Clean, Green, Repeat – Nature-based solutions replication in Zagreb

Clean, Green, Repeat – Nature-based solutions replication in Zagreb

23 February 2022

ProGIreg Living Lab in Zagreb has been successfully introducing nature-based solutions to revive the post-industrial areas in the Sesvete district and is now on a mission to spread them further. In February 2022, the Living Lab held a workshop with stakeholders from Zagreb and nearby cities to engage them to implement nature-based solutions. What does replication of nature-based solutions entail? In the context of proGIreg replication will be done locally and internationally, with the help of the lessons learned in the front-runner cities such as Zagreb. The experiences in proGIreg Living Lab has proven that stakeholder engagement is crucial for success.

The workshop in the Living Lab info centre in Sesvete district, was hosted by local association Udruga Zelene I plave Sesvete - ZIPS (Association of Green and Blue Sesvete). First municipal staff working with urban planning and the office for strategic planning and development, alongside representatives from ICLEI Europe (a network of local governments committed to sustainability), Mali Dom (local institution working with children with disabilities) and ZIPS and Zagreb University, gather to discuss replication of nature-based solutions and reflect on successes and challenges in the Living Lab. This was followed by the gathering of Croatian movers and shakers; educators, mayors, municipal staff, researchers and civil society, interested in nature-based solutions to learn about the experiences, with a visit to the Living Lab. The aim of the workshop was to highlight both challenges in the process so participants get a realistic picture of implementation, and teach how the city of Zagreb managed to integrate the work done in proGIreg into larger infrastructure plans in the city and national/global environmental frameworks. The workshop entailed a visualisation exercise where participants were able to plan a nature-based solution in a specific area to help support planning in a concrete context.

Photo: Workshop

The Living Lab’s mini-farm, with its modular ‘LEGO-Concept’, was analysed in the workshop to assess the building blocks of a successful nature-based solutions. The mini-farm has proven great in engaging people with nature and educating about its potential in cities. Its innovative modular design also means less bureaucracy, as it requires no permits and can be moved to other sites, for example schools. Other municipalities have an opportunity to copy these elements, as they are simple. Last but not least, the mini-farm provides sustenance; the aquaponics inside the mini-farm host Tilapia fish, to provide nutrients to the vegetables and herbs grown inside and on the green roof and walls of the mini-farm. The green wall features mostly perennial plants and herbs (chives, rosemary, basil, thyme etc), that potentially can last several seasons. Currently the mini-farm is coming out of the winter hibernation and is seeing some new green growth.

Photo: Minifarm

The successful Therapeutic Garden in the Living Lab saw thorough planning from the municipality and university, with analysis of several locations within the Living Lab, that were assessed for being accessible, without development plans, owned by the city and the connections to other natural areas to ensure its longevity. Many schools have contacted ZIPS and Mali Dom proactively to have children come in the garden, and the innovative garden has garnered a lot of local media attention and created a need for ‘therapeutic gardeners’. Especially for children with disabilities, the gardens has been sought out by parents to allow a safe public space for activities such as urban farming. The therapeutic garden is in year around use, with some features such as the urban farming work continues as spring commences. The sensory path in the garden has been well used, which invites users to touch with feet or hands the different surfaces for some tactile mindfulness. The garden allows for spaces for respite, contemplation and activity.

Photo: Therapeutic garden

Mali Dom has found it crucial to coordinate with other entities to help support activities in the Living Lab. In additions to schools, cultural organisations have joined to spur activities in the Living Lab; a popular theatre play was held that gathered children with disabilities and those without, in a common activity to help also bust myths about disability. The host ZIPS uses the space for activities for children with disabilities in the info centre, such as a regular advanced chess club (the players do well nationally), workshops with art and design.

Photo: proGIreg info centre, managed by ZIPS

In addition to environmental, educational and social benefits, there is economic potential in implementing nature-based solutions, such as touristic value. Especially as Croatia is a ‘tourism’ oriented country, there is an increasing recognition in the value of sustainable tourism. Further, the aesthetic benefits can help inspire green development in other parts of the city.

Zagreb is truly leading by example, the key lesson from the Living Lab is not to be deterred by the sheer amount of transformation needed, and how it is ok to work on things little by little. The local partners advised participants to think about existing resources – whether its land, existing green space, funds or innovative idea. Then once there is a plan for a solution, one should look into how it fits into existing frameworks. Throughout it is crucial to consciously manage risks, take into account barriers (technical, institutional, socio-cultural, and financial) and to have the means to address difficult situations and unplanned obstacles.

However, the most important thing – which Zagreb excels at – is to see opportunities, where others see challenges, e.g. as is with the case of the existing brownfield site of the Living Lab. All participants agreed that the implemented nature-based solutions in Zagreb have surpassed all expectations. In May 2022, the Living Lab will share its visionary approach in another workshop with international stakeholders. Learn more about the Zagreb Living Lab here. Watch the interview on the nature-based solutions process with proGIreg partner Iva Bedenko, architecht at City of Zagreb below.


This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 innovation action programme under grant agreement no. 776528. The sole responsibility for the content of this website lies with the proGIreg project and in no way reflects the views of the European Union.