The Global Dobrich St. George Park is one of the first in Bulgaria

The Global Dobrich

Leading experts, business persons and professionals from all over the world exchangеd expertise, know-how and inspiration and made plans for sustainable development in Dobrich – a regional centre in the North-East of Bulgaria. What brought them together was not yet another UN or World Bank project, but their love and commitment to their home town. Coincidentally a few days after their meeting in May, Dobrich was announced to be the greenest city in Bulgaria.

A global gathering

For many years, both the city and the region were among the economic leaders in Bulgaria based on different indicators. As time passed, however, those indicators began to diminish and had a significant impact on the population overall. People began to migrate to different parts of the country or even abroad looking for a better life. While in 1989 the city had a population of over 130, 000, the data for 2015 shows that it has been reduced to 86,000. After the changes during the autumn of 1989, the region began to slowly lose its charm. People gradually left their homes in an attempt to find a better livelihood in other Bulgarian cities or even abroad.

Currently, the only well-developed sector in Dobrich is agriculture, and according to a report from the Institute for Market Economics published in 2016, the GDP, incomes and salaries of the region are still lower than average. Any recovery in the job market has been difficult to achieve as well, especially given education in the area is worse than ever before and workers are left without the skills they need. GDP per person in the area is also far lower at 7,802 leva (€4,000) compared to the national average of 11,574 leva (€5,900). In 2014, the average gross salary per year for the region of Dobrich was 7,581 leva (€3,900) and 9,860 leva (€5,000)for the country as a whole.

So, whether possessed by the spirit of their ancestors who created the first city park back in 1867 or the ambition to make it a better place for their children, contributors from different parts of Bulgaria as well as the world gathered to discuss the future of Dobrich together. Their initiative was entitled Global Dobrich, and their purpose was to generate ideas and solutions for problems in the region. The very first activity was a civic forum called “A city in the future time” where different experts presented ideas on how to revive the area.

everyone who feels they are a citizen of Dobrich is more than welcome with their experience and ideas

The creator of the idea for Global Dobrich is Plamen Peev, a lawyer and specialist in international politics for sustainable development. He lives in Estonia but was born in Bulgaria, and, like most of his fellow citizens abroad, he misses his homeland. “We wanted to gather people who are somehow connected to the city, no matter if they live here, somewhere else in Bulgaria or around the world. This is why we called it Global Dobrich – everyone who feels they are a citizen of Dobrich is more than welcome with their experience and ideas”, said Peev.

In 2016, Peev was the author of the strategy for adapting Bulgarian legislation to the vision of sustainable use of ecosystems along the Black Sea, a project that was in collaboration with Balkani Wildlife Society, BlueLink Foundation and the Norwegian GRID in Arendal.

Dobrich. Photo: Ivan Kolev/Euromegdan

A history of being green

Strong civil activity and love for the environment are nothing new to the residents of Dobrich. During the 1950s, the citizens of Hadzhooglu Pazardzhik (the old name) had asked for a city park. They desired not just a regular park, but one like the those found in Vienna. The more active citizens (nationals of the Ottoman Empire back then) gathered together, called in experts and created the long-wanted park on top of what had been just a dump. Before the decision was made to create a park, there had been plans for a market in the exact same spot. The park opened in 1867 and set the stage for the city’s dedication to being green.

A century and a half later the citizens have gathered for a second time, and despite all the modern inventions, they picked a dedication to being green once again. According to Nadezhda Pamporova, architect in the “Dobrozhuntsi” organisation, the only thing which people care about is clean living and food. “In other words, it is all about ecology. Because of this we would like to pay more attention to this field, to develop this branch so that people have the feeling that this is a good place to live”, she said. Her organisation’s focus is on educating young people about ecology. Recently, the group began the ambitious idea of building a village where the houses would be made only of ecological materials. They also intend to present food products there that are produced in Dobrich and other villages in the region as well. “Besides, we would like this not to be only a village but to turn into a place for people who stand by the idea of ecology”, Pamporova added.

