Interview for the Mayor of Budapest District II, Mr. Őrsi Gergely

Budapest District II is full of natural attractions, such as the Buda mountains, caves and forests and important works of Hungarian architecture. How is this rich cultural and natural heritage contributing to touristic activities and shaping the urban space and the daily lives of the residents of Budapest?

District II is a popular residential area in Budapest. It is bordered by the river Danube to the east, and it builds on the Buda hills to the west.  The attractive force is based on the rich vegetation of the nice rolling hills, mountains fit for making excursions and the spas with thermal springs. Rare plant and animal species can be found among our hills. However, our most important asset is the calm and high standard living environment we ensure to the people living here, with special attention paid to keep public areas clean and tidy, to take care of the green areas and parks, and to preserve the built heritage.

Foreign tourists like mostly the medicinal baths and health resorts of the district. The Saint Lucas health resort and the Veli bey spa are both very popular. King spa, having been built by Sokoli Mustafa is unfortunately closed for an indefinite period of time waiting for reconstruction. Prices for the entry tickets to medicinal baths have increased due to skyrocketing energy prices, but residents of the district above the age of 65 are provided a discount for their use.

Difficult traffic situations occur at the major tourist attractions, but popular tour destinations and touristic places could remain cosy and intimate within the district. We find traffic infrastructure development and restriction of car traffic of paramount importance.

Highly attractive parts of the built environment in the district include the cultural heritage of Ottoman architecture, visited by not only Hungarian and Turkish tourists, but by a number of other nationalities.

The tomb of Gül Baba has become a true pilgrim site.

After Finike, your district recently became the twin city of Beşiktaş. 2024 will also be celebrated as the ‘Hungarian-Turkish Year of Culture’, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties and friendship between the two countries. How do these diplomatic relations contribute to international cultural and economic cooperation?

Diplomatic relations help to get acquainted with a number of good practices. In addition to become familiar with each other’s culture, it is of utmost importance to apply well proven good practices in District II which have an excellent track record elsewhere, and we are confident that we can also show some good examples. Although problems are almost never identical, learning about any attempts to provide solutions or to apply methods may assist in more effective and more successful work. In addition we are also confident that our sister towns will offer the opportunity to take part in several joint projects and we may pay special attention to fostering our common historical values. We plan to organise joint events with the Gül Baba Cultural Heritage Conservation Public Foundation in order to properly celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish-Hungarian diplomatic relations. Turkish-English-Hungarian multilingual road signs will be placed to indicate where Turkish or Ottoman built heritage can be found. Distinct care is given to the beautify the environment of these facilities. We are to plant a great number of roses, most of them received from our friends in Isparta. We envisage the projection of Turkish movies in our district cinemas.

Citizenship participation refers to public involvement in decision-making processes and answers the demands for more transparency and stakeholder engagement. Participatory approaches can also co-create solutions and increase trust towards local governments, contribute to the sense of commitment citizens have to their neighbourhoods and stimulate active involvement in projects and campaigns. Given its benefits, how is your district working towards improving citizen participation?

In our work at the municipality we make serious attempts to organise as many community forums and hearings as possible. Whether in the event of a major project, or lesser park renovation, setup of a playground, we try to solicit the opinion of the people living in the neighbourhood beforehand. In some cases, in particular upon changing the traffic arrangements, we revisit the changes made and listen to the residents in the area on a repeated public forum who contribute to the improvement, polishing of the changes made so far by sharing their day-to-day experiences and views. The same way, it is very important that a community budget is proclaimed each year. Meaning that the local council reserves a part of the budget to be used upon the recommendations of the people living in the neighbourhood. More and more reasonable proposals are received which can be implemented. A form of participatory management is that our places of excursions are cleaned and tidied in conjunction with volunteers and the people from the neighbourhood. Even though these areas are not operated by the local municipality, they are still within the district area and the local council finds it important together with the inhabitants that they be kept in a good shape. The council advertises these occasions on a regular basis and provides the necessary tools and implements for them.

With its simplicity and applicability, composting is a great way of reducing the amount of waste and improving soil quality. As the Budapest District II, you have been providing communities with the necessary tools and knowledge to guide them in composting since 2007. Accessing the success of the program, how have the positive outcomes been for individual residents, households and institutions?

Since there is much greenery in the district, not only in the hills but also around the residential areas situated on the fresh lawn, an important task is the management and use of green waste. Maybe it is reasonable to call it a success that more and more indication suggest to create further community composting sites. This year, in conjunction with our community gardens, we intend to set up a new community composting plant, and we trust that if it can be operated properly, composting will become more and more popular and interest may be raised further.

Budapest is known for its cultural and historical importance. It has housed many settlements, from the Celtics to the Romans and the Ottomans. How is this rich cultural heritage reflected in your district, and how does the past relate to the present urban space?

A number of buildings or part of building can be found here which are important for historical or architectural reasons. They are invaluable assets for the community, which we are attached to and the conservation of which is our common task.

Monumental conservation is within the scope of the state, but municipalities can also do a lot and we do. One of the most effective way to preserve valuable architectural heritage is to put them under local individual protection. The number of protected buildings grows from year to year based on the recommendations received from the locals.

In addition to the Hungarian one, the presence and nourishing of the Turkish and German cultural heritage are the most predominant features in our district. Of outstanding importance are the Rose Days, organised together with the Gül Baba Tomb Heritage Conservation Foundation, attracting interested visitors with a number of programmes, including a Turkish bazar, concerts, rose planting shows and consultant services. We think cooperation and the organisation of joint programmes will remain an important field in the future just as well. Several other nationalities and minorities are home in the district, the council encourages and supports their cultural appearance alike.

While cities are becoming powerful global actors with their rapidly growing economies, they are also at the forefront of global threats. As Hungary’s capital and most populous city, Budapest is also facing these global urban challenges. How are policies and practices being adopted to tackle and cope with these challenges and reach the capacity to bring about change?

In many areas the highlights are relocated in the life of the city and of the district. The reconstruction of the Széna Square of District II took place in the year of 2022 for instance, where the green areas had to be increased and the size of paved areas reduced as an important goal, while only on this square alone 58 new trees were planted. At the same token, the community groove was handed over last year where 28 thousand metre square green area and 200 new trees await people wishing to do sports, recreation or play. Besides, the tree felling regulation became more stringent, and many actions are launched to achieve sustainability. District residents for instance can get rainwater collectors by way of tenders, which allows the capture of a measurable quantity of water after a summer shower. In other words, we try to provide a local response to global issues like the suddenly rushing great amount of precipitation. At the time being, we are not in the position to set up large reservoirs, but residents take advantage of collection bins, and all in all, we are able to collect and use at a later point in time many thousand litres of rainwater on the district level.

The effects of the climate crisis are becoming more and more visible all over the world. In this regard, cities play a vital role in sustainable development, improving the quality of life of their residents and decreasing the effects of the climate crisis. What role will sustainable policies and practices have in your district’s future?

Sustainability already plays an important role, but it has a growth potential still. In the past year everybody could feel the changes, if not other times, but definitely during the summer heat waves and drought. We know that shadow in the next decade will be cast by the trees which we plant today, therefore as many trees are planted in this district as we can. We make efforts to re-afforest the area. Nearly 2000 saplings were planted in the year of 2022 district-wide, if we add up the number of trees planted in cooperation with the various non-governmental organisations and civilians and the trees planted by the municipality on its own. Additionally, the municipality tries to save as much energy as possible, assisting locals just as well, for instance by the purchase of energy saving LED bulbs, to help simple, sustainable, energy efficient lighting.