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China beckons for 'green' Štiavnica

The central Slovak town Banská Štiavnica will be a finalist at the Nations in Bloom international environmental competition, also known as the 'Green Oscars', in Shenzhen November 29-December 3.
Nations in Bloom awards communities around the world for exemplary environmental practices. Over 200 communities from 50 countries were involved this year. Banská Štiavnica heads to China as one of 41 finalists.
"The competition awards those who are really solving environmental issues: the local people. It's all very well for parliament to say 'we're going to make your city's air cleaner', but real people at local levels are going to make the changes," said Nations in Bloom's Alan Smith.


The town has won praise for emphasising environment friendly policies.
photo: Ján Svrček

The central Slovak town Banská Štiavnica will be a finalist at the Nations in Bloom international environmental competition, also known as the 'Green Oscars', in Shenzhen November 29-December 3.

Nations in Bloom awards communities around the world for exemplary environmental practices. Over 200 communities from 50 countries were involved this year. Banská Štiavnica heads to China as one of 41 finalists.

"The competition awards those who are really solving environmental issues: the local people. It's all very well for parliament to say 'we're going to make your city's air cleaner', but real people at local levels are going to make the changes," said Nations in Bloom's Alan Smith.

"The US, for example, can rip up a global agreement on the environment because it doesn't suit them anymore, they just say that they won't play by the rules because it could hurt them economically. So the competition awards communities, the people who really make a difference," he added.

Banská Štiavnica has made it to the finals three times before, but has never won their population category. However, the town mayor and Slovak environmentalists say the outcome this year could be different.

"This will be our fourth time in the finals and we think we have a good chance to win. Of course we would like to win, and we think the city is a good example for Slovakia. It's not easy to be environmentally correct, but we feel we've done a good job," said Banská Štiavnica Mayor Marián Lichner.

Mikuláš Huba, the chairman of Slovakia's Society for Sustainable Living, said that because the town is home to a branch of Zvolen University's Faculty of Ecology - where Slovak Environment Minister László Miklós once taught - the town emphasised environmentally-friendly policies.

"Banská Štiavnica looks better than most cities, it works better, there are more activists there. The town does not really have any environmental negatives. Plus Minister Miklós is a big patriot of Banská Štiavnica," Huba said.

To compete, cities must submit a 4,000 word presentation of their communities, Smith explained. The documents are then examined by a panel of international judges who rate the submissions according to five criteria: enhancement of the landscape, heritage management, use of environmentally sensitive practices, community involvement and planning for the future.

Banská Štiavnica, which is known for its rich mining tradition and well-preserved Old Town, has traditionally scored highly in the heritage management category. The town has won the Heritage Management prize, one of five consolation awards given to cities who do not win their category, the past two years running.

The finalists compete in five population categories, with Banská Štiavnica vying this year against four towns - Clonakilty, Co. Cork, Ireland, Clonroche, Newbawn, Co. Dublin, Ireland, Kiihtelysvaara, Finland, and Minehead, England - in the up to 10,000 inhabitants category.

Other participating cities include Soroti, Uganda in the 10,001-50,000 category, Whittlesea, Australia in the 50,001-300,000 category, Stuttgart, Germany in the 300,001-1,000,000 category, and Los Angeles, California in the over 1,000,000 category.

In Shenzhen, the finalists will give an hour presentation of their communities and will then be subject to a "fairly robust question session" by the judges, Smith said. The official language of the competition is English, but Slovakia will be one of five delegations using a translator.

The victorious communities receive no financial award. "Although next year that will change and we will begin awarding prizes up to 10,000 pounds. So while winners now receive public and media attention, which can be used to attract tourism or investment, next year we'll actually be offering cash awards," Smith said.

Even cities who fail to capture a category walk away winners, Smith continued.

"There is a massive exchange of information at the competitions, and it often results in cooperation between different communities dealing with various environmental problems. That's what it's all about, not who wins or loses, because they are all winning really."

Mayor Lichner agreed, noting that his town had cooperated with Ptuj, Slovenia on implementing a water purification system.

"We have worked with them by sharing practical information and solving the problem together," he said. The town has sent city officials to Ptuj to gain first-hand information, he continued, and future cooperation is planned.

When asked to handicap the field at this year's final, Smith said Banská Štiavnica had a strong chance of winning their category.

"I'm not a judge, but I can say that Banská Štiavnica has improved each year and they are right up there with all the competitors.

"It's quite likely they'll walk away with an award this year."

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