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Ljerka Cividini: Investing in education is the best indicator that a city cares about its future

Ljerka Cividini: Investing in education is the best indicator that a city cares about its future

An interview with the Mayor of Čakovec

Ljerka Cividini was born in Čakovec on 8 February 1972. She has a degree in traffic engineering and has specialised in business systems management.

Since 2011, Cividini has been the director of the County Road Administration of Međimurje County. In the summer of 2021, she was elected Mayor of Čakovec.

Cividini now spoke to TheMayor.EU to discuss the municipality and her administration’s future projects.

Mayor Cividini, how would you describe Čakovec, and what are its main attractions?          

Čakovec is the administrative, cultural, economic and educational centre of Međimurje county in northwest Croatia. It borders Slovenia and Hungary, surrounded by natural boundaries: the Drava and Mura rivers.

In the 14 settlements (Čakovec, Ivanovec, Savska Ves, Totovec, Novo Selo na Dravi, Šandorovec, Kuršanec, Mačkovec, Žiškovec, Slemenice, Mihovljan, Novo Selo Rok, Krištanovec and Štefanec) of the city district, there are 28,536 inhabitants. From ancient times, this area has had a great road connection with the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean.

Čakovec is well known for its long and dynamic history and as a national leader in new technologies and the development of communal infrastructure specific for polycentric development.

Čakovec is also well known as a city that is neither too big nor too small but the right size for its inhabitants. It is also a city with a rich social life. We are proud to be a pleasant place to live and raise a family, but also for a visit and a great tourist stay.

Mayor Ljerka Cividini (Source: City of Čakovec)

As a newly elected mayor, how do you plan on reforming the city?

We are looking forward to the growing interest in life in Čakovec, both from Međimurje's residents and those who have visited our city and fallen in love with it.

In 2020, Čakovec won the title of the best big city in Croatia in terms of quality of life. This is by no means a coincidence, and we see the concept of the first slow city in Croatia as Čakovec's future, creating an environment in which there are all the prerequisites for a quality life.

These include educational infrastructure and facilities, a high communal standard, a developed economy with quality jobs, easily accessible public services, a city where young people grow, study and stay. In this way, we strive for the satisfaction of our citizens, all the people who deserve a city to be proud of.

With the simultaneous modernisation, hustle and bustle of city life and the creation of new values ​​with EU funding, we also strive for the other extreme. That is, enjoying the peace, the beauty of our squares, the greenery of flowers and promenades, our history. This is the only way to bring the much-needed balance to this modern age.

Čakovec meets many prerequisites for a quality life. The first is the "soul" of the city, our citizens. Then, the tradition we nurture and breathe, our long and rich history, excellent transport links with Europe, vast cultural heritage and enogastronomic (the best food and wine) specifics, with a unique folklore tradition. In addition, this year we have taken a serious approach to solving traffic problems in the city centre, with projects that create an even greener city and surroundings.

My wish is to continue restoring our architectural and historical heritage. My team and I have started the renovation of the facade, and the idea is not only to restore the appearance of the centre of Čakovec but to put into function the spaces that are neglected or empty and bring them to life. The city centre must function as a place for socialising.

A large part of our success is related to domestic, healthy, and sustainable food. Both our City Market and the people who sell their agricultural products there show what Čakovec has to offer.

Unlike most other areas in Croatia, Čakovec is a city where people immigrate. This is evident in several indicators but mostly in the number of students in our schools which is growing year by year. Also, in the past few years, housing construction has intensified in the Čakovec area.

In 2020 alone, we built about 400 new apartments and 100 family houses. New city districts have sprung up, and the city is trying to follow this physical growth by investing primarily in the renovation and construction of communal and social infrastructure. Last year, through an EU project, a new residential zone in Mihovljan was arranged and fully equipped with utilities, where 107 construction sites are available, many of which have already been filled.

We have started the process of drafting a new General Urban Plan that will enable further development of the city towards a modern, green and smart city. Also, the new plan will establish additional "rules of the game" that will prevent interventions in the area that encroach on the historical, cultural, and social heritage of the city.

My wish is to include as many citizens as possible in drafting the new city plan because they are the ones who are most interested in what the city will look like and the facilities it will offer.

