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Virgen, Tyrol, Austria

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Virgen is located at 1,200 m altitude in the Eastern Tyrolean region, surrounded by the Tyrolean part of the Hohe Tauern National Park, some 36 km west of the district capital Lienz. The municipality counts 2,200 inhabitants and owns a surface area of 8,881 ha. Due to the advantageous location in view of the climate, Virgen is sometimes referred to as the “Sun Village of the Hohe Tauern National Park”. The insufficient employment in the locality make 80% of the workforce commute. Although the municipality has opportunities in tourism and trade, the focus of the local jobs is on agriculture, either full-time or as an additional income. Virgen was established as a residential area with a very high quality of life and housing quality, resulting in a positive development in terms of population.

The development of the locality follows a clear vision and is based on lived openness to new things, a sense of community and the socio-cultural strength connected thereto, plus a high degree of commitment on part of the citizens. In the scope of the implementation of the zoning concept, some 2.5 ha construction land have been re-allocated to open space and therefore preserves important green areas.

The project “Virgen Feldflur” contains a broad and interlinked package of measures intended to ensure the existence of more than 100 smallholdings. The number of those typical alpine farms remained constant during the past years. It is the result of awareness-building and a vote among the farmers, based on polls regarding the local climate, biodiversity and the maintenance of local hedges. “The path of the senses” with its nine stations shows the natural beauty of the area in an impressive way. The farmers market their product in the local produce shop and contribute to the local supply. A dairy farm (cheese), a bio gas plant and a fruit and gardening club complement the product range offered and strengthen the local agricultural sector. A quality offensive and the promotion of “holidays on alpine farms” successfully counter the decline in tourism.

In 1996, Virgen was included in the program “energy conscious municipalities in the Arge Alp” and, through the promotion of solar and photovoltaic plants, energy teams and awareness-building through events and school projects centered around topics relevant to energy-saving, has positioned itself as the award-wining “sun village”. In order to ensure mobility for all population groups, the project “Virgen mobile” has been established and now offers scheduled and on-call car services. Citizens act as voluntary drivers, enabling a very moderate pricing structure.

The careful handling of old building structures worth preserving, are the responsibility of the Ensemble Obermauern with their traditional timber block buildings. School projects centre around topics like drinking water, a walking arena and climbing for seniors. The most current project has the title “VI-Valley – Healthy in the Virgen Valley” and resulted in improved awareness for health issues and stronger sense of community.

The citizen participation in Virgen is impressive, initiated by professional processes when planing the future development of the village. It has markedly contributed to an improved sense of well-being for the community. The exemplary links between individual measures, leading to big, sustainable results, also deserve mentioning. The handling of regenerative energies, the initiative to strengthen the smallholdings and the maintenance of the cultural landscape and the exemplary renovation of traditional farms are other areas that should be mentioned. Not at least it is remarkable, that the citizens of Virgen have implemented the projects all by themselves, instead of waiting for help from the outside. Virgen is awarded the European Village Renewal Award for holistic, sustainable and motto-orientated development of exemplary quality.