Dr Barbara Hendricks, Federal Minister for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building & Nuclear Safety in Germany gives an overview of how her country is making ‘cities of the future’.
Compared to Tokyo, the world’s largest metropolis with 36 million inhabitants, Germany’s largest city Berlin, with a population of 3.5 million, seems downright “small”. However, something both cities have in common is their almost non-stop growth over the last decades. This highlights the powerful attraction that cities have – even more so today than a thousand years ago. In newly industrialising and developing countries urbanisation is advancing at pace and is still on the rise in Germany. By 2030 the global urbanisation rate will have climbed to some 60% – around 5 billion people will then live in cities.
We are thus facing a “renaissance of cities”. Increasingly, how our society develops will be determined in cities: In the future, 80% of global social, economic and ecological development will take place in cities. It should be self-evident that this development has to be sustainable, but up to now this has been nothing more than a goal.
Achieving this goal must be our spur for the future. Changes in the environment and climate, economy and society are magnified in our cities and urban communities. The main challenges of our time – climate action, transforming our energy systems, resource conservation, demographic change, civil participation, equal opportunities and economic development – are most tangible in urban areas. As large-scale consumers of natural resources and major emitters, cities have an ambivalent relationship to the environment. City dwellers more often bear the brunt of negative environmental impacts. However, the density of cities also promotes the creation of efficient structures and they are key players in sustainable development. Cities have long been seen as the cradle of new ideas and hubs of economic development.
We may be able to flesh out the idea of sustainable development in cities, but whether we can put it into practice and carry it forward to the future will also be determined in cities. What exactly do we understand by “sustainable urban development”, and how do we make the “city of the future” liveable for as many inhabitants as possible?
Truly sustainable urban development calls for integrated urban development planning and coherent political action across a range of policy areas – both within the field of environment through coordinated policies on water, air quality, waste management and nature conservation, and beyond that through integrated urban policies on energy, transport, industry and infrastructure. Urban development is a long-term, joint project for all social forces from politics, administration, science and civil society.
Particularly with regard to Germany, it is important to recognise that the megatrend of urbanisation is not a general trend. Few of Germany’s major cities are growing, while many smaller and medium-sized towns are even experiencing de-urbanisation processes which likewise bring many problems in their wake.
Thus there can be no blueprint for sustainable development – we must coordinate and develop solutions tailored to the individual case and to local conditions, working with and for local communities. However, cooperation at international, national, regional and municipal level is particularly important and this is reflected in the ongoing political debate. For instance, preparations for the United Nations Human Settlements Programme UN-Habitat are taking shape worldwide.
At the Habitat III conference in 2016 a “New Urban Agenda” is expected to be adopted for the next 20 years. Germany is actively engaging in these debates, also in close cooperation with its European partners.
At national government level the reorganisation of the ministry has brought environmental protection and nature conservation under one roof with the allegedly opposing fields of building and urban development. The broader base of the ministry allows it to reflect the entire spectrum of sustainable development, and to take the ecological, economic and social dimensions of sustainability into account. If policy is to be sustainable and successful in our everyday reality – and ultimately that means achieving sustained success – policymakers must take a more holistic approach, recognising and addressing conflicts of interest at an early stage.
In order to better coordinate ongoing programmes, establish networks between research projects at different levels and tap new fields of action for innovation and research, the ministry is currently working with other government departments, scientists and municipal administrators to develop a strategic research and innovation agenda as part of the National Platform for the City of the Future (Nationale Plattform Zukunftsstadt).
One topic under intensive discussion in this platform is municipal climate action – for it is only at municipal level that concrete climate action can take place. More and more German cities, municipalities and districts are implementing measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The Federal Environment Ministry promotes municipal climate projects and supports the appointment of climate managers, for instance, or the elaboration of climate action plans which help municipalities to implement their climate targets. Of particular note in this context are the 19 “master plan municipalities”, supported by the Federal Environment Ministry. They embody the ideal of a sustainable city. They have set themselves very ambitious targets – minus 95% greenhouse gas emissions and minus 50% energy consumption by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. These targets cannot be achieved solely through climate measures in the known relevant sectors. The master plans outlining the course up to 2050, which were adopted by the highest municipal body, must also provide for the adaptation of administrative structures and ensure the long-term involvement of all local players, from the regional business and financial sectors to associations, churches and the local population.
Other important aspects are recreational options close to people’s homes and areas which enable nature to be experienced in the city as well. Attractive green spaces enhance quality of life, support biological diversity in the city and are beneficial for the climate. At the same time we need to ensure greater social justice and improve the living situation of those with a lower socio-economic status. For this reason, in future urban development policy must take urban nature conservation into greater account.
Our goal is to make an active contribution towards a sustainable, liveable future – and to ensure that the conditions needed for this are established in our cities.
Dr Barbara Hendricks
Federal Minister for Environment, Nature
Conservation, Building & Nuclear Safety