services of general interest, de-institutionalization and privatization of basic public services – again due to the global recession and economic crisis. 

All the described challenges do not pertain solely to the international economic situation. They are rather also a consequence of historic settlement patterns concentrated in rural areas. These are small, poorly connected settlements or individual farms in the hinterland. Such settlement has led to the already mentioned daily migrations to work (causing environmental, infrastructure and social exclusion problems, etc.), poor access to social services and other services of general interest. Depopulation of rural areas has furthermore resulted in a spread of less developed areas. Poor or non-existent spatial planning for the past 25 years has in addition deepened the issues related to inadequate settlement – i.e. urban sprawl; and caused formation of dispersed suburban sleeping settlements near the capital of Ljubljana, large consumption of agricultural land, high flood risks in areas of settlement, the loss of landscape identity, and resulted in expensive and irrational utility infrastructure. It has moreover increased daily mobility which is associated with environmental pollution as well as extensive investments in road infrastructure, the underdeveloped public transportation, and railway infrastructure. Dependence on private cars is exacerbated, while implementation of sustainable mobility methods and actions is further hindered. 

In addition, for the last 25 years, major transitional restructuring of both the economic and social system has been taking place in Slovenia (including privatisation). It was interrupted, however, by the recession in Eurozone. Despite attempts to increase competitiveness and internationalisation of the corporate sector, as well as the promotion of SME development, the region has been recording a drop in economic power along with increasing unemployment rates since 2008. As a result, progressively tighter austerity measures are being implemented – particularly in the field of public administration, social and health services. Due to the limited resources economic and social infrastructure at both the local and regional levels is not sufficient for meeting the current economic and societal needs nor does the infrastructure respond to the above mentioned environmental challenges (it rather strengthens them – being overburdened and hence in great need for renovation and modernisation).

  • Why is important to understand the dynamics of your water system?

"Studying your water system is not only imperative for understanding its functioning, but will also result in new ideas to cope with flood problems." - Hans De Moel, Institute for Environmental Studies, VU University Amsterdam.

  • What new technologies facilitated a better understanding of the system?

"To assure the possibility for all stakeholders to participate in dialogue, a WebGIS-based portal for micro-communication with stakeholders and residents for Ljubljana urban region (LUR) was designed and developed. The portal provides the basis for crowdsourcing better inputs, evaluation of measures (before/after), and on-line validation of models. It can be applied not only in the transport sector but also e.g. in the environment, energy or waste." - Robert Rijavec, Univerza v Ljubljani

What is the vision for the region?

The vision of the Ljubljana urban region for the 2014–2020 period is: "GREEN ENGINE OF DEVELOPMENT – METROPOLITAN BIOREGION OF KNOWLEDGE". Based on the realisation of its development potentials, the Ljubljana urban region will maintain and strengthen its role of the principal bearer of economic development in Slovenia. It will develop human potentials as well as promote interdisciplinary cooperation and knowledge transfer. It will create conditions conducive to economic development and promote entrepreneurship, thus retaining and attracting highly qualified labour and investors. By establishing international ties and strengthening its role of a European metropolis, it will also become more competitive in the international arena.

When performing its activities, the region will strive to build a positive and sustainable relationship with the environment that will rank it as a bioregion both in Slovenia and on the international stage. Acting in harmony with the natural environment, it will handle its natural resources prudently and strengthen the development of the green economy and green jobs – also with the help of modern green technologies. Through sustainable and inclusive development the region will offer its inhabitants a high standard of living.

The Ljubljana urban region will build sustainable development on knowledge, innovation, creativity and the synergy between all important players and sectors. It will devote special attention to economic development coordinated so as to take account of the available environmental capabilities. It will strive to boost the competitiveness of the region through the appropriate modernisation and development of transport, environmental, ICT and social infrastructure. 

The overhaul of transport infrastructure with a view to sustainable mobility will importantly improve economic flows and reduce environmental burdens. It will additionally provide for a healthy and high-quality living environment through active protection of natural features, appropriate planning of open spaces, renovation of the existing housing stock and settlements, as well as sustainable self-sufficient supply.

High-level objectives for the Ljubljana urban region include reducing the existing concentration of emissions and noise originating from transport, relieving traffic congestion and improving the quality of living in the region by better mobility, reduced use of private vehicles and a modal shift to public transport and non-motorised modes of travel.

Ljubljana urban region simultaneously faces significant challenges in managing its variable water resources, particularly as growing suburbanization and climate change exacerbate flood and drought risks. The Regional Development Agency and local experts have been encouraging integrated approaches to water management, taking into account the connections between water supply, water quality, flood protection and ecosystem health. A high-level objective is an improved coordination between local and state agencies and authorities in order to develop multi-benefit water management strategies and regional-scale planning has become a crucial avenue for advancing these efforts.

  • Why is a vision important?
    "Without a good and shared understanding of the problem, you’ll never agree on the solution." - Nick van Barneveld, Gemeente Rotterdam. 
  • How did the visioning process work?
    "We do not want to wait for someone else’s decisions, we want to become an equal partner in a dialogue. A partner who knows what he/she wants, who does not lament the lack of resources, but knows how to find them through various projects." - Lilijana Madjar, Regionalna Razvojna Agencija Ljubljanske Urbane Regije.

What is the strategy for the region?

