Candidate – Portugal
Submission by: Guimarães City Hall
Project name: Guimarães City Park, Biocultural Eco-Corridor, Landscaping Project
Guimarães is a historic city, world-renowned for its culture and heritage. Just a few minutes from the city, Penha Mountain presents a unique and diverse ecosystem. Down the slope, the urban city park can be reached through the Penha Biodiversity Route where several protected habitats and hundreds of native species can be found. Across the city park, distinct points of attraction flourish, providing recreational spaces and facilities. In harmony with the surroundings, the Gymnastic Academy of Guimarães constitutes a near-zero carbon and self-sustaining building. Heading for the city heart along the Costa/Couros River, three water basins emerge embedded in the landscape, as a contribution to climate change adaptation.
This holistic approach presents a clear connection between the Penha Mountain and the historic City Centre. Historical and cultural elements merge harmoniously with the natural heritage through an attractive and lively biocultural green corridor, leading the way in environmental sustainability.
The blue and green elements are now an integrated part of the city where meaningful places emerge, fitting in with the historical context of the site and its inhabitants. Proud of our past, we are building our future together, protecting and promoting our natural landscape. The involvement of local communities and other stakeholders was crucial for the development of the natural areas for public use.
The meadows provide several places for the delight of users and are often the target of social appropriation by the municipality´s entities. New and various uses are offered by the green corridor where users can enjoy areas for recreation, social gatherings, physical activity and environmental education. The opportunity for visitors to share remarkable moments and learn with the natural world and each other arises.
Landscape heterogeneity plays a pivotal role in the functioning of ecosystems and biodiversity conservation. Therefore, special care was taken to create a dynamic mosaic of forest habitats, open meadow areas, leafy woods and riparian zones deeply interconnected. The Penha Biodiversity Route brings together values of biodiversity and geodiversity highlighting the native species through its interpretive path with 3.5 km. Also, a reforestation plan was put into practice with the plantation of autochthonous species in place of eucalyptus as a means to regenerate the landscape.
The redevelopment and recovery project of the Costa/Couros river promoted the plantation of local riparian vegetation and the preservation of the riparian gallery in natural spaces, thus enhancing the hydrological and ecological functionality of watercourses. Indeed the natural vegetation and associated wildlife found their way within an urbanised context.
An attractive green space draws in newcomers and tourists, all of which contribute to the city´s economy. The strategy was based on the connection of the urban settings to its natural surroundings which increased the diversity of touristic experiences and ultimately makes Guimarães a destination for nature tourism. Therefore, visitors have more reasons to stay in the city for longer and can now rediscover the city through its natural heritage.
In addition, over 400 athletes are welcomed to the Gymnastics Academy of Guimarães situated in the City Park. The investment was made with the assumption of a return by producing more energy than the consumption requirements, reducing the water bill through rainwater use and also using river water for cooling systems and underground air for heating, thus reducing the energy bill required to maintain a stable internal temperature of 20ºC.
The resilient green structures contribute to a healthy urban climate and a lively city. Native trees and local riparian vegetation were used preferentially because they are adapted to the climate of the region. These dense vegetation areas help mitigate climate change in a sustainable way by providing a cooling system and decreasing the urban heat and pollution island effect. Additionally, they help reduce ultraviolet radiation and noise from road traffic and machinery and create a sort of oasis for both plants and animals.
The watercourse flows through the natural areas and crosses three dispersed stormwater retention basins before reaching the city centre. With a total retention capacity and flow control of 10,000m³, we solved the problem that was systematically affecting more than 2,000 people, due to flood events. Intervention in the banks enhanced both the landscape and the environment, by improving water quality and preventing downstream erosion.
Green environments stimulate our senses, lower our stress levels and increase our overall wellbeing. The access to the new blue-green urban spaces was made easy for public enjoyment and the opportunity to relax and appreciate nature. The natural areas encourage social interaction and deep nature connection, by creating interface places between social experiences and riverside spaces as well as an awareness of the local biodiversity.
