Participation at SMART-Y Final Conference

Brussels, 20th April 2023.

My answers to some of the questions asked at the SMART-Y closing panel, “Making Rural Europe Smarter!”, moderated by Maria Kola from Cyprus Youth Council.

MK: How can the creation of more green spaces in the cities, be promoted across Europe? And how that can benefit a more sustainable mobility?

MJT: I’m inspired by the simple ideas like green corridors, connected spaces that can become the green lungs of an area. Which would include bike lanes and pedestrianized zones, but also a continuous stream of wild flowers and suitable plants for bees and other insect life. Looking at a map of your area, can you trace a green corridor, or multiple ones?

I imagine this like a subway system – maybe better to call it a monorail – for bees and insects. Which might start in a valley, than be part of a roof garden, then curated wild plants on a secondary road. It would include trees, certainly those indigenous to the area, creating natural shade. And lowering therefore the ground temperature. Additionally any tarmac will be used only where needed, and not in dark mode.

You’d add lighting for safety of cyclists and runners, dog walkers and families. But it would be done so as not to disturb birds disturbed by light pollution.

I truly believe that on a local level we can be implementing rather simple ideas with more efficiency and efficacy. And these could be projects that hit multiple aims at once, including making low-impact, local travel more sustainable, and natural pathways for insect life.

Another thing which applies to both cities and villages would be the implementation of “15-minute cities” – when everything you need to meet your basic needs is within reach of a 15 minute walk or cycle, then your quality of life can increase. Not only that, better pedestrianized areas near local shops will increase foot traffic and sales for small businesses.

Finally, on transport – We are surrounded by systems that are constantly creating data, including location based data. By using information from our bus system, to create a heat map of demand. To use information from traffic reports. To use information related to e-scooters and cab use. Of course all in an anonymized way. But these overlapping heat maps would tell us the most urgent routes to introduce first when we are focusing on Bus Rapid Transit, express services, specific time slots, reserved lanes etc. Of course all this to be done in a way that respects data privacy, and also the environment.

MK: How can young people be benefited from the newly commenced Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) in related to sustainable tourism and the fact that there are large numbers of young people leaving the big cities to live in the rural areas of their countries and try to keep those areas alive and vibrant.

MJT: I think it is important to be aware of the history of this policy at the European level since the 50s and how it stemmed from a need for food security. To simplify things massively, some of the actions taken then have led to some of the systemic issues we must tackle now. The CAP as it is now is far from perfect, and that is also because of the lobbying of big industrial farms.

When we consider sustainable tourism therefore within these sort of strategies I think it is better to focus on the Farm to Fork Strategy. Our food system is broken, why is fruit grown in South America packaged and peeled in South-East Asia and consumed in Europe? Any increased demands for food brought by tourism in certain areas continue to contribute to these broken cycles. Supporting local farmers in rural areas, including through farming cooperatives, to provide food to smaller establishments that is seasonal produce can be a great way to start.

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