24 February 2022

Learn from Zagreb how to make nature-based solutions thrive

ICLEI Member Zagreb has successfully introduced nature-based solutions (NBS) to revive post-industrial areas. Now, the city is on a mission to spread these solutions, and their wealth of knowledge, further. To that end, stakeholders from Zagreb met up this month with leaders from nearby cities to exchange knowledge on implementation and replication of NBS.

The workshop took place at an info centre in the post-industrial Sesvete district. It gathered Croatian leaders, educators, mayors, municipal staff, researchers and civil society interested in NBS. The core of workshop entailed a visualisation exercise, in which participants were able to plan a nature-based solution in a specific area, making lessons concrete. The event highlighted how Zagreb integrated local NBS work into larger infrastructural plans in the city, and national/global environmental frameworks. It also pointed to the challenges faced in the implementation of NBS, to ensure that participants left with a realistic picture of the tasks ahead.

Zagreb’s successes

A local mini-farm was analysed in the workshop to assess its modular ‘Lego-Concept’ and to identify building blocks that would allow the concept to be successfully applied to other nature-based solutions. In essense, the mini-farm is made up of smaller “modules” that can be taken apart and re-arranged. This results in more flexibility, less bureaucracy when it comes to setting it up, no need for permits for its set-up, and making the mini-farm movable to new sites. What’s more, the mini-farm works! It has proven great at engaging people with nature and educating about the vast potential of (and for) nature in cities.

Zagreb’s Therapeutic Garden was also explored in the workshop. This garden – which uses nature-based solutions to enhance well-being among various, vulnerable users – has already resulted in calls for replication, garnered local media attention, and led to a need for more ‘therapeutic gardeners’. The gardens have been sought out particularly by parents of children with disabilities, as a safe public space for activities such as urban farming. The garden allows has areas for respite, contemplation and activity.

Key lessons

Zagreb is truly leading by example. The key lessons from their NBS work include not to be deterred by the sheer amount of transformation needed, and that it is okay to work on things little by little.

Local partners advised workshop participants to think about and build on existing resources – whether this is land, existing green space, funds or innovative ideas. Proposed solutions should also fit into existing frameworks, while accounting for risk management, barriers (technical, institutional, socio-cultural, and financial) and the means to address these concerns.

Overall, participants agreed that Zagreb excels at spotting opportunities where others see challenges. Nature based solutions implemented in Zagreb have exceeded all expectations.

The workshop was convened in the context of the proGIreg project, within which Zagreb's impressive NBS work has taken place. It was hosted by the local Udruga Zelene I plave Sesvete (Association of Green and Blue Sesvete), and facilitated by ICLEI Europe experts alongside Zagreb municipal staff, a local institution working with children with disabilities, and Zagreb University. In May 2022, the Zagre proGIreg team will share its visionary approach in another workshop with international stakeholders, facilitated by ICLEI experts.

Learn more about proGIreg Living Lab in Zagreb here.