and despite all the modern inventions, they picked a dedication to being green once again

Dobrich is a region perfectly suited to the development of ecosystems, and further proof came of this when, at the end of May, the Minister of Environment and Waters, Neno Dimov, awarded Dobrich for being the greenest city in Bulgaria for 2016. The city was also given the award for the “best city for living” in the annual standings of “Darik Radio”. Dobrich was chosen because its air was less polluted with fine dust molecules, which are categorised into FDM10, molecules with a diameter under 10 microns, and FDM2.5,  molecules with a diameter of less than 2.5 microns. The data showed that Dobrich has maintained the same level of air quality for the last three years. “I am impressed by the indicators of Dobrich, and we will try to bring this practice to other cities as well”, said the Minister. He added that his policy will be aimed at improving the quality of the atmospheric air throughout the country.

One of the other big ideas of Global Dobrich is to create a market for eco products. The initiative has turned out to be a difficult venture due to legal and administrative obstacles as most of the retailers do not have the needed certificates to directly sell their eco products. According to Plamen Peev, they should look to Sofia as an example where a similar market exists and has been successful due to changes in legislation that made it easier to qualify as a retailer.

Dimitar Subev, an author of various books and investigations in the field of economics and the sustainable use of natural resources, claims that Dobrich, being a city in the periphery, has the natural conditions necessary for developing green production. During discussions, a clear idea was set forth for establishing a “circle economy”: the waste from different factories would be used for generating power. As it turns out, the region of Dobrich is in fact one of the pioneers in this field in Bulgaria thanks to the seaside resort Albena. The group has been practising aspects of a circle economy for years by developing its own production of clean agricultural products and using the waste from resort guests for generating bio energy for its own consumption as well as to trade.

Boyan Kolarov combines active citizenship and his job as the deputy mayor of Dobrich. Photo: Ivan Kolev/Euromegan

The forum was a success on another level as well: it was the first citizens’ activity to be supported by the city hall. Or at least this is what Boyan Kolarov, architect, deputy mayor of Dobrich and, at the same time, a representative of the citizens as part of the “Citizens and more” foundation, claimed. His position in the local administration proves that the wall between citizens and those in power is already cracked and can be completely destroyed. “The strategic point of view for the future of our community through the eyes of the city hall is what we are aiming for”, said Kolarov. For him it is of utmost importance to bring this initiative to realisation by people who love their home city and are determined to try to make it greener. Their ultimate goal is to attract those who have left the city to come back and also attract new residents to come and settle here.

Tourism for people and nature

The chairman of the Institute for Evaluation and Analyzation of Tourism, Rumen Draganov, confirmed that Dobrich has an excellent condition for developing sustainable tourism. “There is no conflict between keeping the environment clean and knowing its value on the one hand and making profit by developing the business on the other”, explained Draganov. On the contrary, tourism could benefit a lot more from the sustainable use of nature and the ecosystems, according to him. The expert believes that innovative solutions for managing Dobrich as a tourist destination are directly connected to its ability to conserve natural resources and provide quality products at the same time.

Another result from the forum was the proposal to create a tourist business park with a centre in Dobrich. The idea includes a nature-social territory system where the various ecosystems services protect the surrounding environment while also offering attractions and benefits such as hunting, fishing, camping, wooden and rope parks, and even archaeological sites to explore. Bio markets fall into this idea as well. In this way, providing conditions for the sustainable development of tourism guarantees the sustainability of ecosystems and the responsible use of their resources. “It is also key for business to take part in realising this idea, and, because of this, the chamber of commerce and industry in Dobrich is also taking part in this plan”, said Peev.

Sounds like going green can be a win-win for all. And perhaps soon, visitors, as well as permanent settlers, will be reaping the benefits of Dobrich’s global supporters.

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