Gray Inside and Green Outside

Bolzano: a Place of Contradictions and Hopes

Chiara Galimberti and Margherita Pascucci guide us through the Bolzano green revolution.

Chiara Galimberti and Margherita Pascucci are part of the LAND team that developed the Green Space Plan as the consummate tool for the city’s sustainable development. The local government council finally approved it in March 2022 – now it’s a matter of implementing the plan as a programmatic guideline.

Chaotic traffic and construction noise greet visitors exiting the Bolzano train station. Just a stone’s throw away, a new urban district is rising up behind the dust-covered trees of the gardens in front of the train station. This so-called “Walther Park,” built by a controversial Austrian investor, resembles not so much a park as an office and commercial space, complete with parking lot. It will bring even more people and traffic to the already densely built-up urban space of South Tyrol’s capital city, population 108,000. “As if we needed more of this,” grumbles Chiara Galimberti. “Bolzano is gray inside and green outside,” laments Margherita Pascucci.

Gray inside and green outside: nothing exemplifies this contrast more as you drift away from the city on the Rittner cable car just behind the station, soaring over arable fields and cultivated pastureland.

Gray inside and green outside: nothing exemplifies this contrast more as you drift away from the city on the Rittner cable car just behind the station, soaring over arable fields and cultivated pastureland. Here and there cows graze. At the final stop in Oberbozen, where tourists can get on the narrow-gauge railway or take hiking trails across the high plateau, we take a short walk through the pastureland under a warm October sun. Unlike the view from Bolzano, which is trapped in the valley basin, here the vista is unbelievably wide, with a bright blue sky and a panoramic view of the peaks of the Dolomites with glaciers, rocks or forested slopes. According to Chiara, the landscape from the Rittner cable car shows “a typical South Tyrolean relationship between open land and wooded areas.” At the same time, she complains that the lovely, gleaming green meadows are overfertilized, which negatively affects biodiversity. “There is something artificial about what tourists think is pure Nature.”

On the return trip, apart from slight jerks as we pass each cable car mast pole, we gently float back into the city. Densely built up and crisscrossed by highways and railway lines, a gray urban mass emerges between the rivers Eisack, Talfer and Etsch. A distinctive green strip can barely be made out along the Talferbach stream. “We have a lot to do here.” According to Margherita, what’s really lacking is public green spaces as opposed to private ones. As if Nature were something foreign to the public.

The Green Space Plan includes a whole series of measures designed to change this. Numerous small actions are planned: expanding a green space here, planting new trees there, opening up old streams cemented under the street pavement, or new strips of green along the banks of the Eisack. Natural interventions at dozens of points, like ecological acupuncture, aimed at revitalizing the city’s gray skin and creating green and blue infrastructure. A 16-hectare site behind the train station, unused since 2010, offers similar possibilities. Closed off to us by a high fence, it will be part of a future project. The Bolzano train station is supposed to be relocated and open land reclaimed for densification, but until this actually happens (the project is controversial) Margherita has hopes for interim solutions that build on and develop the “splendid biodiversity” of this area, which has been essentially untouched for a decade.

We need trees, trees, trees. Natural surfaces cool residential areas and reduce air pollution and noise. But when it gets warm, people prefer to go to the green countryside, to the inns and their balconies decorated with flowering geraniums, rather than worry about climate change.

Esther March of the Office for LAND Use Planning

At a street cafe, we meet up with Esther March of the Office for Land Use Planning, who along with others fiercely fought for the Masterplan that LAND developed. Certainly, there had been a “participatory process” in developing the plan, with input from associations, stakeholders, and the citizenry, but public interest had been disappointingly low. And a day like today, with hot summer temperatures despite it being early October, shows that the city will continue to become overheated. “We need trees, trees, trees.” Natural surfaces cool residential areas and reduce air pollution and noise. But when it gets warm, people prefer to go to the green countryside, to the inns and their balconies decorated with flowering geraniums, rather than worry about climate change. On the other hand, a climate protection alliance of over 60 civil society organizations has set itself the goal of raising awareness among politicians and the public. Anyone out and about in Bolzano swings back and forth between conflict and hope.

Chiara explains, for example, how much effort it took to convince the administration and citizens to embrace sustainable use of the overgrown former Sigmundskron landfill on the south bank of the Adige River.

One of Chiara’s favorite projects can be found on the Virgl, Bolzano‘s wooded local mountain on the other side of the Eisack River. The brothers Philipp and Peter Rier, amiable planners and landscape architects who work together with LAND, take us up there on an adventuresome road trip. Investors, showing an appetite for speculation, are thinking about developing “exclusive” luxury tourism around the ruins of a hotel building. In contrast, there are plans to develop Virgl mountain as an urban recreation area. One of its pathways would also use the planned Ring Promenade, a 33-km pedestrian path around the city that would develop along both existing paths and those slated for expansion. Chiara is enthusiastic about the project, which would create a network of agricultural areas, urban spaces, forested regions, and places of cultural interest. A circular trail “that would also create an experiential framework for all other projects in the urban space.”

Chiara and Margherita unanimously agree that it’s ultimately a matter of shifting the citizenry’s focus from outward green to inward green – “Because green, that is Nature, is not just something decorative, but rather a fundamental need.”

Text: Henning Klüver

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