Investing in education is the best indicator of whether a city or municipality cares about its future. The introduction and financing of additional opportunities in education enable children and young people to acquire the highest quality education, which is a direct investment in our future. Also, the financing and co-financing of the educational super standard have concrete effects on demographic trends today.

What industries are driving Čakovec’s economy?

Čakovec is known as one of the most developed areas in Croatia, not only in terms of economic development. Since the 1970s, with the beginning of the return of our people from temporary work abroad, Western European work habits and a sense of responsibility towards the wider community have become present in the northernmost part of Croatia. Since then, Međimurje has been one of the most advanced and propulsive parts of the country.

Čakovec stands out from other cities due to its developed crafts, small entrepreneurship, innovation, adaptation to technological changes, fully built communal infrastructure, care for the environment, and investments in public facilities and social life.

Expanding on the previous question, how will your administration strengthen these industries and accelerate the post-COVID recovery?

Unfortunately, according to our national regulations, the local governments in Croatia do not have many fiscal mechanisms that can influence our economic policies. However, with the instruments at our disposal, we can help the sectors that suffered the most, both with facilitation and postponements of payments and with direct financial support.

Despite the depth of the crisis, our local economy did not suffer so much. It quickly adapted to the new conditions and practically returned to the previous growth rates by the end of 2020.

When this pandemic situation finishes, I expect an additional acceleration of this growth because the COVID-19 crisis has opened new business opportunities and new forms of work, which our companies took advantage of very quickly.

Finally, do you have any upcoming projects or initiatives you would like to share?

Many projects are starting or coming up in Čakovec City.

In terms of the availability of social content, Čakovec is at the very top of the nation, and we plan to stay that way. The construction of an open-air swimming complex in Čakovec is underway which, together with the Regional Tennis Centre, will make a great sports zone that is unique in Croatia.

There is already a football stadium with a recently renovated athletics track, a football field with an artificial surface, a shooting range, a skate park, a basketball and handball court, a bowling alley, indoor swimming pools and two indoor tennis courts with a fast surface.

Apart from sports, Čakovec also invests in all other forms of social life. Thus, for example, cultural and sports associations operate in all settlements within the city and we manage to provide most of the facilities through constant investments in the renovation and construction of community centres, children's and sports playgrounds.

Čakovec Centre for Culture, as the central cultural institution in the city and beyond, will get new functions aimed at the even greater involvement of numerous associations dealing with culture and art in their program activities.

Čakovec cares about all its inhabitants, both those who live in the city today and those who will live here in the future. With our special Decision on Demographic Measures, we directly support and will be helping families with more children by co-financing or fully financing a stay in a preschool institution or an extended stay.

Also, there is already a well-established measure of compensation for newborns which aims to encourage families to have more children. With these measures, the system ensures that the families can raise them as easily as possible while performing business duties.

We also take special care of people living at risk of poverty. The city co-finances the stay of children in kindergartens and extended stays. The institute of one-time financial assistance helps citizens who are in trouble, pays the so-called Easter and Christmas bonus for pensioners, 50% of the costs of utilities to recipients of the minimum guaranteed compensation, and feeds about 50 people through the soup kitchen.

Raising standards is a job that has no beginning or end, especially when it comes to citizen involvement. Transparency is the duty of everyone who works in public administration, and it is a job that represents my team in the City of Čakovec. Our citizens have not always had access to information about what is spent and what their tax money is invested in but they are now invited to give their proposals.

To involve them in our work, we have created an online application that allows them to see all payments from the City's budget and the institutions and companies which it owns. What is crucial is that the application, the so-called transparency register, is user-friendly and allows the public to access the requested information quickly and easily.

Of course, Čakovec does not sleep on its laurels, but by constantly introducing new programs, it strives to raise the quality of life in the city to an even higher level. The challenge for all our municipalities in Croatia will soon be the green transition, the establishment of a circular economy, the improvement of the quality of life and the access to services through new technologies and artificial intelligence. Čakovec has serious plans in these fields.

One of my new agendas is the involvement of citizens in decision-making processes, especially when these decisions have a direct impact on life in the city today and in the future.

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