» Congress of Gijón
Between 19 and 21 October 2000 in Gijón (Asturias, Spain), more than 150 experts and Greenway managers and representatives from 8 countries discussed the current and future situation of the Greenways.
The sponsorship of the Principality of Asturias and Gijón City Council , the collaboration of the European Union Commission and the Spanish Ministry of the Environment, the support of the European Environment Agency and RENFE, the financial aid provided by Probisa and the organizational skills of the Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles (Spanish Railway Foundation) and the Asociación Europea de Vías Verdes AEVV - European Greenways Association EGWA , both of whom gave technical support, together with the work and experience of the congress delegates, made it possible to reach the following CONCLUSIONS :
- Special emphasis is placed on the exceptional progress currently being made by the Greenways in Europe (whose excellent reputation has already spread to other parts of the world, leading to the start of their development in South America). In particular, the United Nations Habitat 2000 Prize awarded to the Spanish Greenways Programme acknowledges the leading role played by the Greenways in the improvement of citizens' standard of living and their contribution to sustainable development.
- Taking as reference the definition of Greenways included in the Guide to Good Greenway Practices in Europe , published by the AEVV-EGWA under the auspices of the European Commission, in keeping with other similar definitions (such as the one included in the Association's Statutes or the one recently presented by the REVER - REd VERde ('Green Network') Work Group of North-East Europe), there is a fundamental coincidence in the concepts attributed to the Greenways: their extraordinary strength as a new product aimed at satisfying society's needs with respect to sustainable mobility, outdoor exercise, the development of new forms of active tourism, the increase in the value of rural areas and the creation of jobs in these areas, the fulfillment of environmental objectives and the respectful treatment of nature.
- As a fundamental aspect of the Greenways, the important value of the former railway structures and the canal service paths , their reclamation and use as Greenways and the maintenance of public control over them represent common characteristics which give them such strength as a multi-functional resource :
- their autonomy with respect to motorized traffic , thereby enabling the users to cover long distances without coming into contact with cars, lorries and motorbikes.
- their safety , which mainly stems from the aforementioned characteristic, but which is also due to their design and the protective elements and lighting, etc. installed during the reclamation phase.
- their comfort and convenience for the user, a consequence of the gentle gradients imposed by both the original railway lines and their relation to paths which run alongside gentle water currents. These features have a fundamental effect on the universal nature of the Greenways, i.e. they can be used by all kinds of people, particularly people with physical disabilities, children and pensioners.
- Also, in general terms, emphasis is placed on the importance of integrating three basic elements into the development of the Greenways in order to ensure their success:
- The Infrastructures of the Greenway itself, from the walking/cycling surfaces to the element which provide access, protection and added comfort
- the Services which make the use of the Greenways easier and more attractive, largely based on the restoration of the station buildings, but also the cultural and environmental education services relating to each particular Greenway which need to be continually developed.
- Information , both that which is available on the Greenway itself (signposts, kilometric landmarks, educational and interpretive panels,...) and that relating to the diffusion and knowledge of each Greenway and the Greenway network as a whole, using and respecting a homogeneous brand image.
- The inherent characteristics of the Greenways and these basic elements which shape their development constitute their differentiating qualities as a " new and different product " and, taken as a whole, allow us to confidently state that the current situation of the Greenways is very healthy , reflected by their great popularity with the public and the significant amount of coverage in the general and specialized media .
- At the moment, there is a transition from a phase in which most of the activity focused on the physical development of the Greenways to another in which the main concern relates to their Management and Promotion . In this situation, a series of strengths and weaknesses of have been identified and, as a result, the following Recommendations are made:
- As a fundamental point, very closely linked to the strength and assessment of the concept, the Name and Image of the Greenways , without any exception whatsoever , should be adopted, both for identification purposes, so that the current or potential user may immediately detect the inherent characteristics of the Greenways which differentiate them from other products, and also with regard to the widespread use of common logos and signposting/information elements for all the Greenways, at least at a national level, for the purpose of reinforcing such differentiating characteristics.
- Reinforcing Quality , from the designs (taking special care during the feasibility and design definition phases, which must be based on participation processes and local involvement) to the execution of works (which must fully comply with the project designs and the general designs of the Greenways).
- Developing and promoting "Greenways" Quality Labels , encouraging their adoption and management from the European Greenways Association , as an evaluation system which ensures the fulfillment of the concepts and characteristics described above, both during the initial phases and opening of each Greenway and throughout its life, positively undertaking to maintain and manage them.
- Developing the legal aspects relating to the ownership of each Greenway, guaranteeing that they remain public property of general interest , linked to the protection of the environment, sustainable development and mobility, health and social welfare, and the promotion of balanced territorial development policies.
- Examining in greater detail and clearly defining the aspects relating to Civil Liability and Insurance which guarantees cover of the risks for the managers of each Greenway or section of the latter.
