The history of Idrija is one of innovation with technological advancements made in mining but also in medicine studying the effects of mercury poisoning. Former Mayor Tomaž Vencelj believes this is why the city has the capacity and culture to engage with change and embrace new technologies. His cites as an example the new smart grid pilot project, a joint venture between the Slovenian and Japanese governments, where a consortium of local stakeholders together with the Hitachi company will develop an integrated smart grid to use electricity efficiently and from renewable sources.
The former mayor is proud of the ability of the city to make paradigm shifts as in the period when the mine closed in 1976 and the new companies in the electro-motor components industry were developed.
Today Idrija has near full employment. Residents enjoy a high quality of life in a splendid natural environment with a full range of sports and cultural amenities and the big city of Ljubljana less than an hour away.
There is however an unease that things will change again and that the city should prepare for economic and environmental changes. The focus is also on demographics. Young people are leaving the city and there is uncertainty if they will return and will they start a new cycle of family formation laying the foundation for the sustainability of the city.
The Municipality has adopted a youth strategy giving young people a strong say in how they want to see the future development of the city. The young people have established a forum of interested organisations under the banner of Idrija2020.
In their presentations the youth groups made their views clear that ‘Idrija is a place of immense potential and inspiration. Once small and remote, but a strategically important town, it is at the crossroads. On the one hand, it is deeply rooted in the mining heritage and its history, on the other, it is hesitantly stepping towards the future.
The main challenges that they believe require a new vision for the city are captured in the following question:
‘How to solve the lack of building land for new businesses, limited road connections, negative demographic profile and low percentage of creative industries?’
They identified a disconnect between the city centre and the other components of the city. This is mainly due to the topographical limitations and the limited development potential of the terrain. The city centre is a historical centre built close to the river and hence each new development phase was more removed from the centre. It is clear that to allow further greenfield development on the periphery is not sustainable which then raises the question of re-examining the centre for re-purposing of uses and possible other creative activities to revitalise the centre and create renewed interest.
The renewed focus on revitalising the city centre coincides with the ‘smart communities’ strategy of the Municipality. The main aim is to engage communities in the exploration of new technologies that will improve living conditions for people, provide accurate and real-time information and save costs and energy. Such information will become available once new integrated networks of sensors and control components in the local environment are completed that will enable measuring and analysing of situations in real time as well as transforming the information into knowledge to optimize use of resources and optimum management of services to respond to the needs of citizens.