A successful but complex urban system
Urban development policy in Germany is by nature complex. The German Urban system is famously a distributed network of cities with different specialisation and advantages. Urban development policy is primarily a local concern, supported, to varying degrees, by state governments. Some cities such as Hamburg and Berlin are also states (which gives them a powerful system of self-government) , but others like Munich (Munich is within the State of Bavaria) are not, and are under the control of their sates. While local urban planning may be undertaken at the local level, many local governments are reliant on state funding as a means of putting these plans into action. Although legally the Federal Government is forbidden from establishing direct links with the local level, urban development is also an important priority for German Federal Government.
There is an almost universal acknowledgment in Germany that cities hold the key to national economic prosperity, the development of a balanced society and sustainable development. The Federal Government, therefore, has pledged its support to cities for almost half a century, assisted by both state and local funds.
From inter-governmental collaboration to national urban policy
While this informal agreement to cooperate in the field of urban development has allowed Germany’s cities to deal successfully with some of the challenges related to globalisation, urbanisation and the more recent economic downturn, the country, in the wake of the passage of the Leipzig Charter in 2007, formalised this spirit of cooperation more fully, beginning with the publication of the memorandum “Towards a National Urban Development Policy in Germany (2007).”
The adoption of this memorandum was an overt acknowledgment by the German government that a more formally integrated approach to urban development is required if the country is to successfully overcome future challenges, such as population shrinkage, the country’s increasing interdependencies within the global economy, financial market internationalisation and the global challenges posed by sustainable development.
The Leipzig Charter, 2007
After a long discussion between all European Member States, European institutions and other stakeholders, regarding the challenges that European Cities are facing and the best possible solutions, the Leipzig Charter on Sustainable European Cities was formally adopted on the 24th May 2007 by a meeting of EU Member State Ministers.
The Charter stipulated a number of key points:
i. More effective coordination between sectoral policies that have strong “spatial” impacts, but often lack an approach that takes these impacts or any of the interactions with other sectoral policies into account.
ii. The preservation of the “European city” as a blueprint for urban structures.
iii. An improvement in energy efficiency in Europe’s cities.
iv. More must be done to close the social gap in urban societies.
v. Finally, the Leipzig Charter proposes that national policies should be shaped in a way which pursues the objectives of the Charter.
Developing Germany’s National Urban Development Policy
The development of Germany’s National Urban Development Policy began in July 2007, where the essential elements of the policy were discussed, by experts, as well as representatives of local government associations and the Federal States, in Berlin.
As a result of the discussion, it was decided that the new National Urban Development Policy would have six fundamental strands of activity:
i. Civil society. Focusing on actively engaging with citizens in their city.
ii. Social city. Creating opportunities and preserving cohesion.
iii. Innovative city. Focusing on developing cities as drivers of economic development.
iv. Climate protection and global responsibility.
v. Building culture and improving urban design.
vi. Regionalisation. Focusing on the region as a critical part of the city’s future.
The National Urban Development Policy initiate was created with a long term vision in mind, to turn city development into an issue in which all levels of government, and society as a whole, could actively participate for the betterment of the national interest.
After the Policy was developed, the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs (BMVBS) began to pursue two defined strands of activity:
• The development and dissemination of good practice in the context of urban development support.
• Launching a series of projects to promote new ideas and civil commitment.
As a means of generating unique, innovative and forward thinking ideas for the future development of cities, the BMVBS called for project proposals in two phases, between 2007 and 2008. The two calls for proposals elicited over 500 new ideas from all sectors of society, with projects ranging from professional conferences and exhibitions, to art campaigns.
Germany’s National Urban Policy in practice
The implementation of Germany’s National Urban Policy is something which has required cooperation at all levels of government. As urban development policy is a local responsibility, partially funded by state governments, the successful implementation of the National Urban Policy, by the Federal government, is highly dependent on the acceptance and active cooperation of the state governments. The aim of the Policy is to improve existing instruments, modernising them and actively developing relationships with new partners for the cities.
The National Urban Policy has today become a widely accepted and established approach to urban development. It serves as a way of implanting new and innovative approaches into German urban policy.
There are a number of current priorities which the National Urban Policy is concerned with:
• Strengthening inner city development, including the promotion of “Active Central and Regional Business Districts”; a programme which received initial Federal funding of €86 million in 2010, followed by twice that amount from state and local funds.
• “Small Towns and Cities.” This has manifested itself in a focus on ensuring that scarcely populated rural regions have adequate service provision.
• E-mobility and urban development. Germany is concerned with ensuring that its residents have access to excellent transport infrastructure, a better quality of life and improved urban technology.
• Energy conservation in the building sector. This is one of the Federal Government’s core foci as improving the energy efficiency of buildings reduces individual energy consumption, while significantly improving the quality of housing, reducing CO2 emissions and stimulating growth in the local construction industry and related sectors. Subsequently, the “Konjunkturpakete I and II” economic stimulus packages are focused strongly on the energy efficient retrofit of buildings and social infrastructure, utilising almost 60% of the €10bn available to the German Federal Government.
The future of Germany’s National Urban Policy
While the German Government has a strong view regarding how National Urban Policy should be implemented, there is still much more progress to be made if the country is to continue to strengthen its cities.
In October 2012, Germany will host an international conference on urban energy, in Berlin. The conference, due to be hosted by the German Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development together with the Standing Conference of Federal State Ministers and Senators responsible for Urban Development, Building and Housing, the German Association of Cities, and the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, is intended to be a platform for debate and the exchange of best practice with regards to urban development.
The conference is intended to be a chance to also reflect on the activities, achievements and shortcomings of the country’s National Urban Policy over the last five years. A memorandum is planned in the wake of the conference, which will act as a consensus regarding the steps which must be taken in the field of urban development.
The event is but a further example of how Germany is truly committed to listening to its stakeholders when concerned with urban development, as well as how true cooperation and integrated activity could help secure a brighter future for the country’s cities.
Top image credit: Photobank gallery