Sofia Aims to Become a Green Capital

24 NGOs push the Bulgarian capital to revive its green identity.

Sofia will change into a real green city and will apply for the European Green Capital award, Mrs. Yordanka Fandakova, the mayor of Sofia, Bulgaria, recently announced. The promise came in response to the “Sofia – Green Capital” initiative, a group of civil organizations and NGOs that joined together to push for a complete transformation of the Bulgarian capital into a green city.

Vast natural resources

Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, is home to about 1,2 million citizens and has vast natural resources. The city is surrounded by five mountains. There are two rivers running through the city. Hot thermal springs are gushing at several central and peripheral locations. Fertile soils make the whole area suitable for agriculture. The city enjoys a lot of sunshine throughout the year – the yearly sum of solar irradiation exceeds 1500 kWh/m2.

Vitosha Mountain, as seen from the Vitosha boulevard in the very central part of Sofia. Image: Petar Ivanov

Pollution and deserted lands

Despite its huge natural potential, Sofia has some serious environmental problems. The air is often so polluted that it exceeds any environmental standards.

The air on Sofia is too polluted by car exhaust gases, power plants, etc.

The river waters are also full of rubbish and toxic fluids are being discarded into the water. More than 1500 hectares of land have been deserted for years – most of these are green territories. Traffic jams often keep people stuck in the traffic. There are only 50 km of bike-lanes and they’re not interconnected.

More than 1500 hectares of land have been deserted for years - enough space for some 1 million trees. Image: Dimitar Paskalev, Grupa Grad

More than 1500 hectares of land have been deserted for years – enough space for some 1 million trees. Image: Dimitar Paskalev, Grupa Grad

24 organizations together

The “Green Capital” concept was launched in August 2015 by “Grupa Grad”, a group of architects aiming for a positive change of the public architecture in Bulgaria. The idea quickly gained momentum. Support was granted by other NGOs with different profiles – ecology, urbanism, biodiversity, renewable energy, social activities – a total of 24 civil organizations joined together to push the concept forward.

In September 2015 the "Sofia - green capital" initiative group sent a letter to the mayor of Sofia suggesting that the city may go for the European Green Capital" award. Symbolically, the letter was sent by a young girl named Sofia, aged 3.

Hard work done, more to come

Experts from the 24 NGOs joined efforts to create a major program, consisting of different goals, projects and suggestions, that altogether can transform Sofia into a green leader with a bright identity, all within 5-7 years. The platform was addressed to the City Government of Sofia but also to the local society as a whole.

Later, the “Sofia – Green Capital” initiative started a massive campaign to popularize the idea during the local elections in Bulgaria in October 2015. The mayor of Sofia Mrs. Fandakova, who finally won her third mandate, welcomed the suggested concept and declared that Sofia will enter the European Green Capital annual contest.

After the chief architect of Sofia resigned at the end of 2015, the work on the initiative was halted for a while until a new chief architect was elected in April 2016. Then, in May, a new work meeting was organized by the Sofia city council with members from the “Sofia – green Capital” initiative to decide upon the next steps for the EGC award application. Currently a project leader is to be appointed.

Architects Ivaylo Petkov and Plamen Bratkov are working together with students at the University of Forestry in Sofia on a project for a green overpass of the Sofia Ring Boulevard.

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