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Our 4th ECN Meeting in Valongo: Building Green Cities


It has been a whole year since thirteen cities first formed the European Capital of Democracy City Network. At our fourth and final meeting with just the first cohort, we arrived in the Municipality of Valongo to discuss Building Green Cities. 


Valongo is well-placed to host a meeting on this topic – located just outside Porto, Valongo faces the challenges of urban sprawl and the constant movement of people and goods in and out of northern Portugal’s largest city. Valongo Going Green has been launched under the passionate leadership of Mayor José Ribeiro to unite the municipality, citizens, experts, and civil society organisations to work towards a greener future together. 


The first day began with a presentation from the Environment Department about the work being done to protect the biodiversity and integrity of the unique river and mountain scapes of the municipality. We then began the first part of the design sprint to tackle the main challenges faced by our network members in terms of Building Green Cities. Each city presented their challenge and we began by collecting ideas related to the challenges and mapping the stakeholders involved. We wrapped up the first workshop session by creating personas of the stakeholders affected by the two challenges selected as a focus for these sessions. 


After lunch, members of the Environment Department showed us a nearby Bioteca – a mini book-exchange station planted with herbs and flowers – as well as an urban gardening space, before showing us the recently regenerated Leça River Leisure Park. 

We escaped the heat with a short break back at the hotels before rejoining for a group dinner at a local restaurant. Afterall, no trip to Portugal would be complete without experiencing the warmest hospitality and the delicious local cuisine! 


The following day’s workshop saw us focusing on solutions to the two main challenges selected by our network members: engaging the community in reducing the use of private vehicles, and creating multipurpose green spaces. Despite the different focus of these two challenges, solutions oriented around one central point – an effective public transport system, co-designed with users in mind. Overall, our network members found the design sprint methodology to be a helpful tool to cut through the complexity of difficult problems, with the fast pace leading to a more flexible thought-process and more creative outcomes.


In the afternoon we were able to experience some of Valongo’s rich cultural heritage in baking as we made our own biscuits according to a traditional recipe at the local Regueifa and Biscoito Workshop. Then to the mountains which overlook the municipality, guided by members of the Environment Department who explained the challenges they face due to invasive species and large plantations owned by paper companies. 


A final farewell dinner in Porto overlooking the river rounded off the trip, as we look ahead to welcoming new members to the City Network at our next meeting in the autumn in Barcelona! This meeting proved to us all that despite the different contexts of our cities, we all face common problems and can benefit from the experience and knowledge of our colleagues across Europe when it comes to facing these challenges in an innovative and effective way. 

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