Different multipurpose leisure areas deliver high recreational value for citizens who live and work in the vicinity as well as for tourists. Sports facilities promote both individual and group physical activities. Besides, visitors can appreciate their walk through the pedestrian trails along the margins of the watercourse all the way to the Penha Biodiversity Route, as well as cycle on the encompassing pathway. This integrative landscape appeals to a wide range of users by encouraging a natural and healthy lifestyle.
Throughout the Penha Biodiversity Route, there are 11 dispersed panels containing all the relevant information about the living fauna and flora, along with tables, benches, bicycle supports and recycling bins, all of which were completely made from 10,000 kg of recycled plastic thus contributing to the transition to a circular economy.
The surrounding vegetation is composed of a variety of native trees and ornamental grasses and shrubs. The selection of plants was in accordance with the representative ecosystems. Local volunteers helped to plant wild cherry trees and numerous oak trees.
The Municipality´s concern with constructing buildings that do not have a negative impact on the environment was realised with the development of the Gymnastics Academy of Guimarães. This building has integrated solutions designed to ensure environmental and economic sustainability which include the use of cork for the outer coating, 100% eco-friendly and certified by the Environmental Product Declaration, using natural light and ecological interior paint and a Trombe wall.
The established green and blue corridor is characterised by an integrated sustainable design of the landscape and associated buildings which occur in harmony with nature. Likewise, there is a clear connection between the natural heritage and the surrounding urban settings. The landscape varies greatly, from dense forest areas in the Penha Mountain to open meadow zones in the City Park. The all-embracing greenery creates a smooth transition between these elements which occur interconnected and contribute to the cohesion and dynamism of the local environment.
Extensive networks of pedestrian routes and bicycle pathways establish important connections to the adjacent parts of the city. With the purpose of bringing nature back into the city centre, the natural vegetation finds its way through the suburban areas all the way to the urban settings, where it is given a place to thrive.
Natural engineering revealed the Costa/Couros River as an aesthetic element that flows along the green corridor. Land remodelling enabled the watercourse to be appreciated at the same time as it emerges as a hydraulic structure, providing new and various uses, as it allows the creation of diversified areas for pedestrian use. Also, the notable sustainable architecture of the constructed facilities aligns with the green areas.
Impact on environment
The overall vision was intended to contribute to the preservation and recovery of the natural environment as well as the promotion of species-rich plant communities. The air quality is improved due to the presence of numerous trees that support the evaporation and cooling of adjacent city areas. The green areas serve as a fresh air corridor that helps improve the urban climate.
The Biodiversity Route aims at contributing to the conservation of biodiversity and all the cultural, aesthetic and scenic values of the Penha Mountain, as well as the maintenance of the harmonious presence of humans and their activities, envisioning the achievement of the rational management of natural resources and their valuation. Environmental awareness and education actions were taken to protect river biodiversity. These actions included removing waste from the river bed and banks, planting native trees, building nests for birds and shelters for insects and promoting sustainable farming practices.
The requalification and recognition of the Costa/Couros River ensures the connectivity of biological flows, matter and energy, but also improves the ecological status of the waterline. The green and blue corridor represents a key link that provides mobility for pedestrians and cyclists, thereby helping to reduce emissions.
Guimarães seeks to continuously enhance its territory on the basis of sustainable development. Leading by example, the city aims to tackle the main challenges of society by increasing public participation in the conception, design and proposal of solutions.
The green and blue corridor makes the city climate adaptive and more resilient, by creating an area with high esthetical and ecological value. It features nature, recreational space and sports facilities in close proximity with the historic city centre. The Costa/Couros River crosses the City Park constituting an essential element in the creation of ecological and landscape diversity.
Innovative multipurpose nature-based solutions for water management, collection and drainage were incorporated in the construction of the three retention basins, and sustainable technical solutions were a focal point in the development of the Gymnastics Academy of Guimarães. In particular, this building is one of the most outstanding examples of eco-innovation and, in addition to being used as a facility for the practice of sports, it contributes to environmental education and awareness, positioning itself as a true and inspiring Living Lab.
The original character of the project lies mainly in the integrative and holistic strategy meant to associate the cultural and natural heritage into a harmonious landscape. This has lead to the promotion of social, historical and environmental diversity and coherence.