- Ensuring the effectiveness of the Surveillance which prevents vandalism and improper use of the Greenways, especially by motorized vehicles, developing and applying Rules, Regulations and Byelaws on a sufficiently strong legal and administrative basis, with the capacity to discourage offences and impose penalties.
- Considering the Maintenance and Cleaning of the Greenways as a fundamental aspects of management, whose non-fulfillment may lead to loss of the Quality Label.
- Being acutely aware that unauthorized motor vehicles cause serious damage to the Greenways which do not strictly comply with this rule of exclusion, both in terms of the image of the Greenway and due to the defects and deteriorations which soon begin to appear on the surface and which give rise to the need for further significant investments in order to ensure the minimum level of quality required.
- Considering the great efficiency of management provided by the creation of specifically-run Consortiums or Foundations which are responsible for the promotion, maintenance, cleaning, surveillance and control, among other important aspects, of each Greenway; and the creation of this type of entity (or the assignation of similar, clearly defined responsibilities to existing local entities) as a more appropriate instrument for managing and ensuring the successful operation of the Greenway.
- Promoting the establishment of Greenway development observatories which not only quantitatively but also qualitatively provide information about the evolution of Greenway initiatives and the progress of the existing Greenways in terms of demand and their effect on activities in the area. It would be desirable for these Observatories to have an international scope in order to be able to integrate national initiatives within those of a wider scope, for which purpose it would be very useful to count on the support of the European Commission and/or the European Environment Agency.
- As a Promotion strategy, the Congress recommends the consolidation of the National Greenway Day , as well as the launch of a European Greenway Day , continuing the tradition of holding the Greenway celebration on the second Sunday of May.
- Together with the importance attached to the Communication Media , the Congress recommends the ever-increasing use of the Internet by creating and developing Web pages devoted to the Greenways (such as the Spanish viasverdes.com page or the European Association's aevv-egwa.org page), creating links among all of them in order to establish an extensive network of shared information. Apart from the specific pages of each initiative or Greenway, the development of similar information to be incorporated into the aforementioned national/international Web pages is recommended, with special attention being paid to their multilingual nature.
- Taking maximum advantage of the opportunity to launch differentiated tourist offers based on the special characteristics of the Greenways, such as the recent and enormously successful Magic Tour of the Spanish Greenways . The potential market, which is already beginning to emerge, for the "new Greenways product" is extraordinarily broad, as proved by the experiments and studies which are now becoming available. In this respect, it is important to offer further editions of the Magic Tour of the Greenways during 2001, once again with the collaboration of Turespaña and regional and local organizations, thereby consolidating it as a leading tourist product within the active tourism sector.
Especially with regard to the aforementioned legal aspects, Civil Liability and Insurance, Control and Surveillance, the Congress recommends the development of common solutions based on certain experiments already presented, with sufficient legal backing in order to facilitate their general application by the local and regional entities responsible for each initiative.
- The strategy of future development of the Greenways involves interconnecting the Greenways which are currently isolated, integrating Green Networks in which the Greenways constitute the main nucleus of quality and considerable homogeneity, following the example set by the REVER Project (European Green Network concerning the AMNO North-East Europe area, from Ireland to Northern France, Luxemburg and Belgium), coordinated by the AEVV-EGWA.
- Following this example, the Congress recommends promoting the development of a similar REVER project aimed at the regions of the EU which make up the Western Mediterranean , from Italy to Southern France, the Spanish Mediterranean area and southern Portugal, suggesting that the European Community's Interreg III structural funds be requested for this purpose. In this respect, importance is attached to the leading role played by the Region of Valencia, a founding member of the AEVV-EGWA, and the interest shown by the French AF-3V and by the representative of the Grupo Interdisciplinar de Reflexión (Inter-Disciplinary Think-Tank Group) GIR Maralpin for the inclusion of the French-Italian trans-frontier connection in the coastal Alpine area.
- Following the priority strategy of development of networks, the Congress delegates support the Declaration for a European Green Network (which is attached), stemming from the recent Day Conferences held in Lille (France) about the REVER / AMNO project.
- In accordance with the Lille Declaration, the European Greenways Association AEVV-EGWA is encouraged to reinforce its role vis-à-vis the European Union Commission by participating in the Greenways Advisory Committee which has been requested, as well as creating a Permanent Green Network Mission on an EU-wide scale.
- As a final Conclusion, the International Congress held in Gijón (Asturias):
- Highlights the role of the Greenways as a means of protecting the former railway heritage for the use and enjoyment of our future generations.
- Confirms the important role which the Greenways already play as a future space which allows the rediscovery and promotion of sustainable forms of transport, which allows the creation of jobs, which facilitates the reduction of the pressure of tourism on coastal areas by creating new options in inland areas, which encourages environmental awareness, a love of nature and the enjoyment of outdoor leisure pursuits.
- And, most importantly, consolidates the role played by the Greenways as a space of learning and co-existence among guests and hosts, among people from different cultures and social strata, among different generations, among very different countries, in the hope of achieving a balanced, mutually shared and peaceful progress among all citizens .
Gijon, 21 October 2000