Involve a broad range of stakeholders (including municipalities) in preparing a common roadmap for the transition

One of the main tools to achieve sustainable development of the region in its many fields is proper spatial planning functioning on a regional level. Spatial planning coordinates transportation systems, local economy, housing and various environmental aspects. 

The development of the transport system will be oriented towards changing the proportions in the use of various means of transport. To reduce the need to use the private car a comfortable and competitive public transport system will be developed. The most urgent task is to develop institutions to direct and manage the development of public transport across the whole region. There is a need for a political authority to provide direction, policy, and funding for the public transport system across all the separate municipalities. 

Sustainable water management cannot be enforced only through direct flood protection and flood damage restoration, but rather with the prior consideration of natural conditions and restrictions as well as sustainable development in the context of spatial planning.

  • What mentality led to the development of a project strategy?
    "Slovenia is big enough and has enough knowledge to become an example for enabling mobility based on the principles of sustainability. Why should we always be studying examples of good practice abroad? Now, we know the way, it is up to us to follow it." - Lilijana Madjar, Regionalna Razvojna Agencija Ljubljanske Urbane Regije.
  • What environmental aspects led to the development of a project strategy?
    "Due to the extensive flooding in recent years, the general public in Slovenia is very concerned; they expect a solid strategy which will change the current situation of flood safety. But for the reduction of flood risk it is crucial to develop and implement flood safety measures on all levels - everyone must be involved, cooperate and take their responsibility: residents, local communities, municipalities and the state. Raised awareness and flood preparedness must begin with common people. If we let the public participate, we will restore the people's trust." - Marko Fatur, Head of Municipal Infrastructure Department in LUZ, External collaborator.

How do we implement the transition?

For transport, public service has been extended and intermodal commuting improved. For flood management, priorities have been set and integrated into budgets. 

On the basis of Regional Development Programme (RDP) a Regional Development Agreement (RDA), a contractual partnership between the municipalities of the region, state government institutions and other key stakeholders will be signed. This agreement determines key development projects for the development of the region, which are co-financed from the ERDF. Amongst the key projects to be implemented in the financial perspective 2014-2020 are: Reducing the Flood Risk in Ljubljana Urban Region (ranking 1st), Ljubljana Urban Region P&R Network (ranking 2nd) and Regional Cycling Network (ranking 3rd).

One of the top priorities of Ljubljana Urban Region is sustainable mobility, which was addressed through several development and implementation projects. The basis for the implementation of projects is the Expert bases for Managing Public Transportation in the Region (2009) - an informal regional public transport strategy which laid down a set of measures and projects for introduction of sustainable passenger transport in the region: (1) Modernisation of the railway infrastructure as the backbone of public transport in the region, (2) Integration of public transport in the region, (3) Contemporary high-speed routes, (4) Park & Ride intermodal network and (5) Policies and soft measures to support the public transport (including the planning and implementation of major cycling and walking paths in urban centres and between centres in the region). Amongst these several projects initiated by the region were implemented in the last 7 years. Some of the projects were transferred to the national level, such as national spatial plans for the railway track Ljubljana – Ljubljana Airport – Kranj – Jesenice and for the Ljubljana Railway Hub and integrated public transport ticket. Other projects were addressed on a regional level: a study for the reconstruction of the existing railway network in the Ljubljana Urban Region (which is now considered a basis for a national study; some of the measures will be implemented) and LUR Public Transport web Portal (LURPP) a tool for interactive micro communication with the stakeholders (developed during TURAS project).

There are also projects that were implemented locally: priority yellow lanes for buses in Ljubljana, extension of bus lines from Ljubljana into the region, a car sharing scheme in Ljubljana, intermodal interchange points with P & R schemes in municipal centres (13 of 22 were built in the region, other P & R sites will compete for funds in the financial perspective 2014-2020). Ljubljana Urban Region P&R Network and Regional Cycling Network are another 2 projects which are ranked into the Regional Development Agreement (RDA) to be implemented in the financial perspective 2014- 2020.

In the field of flood safety a pilot project Multi- benefit Flood Retention at Podutik was implemented during the TURAS project. The pilot extends the primary function of retaining water in the event of heavy rains or raising levels of waterways to provide multiple benefits for the society and the environment, such as: mitigate water pollution, increase biodiversity, provide green space for recreation and relaxation of inhabitants and education through learning paths or informational boards. On a national level, a project for reducing flood risk in the area south-west of Ljubljana is considered as a national priority and is planned for the implementation in 2018.

  • What are the tangible benefits created from project implementation?
    "By car sharing we reduce the costs for individual user and increase the utilization of a single vehicle, thus contributing to a smaller number of vehicles in urban areas and therefore to less congestion and noise. Avant2Go project introduces a car sharing scheme with the use of 100% electric vehicles. With this, we want to facilitate the transition to a new paradigm of mobility for a better life quality." - Matej Grošelj - Avantcar, Ljubljana car sharing scheme.
  • What elements were needed to implement the project?
    "Integrated planning approach and wide engagement of stakeholders are key for successful planning and implementation." - Matej Gojčič, Regionalna Razvojna Agencija Ljubljanske Urbane Regije.

Key lessons learned

Integrated water management workshop
Sharing intereuropean arrpoaches to the design of integrates water and flood risk management strategies in Ljubljana region. 

Water retention reservoir - Podutik
Increasing ecosystem service provision by creating multifunctional blue-green infrastructure. 

Making transport public - Ljubljana
Using interactive tools to crowd-source data and ideas on transport in Ljubljana region.